Commentary for Simchat Torah

20 Oct

Simchat Torah has many unique customs. It is the only time of the year where the Priestly Blessing is recited during Shacharit instead of during Musaf (the reason for this is that it is forbidden to perform the Priestly Blessing while inebriated, and many responsible adults consume alcohol during Hakafot, which take place after Shacharit but before Musaf, so we move the Priestly Blessing to Shacharit so that the Cohanim can drink as much as they want during Hakafot). There is also a custom to bother the chazzan while he or she is chanting the repetition of the Musaf Amidah, taking advantage of the fact that chazzan cannot move during the repetition, but the congregants can because they have already finished their Amidah (though at some point in our past, one Beth Ahm Rabbi cleverly instituted the practice of the heicha Kedushah in which the congregation and chazzan recites the first two blessings of the Amidah out loud, then the congregation joins in for the Kedushah, after which the chazzan continues silently while the congregation goes back and starts the Amidah silently from the beginning, allowing the chazzan to finish before the congregation does).

It is also the only time that we read from the Torah at night. The reason for this is because it is considered disrespectful to take the Torah out in the grandiose fashion that we do during prayers and then not read from it. When we take the Torah out of the ark, we do not just simply remove the scroll from a fancy closet. We read verses from the Torah about what would happen when the Ark of the Covenant, in which the Torah was kept, was being moved when the Israelites set out from their camp. We read verses from the Prophets and from Psalms proclaiming the greatness of the Torah and its Divine Author, and praising of those who hold fast to it. We parade it around the room so that everyone can touch it and feel close to it and show it the respect it is due. Then, after we are done reading from it, we make a show of dressing it up against, and do the whole thing in reverse. On Simchat Torah, we take this to a whole other level, with dancing and singing. How could we possibly go through all of this to take the Torah out and not read from it?

The Torah is not like other books, which we simply pull off of the shelf, read, enjoy for a bit, then put them back and forget about them. Even when we are done reading the Torah for now, we take its wisdom and values with us out into the world. We keep them on our minds night and day, whether sitting at home or going out into the wider world. We use them to inform our actions. When something is this important, how can we not make a big deal out of the simple act of taking it out or putting it away, and when something is this important, how could we possibly consider taking it out without reading it?

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