Simchat Torah (pronounce Sim-hot Tor-ah) is one of the wonderfully joyous Jewish festivals. Simchat Torah is at the end of the month that began with Rosh Hashana, bringing to a close a very important and spiritual month with joy, laughter, excitement, dancing and singing.
Simchat Torah translates to mean ‘Rejoice with the Torah’ and signifies the end and beginning of a cycle. As Rosh Hashana marked the beginning of the Jewish year, the birthday of the world, Simchat Torah marks both the ending and beginning of another Jewish milestone – public reading of the Torah.
One might think that Rosh Hashana, the new year, would mean that we begin reading the torah from the beginning once again. However, it is actually 3-weeks later on Simchat Torah that Jews mark the transition from the end of the torah and return to the beginning.
The Sefer Torah (pronounce safe-air Tor-ah) literally means ‘Book of Torah’. And the Torah is the first five books of Moses, most often referred to as the Old Testament. A Sefer Torah is handwritten on parchment paper by a trained scribe. They are one of the most holy relics of the Jewish people and are held in such high regard that they are dressed in ornate coverings and treated with such care that special pointers have been made so that hands and fingers do not touch it for reading purposes.
Simchat Torah is a family celebration and is very lively. At my synagogue, we make special floral wreaths for each torah. Last year, my daughter and I joined several other women to create beautiful purple and white wreaths. You can see our handiwork here, just scroll down to Simchat Torah! There is dancing and singing and plenty of torah reading. Seeing a torah scroll fully unrolled is quite a site. Because each Torah is hand created, they come in different sizes so it’s hard to tell you how long it is when unrolled. To give you an idea of how large it can be, check out this picture.
For my congregation, Simchat Torah is another way to get closer to G-D and celebrate the many wonders of Judaism. Everyone who is capable gets to carry the Torah and dance around. Children are given plush, stuffed torah so they can participate too. It truly is a wonderful way to mark the end of the Old Testament and the renewal and beginning of the new cycle of learning and study that comes with reading the Torah.
My daughter especially likes Simchat Torah because it is so much fun. Who doesn’t like singing and dancing and, of course, eating! And, like me as a child, she is overtaken with the enormity of the Torah when it is fully unrolled. At my synagogue a fully unrolled Torah scroll requires over 100 people to hold it. It truly is a marvelous sight. One that brings such pride, that even writing this I have a lump in my throat.
And just hearing those words – In the Beginning – make me so proud to be Jewish.
Photo Credit: Sara for Congregation Or Chadash