Simchat Torah: Love at First Sight
On Simchat Torah, Mary Blye Howe celebrates what Torah means to her and the Jewish community.
BY: Mary Blye Howe
Before I converted to Judaism, I regarded Torah as the most boring part of the Bible. It seemed preoccupied with laws--many of them, such as animal sacrifices, inapplicable and irrelevant to my life. Each day, then I attempt to look at the history of Torah and its people, regard it in its cultural context, and then strive to find some fresh, modern application for my life. This is the Jewish approach to scripture that I'm still trying to wrap my head around.
In addition, I've learned that Judaism presents a different approach to Torah-one that allows us see these stories as metaphors, lessons, and inspirational material. We do not have to sacrifice our intellect to glean wisdom from the Torah.
Despite my difficulties in studying Torah, I have grown to love it for many reasons. For one thing, it portrays the history of the people of whom I've become a part. It's the basis of an astounding system of justice and a moral code, elaborated on beautifully and carefully in the oral law that followed it. Torah depicts people who are fallible, human, but full of humanity's poetry and longing for God, and love and concern for others. And while I love the wrangling and questions and endless digging by Jews as we study, it's my rabbis who make Torah interesting, accessible, and palatable to me.
Each week, my synagogue's four pulpit rabbis, with the collective wisdom of their vast Judaic knowledge, present outstanding divrei Torah (commentaries on the Torah portions). The word " rabbi," after all, means teacher, and my rabbis fulfill that role as they " translate" Torah for me in a way that is intelligent and contemporary, yet gives me insight into its history and the minds of the people presented in the text.
My rabbi, David Stern, never tires of reminding us that Jews aren't an ethnic group. "Look around you," he says, "and you'll see people of all races, from all backgrounds, and Jews-by-choice." Each time I hear David say that, my Jewish identity deepens.
This year, at Simchat Torah, I will dance with the Torah, along with those I love in my congregation, and in some mysterious sense that alludes my understanding, I will, as David says, be one with the people there, united in our love of Torah.