Commentary for Simchat Torah

25 Sep

Everyone knows the first verse of the Torah: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” What less people know is the that the first word in the Torah, “Bereshit,” can be turned into an acronym in Hebrew which reads “Bereshit Ra’ah Elokim She’Yisrael Yikablu Torah¬- In the beginning, God saw that Israel would accept the Torah.” And, of course, God turned out to be right. The Israelites did accept the Torah. But accepting the Torah comes with a lot of responsibilities.
Unfortunately, we often put most of our focus on the restrictive aspects of these responsibilities, and as a result, they feel like burdens. Fasting on Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av is hard and services on the High Holidays just take so long that we sometimes wish they were just over with already. Not eating foods that everyone else eats sometimes makes it hard to have a nice dinner out on the town with friends. Building a sukkah can be a laborious, time-consuming activity which is made even more frustrating by the fact that you know you will be spending the same amount of time taking it down in less than two weeks, and likely spending at least part of the intervening period having your dinner rained on. To prepare for Passover we clean our houses from top to bottom and bring up what amounts to an entirely new kitchen’s worth of pots, pans, and utensils just so we can entirely change our diet for a mere eight days.
So why do we continue to do all of these crazy things? Because it is our culture. It’s just what we Jews do. Our parents did it, and so did their parents and their parents’ parents all the way back to Sinai. It is the tradition of our ancestors that has been passed down to us. As it says in Deuteronomy 33:4 (probably the most well-known verse in the Deuteronomy portion of the Torah reading) “Moses commanded the Torah to us; it is an inheritance of the community of Jacob.” And so, as God foresaw, we accept the Torah as our heritage and we do these things… though when the time comes, we often do them with a grumble.
On Simchat Torah, we forget that grumble. Yes, High Holiday services might be long and fasting might be hard. Yes, building a sukkah and preparing our houses for Passover might be a lot of work for such a short period of time. Yes, matzah might taste yucky and bacon might look tasty… but isn’t it great that we have this rich culture that dates back thousands of years? That we have all of these unifying experiences that we can all relate to each other with? That we have these unique things that we do that allow us to stand up together as part of a group and say, “We do these things because we are Jews and this is what Jews do; from our ancestors to us to our descendents generations in the future, and we are proud of that!”
There is a big difference between accepting responsibility and enjoying responsibility. Throughout the year we often focus too much on just accepting our responsibilities as Jews, but on Simchat Torah we run and jump and dance and sing to show God and the rest of the world (or at least the neighbors) that we not only accept our responsibilities as Jews, but we enjoy them.

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