BEGINNING AGAIN – Simhat Torah – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Monday night and Tuesday in traditional congregations outside Israel, or Sunday night and Monday in Israel and in Reform congregations, world Jewry will observe Simhat Torah of 5777. Once again we will march around the Synagogues carrying our Torah scrolls, singing and even dancing with them. Many services will provide an Aliya – an opportunity to bless the Torah – to every qualified male. And in some of those services each man so honored also gets a celebratory drink – a l’khyim – when he descends from the bema.
Larger congregations will conduct parallel Torah readings in different parts of the building in order to include all honorees. We should all have the opportunity to bless the Torah today. Even strict Orthodox shuls provide special alliyot for “all the women” and for “all the children.” And the Kohanim – Aaron’s descendants whose duty is to bless the people on all such holidays – usually do their dukhenen, pronouncing the blessings, during the Musaf ritual which follows Torah reading. But on this day they will do so during Shachrit which precedes that reading, for a very good reason. Jewish law requires that those who pronounce the blessing must be 100% sober! Better bless the people before you get that l’khyim.
What is the reason for all this elaborate festivity? This is the day we complete the annual reading of our Torah. Whether we combine it with the Eighth Day of Assembly – Shmini Atzeres which is the 8th day counting from the beginning of Succos – or observe it on the 9th day as yom tov sheyni shel galuyot (the “second-day holiday in exile,” to reconcile world calendars) – we will conclude the Book of Deuteronomy with its parting tribute to the one-and-only Moses, and the congregation will chant Khazak khazak v’nit’khazek – “Be strong, be strong, and we will strengthen each other!”
So what makes this holiday different from all other holidays? The distinguishing feature of Simhat Torah is that we don’t stop there. We immediately open another Torah scroll and read the story of Creation: B’reysheet – “In the beginning…”
That’s the eternal message of the day. Torah never ends. It just begins again. We celebrate, and even over-celebrate, the ongoing treasure that is our Torah.
Enjoy this all-out festival, whichever day you celebrate, and let’s all join in the happy activity of Beginning Again! Khag sameyakh!