Shabbat Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah A Different Simchat Torah!

Dear Friends,

This year, on this Shabbat, we are combining our celebration of Shemini Atzeret, when we recite Yizkor, with our celebration of Simchat Torah, when we rejoice with the Torah!

How do the two holidays fit together? Actually, very well….

The inclusions in the Amidah prayers we recite on Simchat Torah are, in any case, the inclusions for Shemini Atzeret! And the joy of Simchat Torah is one of the reasons that we love our tradition and it is also a very powerful reminder of one of the reasons that we love our Jewish families!

So, what could be more fitting than to combine our love and celebration of Torah with our remembrance of our loved ones? Combining the two holidays really does work. And, in fact, these two holidays are always combined into one day of celebration in Israel.

However, this year, both in Israel, and here, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah will be celebrated differently from the celebrations we have been used to experiencing in past years.

In Israel, there has been a total lockdown for the past couple of weeks, and people are not allowed to congregate in synagogues on this Shabbat and holiday. While, thankfully, we are not in total lockdown, we are making significant adjustments to our lives as well.

But, Jews have always found a way to maintain the essence of their tradition, to celebrate Shabbat, and holidays, and their love of Torah, no matter what the external circumstances might be.

What is the essence of Simchat Torah all about?

In his article: “The Four Faces of Simhat Torah” which was published by The Jerusalem Post, on October 24, 2005, Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin reminds us that “Simhat Torah ties us to the Torah physically and emotionally in a knot which cannot be undone.”

Additionally, the holiday reminds us of the cyclical nature of Torah study. There is no beginning and no ending to study of Torah. That is why on Simchat Torah, we read the ending of the five books of Moses and immediately segue into the reading of the Creation story at the beginning of the five books of Moses!

And, the holiday reminds us of the democratic nature of our relationship with Torah. Men, women, boys, girls, old and young, scholars and lay persons, all of us, together, celebrate the joy of having Torah at the center of our spiritual lives.

Finally, the holiday reminds us of the development of Jewish law and custom. Golinkin reminds us that the holiday of Simchat Torah originated in the 10th century in Babylonia. It does not originate in the Torah itself. In the 12th century in France, they added the Atta Horeita verses. In the 12th century in Spain, they began reciting the beginning verses of the Creation Story on Simchat Torah. In Ashkenaz, in the 15th century, they added a hakafah in the evening service. In Safed (in Israel) in the 16th century, they added the custom of 7 hakafot around the bima….And so, this very holiday, celebrating our love of Torah, in fact, demonstrates how much creativity, democracy, and diversity are wrapped into our Jewish customs and celebrations!

What a wonderful holiday. What a wonderful people. What a wonderful Torah we have!

On this Simchat Torah, we may not be able to do exactly what we have been used to doing in past years, and to keep us safe and healthy, but we can appreciate the fundamental beauty of Torah and of our tradition. And we can find ways to continue celebrating even if we have to do it a little differently this year!

I look forward to seeing you tonight, and tomorrow morning at our virtual Shabbat/Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah services.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach [A Joyous Holiday]!

Rabbi Gilah Dror