New Year, New Conversation

I know that I am supposed to be spending the next few weeks reevaluating, atoning, and preparing for Yom Kippur. And I am – I spend much of my time thinking about where I want to be going in the new year.

Tefillin clad hand reading from a Siddur

I know that I am supposed to be spending the next few weeks reevaluating, atoning, and preparing for Yom Kippur. And I am – I spend much of my time thinking about where I want to be going in the new year. But Simchat Torah is one of my favorite days of the whole year, and I can’t help looking forward to it.

Soon, we will finish the last passage of Deuteronomy and begin the Torah reading cycle again. It’s a great and joyous day. I know it doesn’t sound inherently joyful – rereading the same story over and over again, year after year – but it really is. Or it can be.

One of the greatest things about being Jewish, in my opinion, is that all opinions are worthy. If we reach back into centuries of Torah – Of Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and Responsa – we see that even the minority opinion is preserved in the pages of the commentaries. A well thought out, well intentioned response to Torah is never ignored. It’s an amazingly power, liberating way of reading Torah. I love these commentaries – from the classics like Rashi’s commentaries to modern ones like the Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. But I love that my own commentary is also valid and important.

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I think that we often feel a distance, an intimidation when we are faced with enormous texts. We feel ill prepared to comment. We don’t feel like we have the right to talk back to the text. We are taught that the text is so holy that we must not dare to make a mark in the book.

But this intimidation, this fear that so often comes when people of faith try to engage with their spiritual texts – this is exactly what Simchat Torah is NOT about. Instead, we are about to begin, again, a joyful conversation with our texts.

Because that is what Torah is about – it’s a conversation – between us and G…d, between Jews and our texts, between Jews and our sages and rabbis. It is a conversation – not a reading. And every time we start the Torah reading cycle again, we are invited to have the conversation in a different way. We read a different commentary. We have a different study partner. We add new voices into the conversation. We talk back to the text in different ways.

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