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This week Jews all over the world celebrated Simchat Torah, the ending of one reading cycle and the beginning of another. This celebration honors the finishing of one cycle of Torah readings (as we end the last chapters of Deuteronomy) and the beginning of another (as we immediately pick up with a reading of Genesis). It is a time of joy and celebration. We honor the words of Torah and celebrate that we are continually involved in the work of understanding the words of God. Simchat Torah is a time of renewal – a time to recognize the cycles that have come before us, and look forward to the cycles ahead.
For many of us, recognizing and honoring the cycles in our lives is difficult. We cling to the cycles we have been in, unwilling or unable to break out of them. We embrace the patterns of self-destruction we have always live with; we think we cannot break out of our habits. Rarely, if ever, do we look at what the value of these cycles are. Simchat Torah is a chance for us all to do just that.
There is nothing inherently joyful in reading the same thing over and over again. Year in and year out we read Genesis to Deuteronomy. It would be easy to get bored, to take for granted what we are doing, to simply not read (after all we’ve read it all before). Instead, we look forward to new readings, to new understandings, to hearing the words of God in new and different ways through out the year. We listen to the cycles that have come before us. What did we learn last year reading Genesis? What were we shocked by when we read the commentaries two cycles ago.
I wonder if we would be healthier if we treated our whole lives like this. What are the things we have learned in the past year? What are the cycles we recognize in our lives and how can they shed light on where we are now? The cycles of our lives – whether they are healthy or not – are tools that teach us. Examined, we can learn why we self-destruct, why we have nightmares at certain times of the year, or why we consistently eat unhealthily.
Just like there is great value in rereading the words of God each year in an attempt to find new understandings, there is great value in rereading the cycles of our lives. Jewish or not, let Simchat Torah remind you of this value, and encourage you. Renewal is aways possible – sometimes it just takes reading in a different way.