Tonight at sundown begins the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah – literally “the Joy of Torah” – during which we celebrate the annual reading of the Five Books of Moses. In Israel, Simchat Torah was celebrated today in conjunction with the holiday of Shmini Atzeret. Outside of Israel, these holidays are on separate days.
Over the course of the year, we read portions of the Torah – called parashayot – each week so that the entire scroll is eventually completed. Tonight, we’ll read the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis. Our little synagogue will be filled with singing and dancing. Children (mine included) will eat too much candy. And we’ll carry the Torah scrolls around the sanctuary in a series of seven hakafot (circuits).
Unlike the holiday of Shavuot on which we commemorate God’s giving of the Torah at Sinai, Simchat Torah celebrates what we’ve done with the gift we were given. Like anything else in life – a great singing voice, artistic or athletic abilities, or extraordinary intellect – the gift of God’s Word means only so much as what human beings do with it. God didn’t give us the Torah so that it could sit in a box. He gave it to us to learn and to act.
Tonight, we’ll conclude Deuteronomy and celebrate that we have made good use of God’s gift. And then we’ll start Genesis and celebrate our intention to keep learning and acting.