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.
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.
Imagine you could go back to your best friend, the one you’ve known the longest. You’ve had all the deep conversations – the fascinating ones about life and love, about belief and doubt, about the great questions of the world. Imagine you could go back and have all of those conversations again, but this time you’re a year wiser. You have more experience under your belt. You have new griefs and new loves. Wouldn’t you have those conversations differently, and wouldn’t those conversations be fascinating?
This is what Simchat Torah gives us – a new chance at the conversation. It’s the chance we never took to say we don’t understand. It’s the chance we missed to say that we had something more to add to the conversation. It’s a joyful chance to learn something new, something we missed the last time around.
We begin with Genesis, with the creation of the lesser and greater bodies – the moon, the sun, the stars, the light. G…d creates, brings light into the world, and we can see. Simchat Torah is our chance, not only to begin at the light again, but to find new light as we continue the conversation. It is a chance to add our own light to the conversation. We will see new things. We will read and converse in new ways. It is a brilliant and joyful time, as we turn to Genesis again and proclaim–let there be light!