Celebrating the Happiness of Torah
Have you ever seen the same movie more than once? Do you love when it is on the screen, sometimes even quoting lines from that great flick? Most of us have at least one movie that falls into this category. One of my favorites is the movie A League of Their Own, a great film about baseball and the power of women. I love it! Maybe others of us have a book that we have read more than once. I know someone who has read the Harry Potter series over 20 times! But, even beyond my seeing the same movie multiple times or a person rereading Harry Potter, is the gift that we Jews get this time every year: the gift of Torah.
We are lucky. More important than a movie, more important than a regular book, is our chance as Jews to celebrate Simchat Torah. Literally, Simchat Torah means "happiness of the Torah" and we are indeed joyous as we celebrate. In my congregation, as is true in many others, we dance with the Torah scrolls and then unroll one scroll all around the room, enabling approximately 50 people to help hold the back of the parchment, seeing the words as they flutter in people's hands.
Hopefully, you had a chance to celebrate this fun and festive holiday in which we read the end of Deuteronomy and go right to the beginning of Genesis. In this way, we are never done studying Torah. I like to think of the Torah as a living document. Thus, although we read the same words that are wrapped around the room each year, we find new meanings based on our experiences and based on the commentators. With the Jewish approach to Torah, the words themselves are important, but the white spaces between the words are important as well.
I heard a story about a Chassidic rabbi who was asked about the confession of sins on Yom Kippur. Why, said the questioner, do I beat my breast every Yom Kippur and confess my sins, and end up committing the same sins all over again the following year? The rebbe took the questioner over to the window. "Do you see the little child playing in the garden?" he asked. "He is my grandson. He is just learning to walk. He stands up and then falls over. Finally, he will learn how to stand up properly and how to walk without falling." So it is with us. Every year we read the same Torah. We discover how to live our lives. We find meaning in the laws and the stories. In time, we succeed in living by the laws of justice, truth, and humanity and discover what God wants from us.
Every year, we are given a special chance to find new meaning in the words. Maybe, like a good movie or a good book, we will quote the text itself. But, unlike a movie or book in which the words do not move or change, the Torah is different. We dance with the Torah, we unroll it to see it in its entirety, and we study it again and again. Even as the words become familiar, we find new meanings and new opportunities.
This year, make a commitment to check out your local Torah study group. Try it for a year, as best as your schedule allows. This is the perfect time to get engaged (or re-engaged) and start at the beginning with B'reishit. I mentioned earlier that my favorite movie involved baseball. Did you know that the Torah likes baseball too? After all, the first words (in English) are "in the big-inning!" Enjoy your Torah study!
Rabbi Alison Kobey serves Congregation Or Chadash in Damascus, MD.