MY DANCE PARTNER – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
If you know me you probably looked at this title and wondered what kind of partner would dance with a geezer with two left feet?
Simple. One that has no choice.
This week that helpless partner is a Torah scroll.
The approaching holiday is Simhat Torah – literally “Celebrating the Torah” – a remarkably joyful, spirited occasion. In many synagogues this time lends itself to loud singing, plenty of laughter and – yes – dancing, which can be graceful, athletic, or club-footed. Nothing dims the joy.
The reason for all this hilarity is the Torah itself, the Five Books of Moses contained in each of the hand-lettered scrolls that reside in the Holy Ark of every synagogue. They are identical copies of Judaism’s most valuable possession. We read them through every year in public services. On Simhat Torah we finish the last book, Deuteronomy, and immediately start the first book, Genesis. The process continues uninterrupted. During that reading it is traditional for everyone in attendance to be honored with an aliya — a chance to bless the Torah and hear a few verses read, then pronounce a second blessing. Then in many synagogues, for adult men comes an invitation to a l’hayyim – generally a stiff shot of 90-proof, could be Bourbon, Scotch or Vodka. So the singing gets a little louder.
Before any of this can happen, of course, comes the ceremony of removing all the Torah scrolls from the Holy Ark. We carry them in procession all around the synagogue. Not once. Seven times, with the scrolls transferred to new carriers every time. These processions culminate in the impromptu dancing that brings me my once-a-year dance partner. I look forward to this. Not that I expect to improve over what I did last year. Let’s face facts: dancing with a Torah scroll has its drawbacks. I have to do all the work, and carry all the weight; I can rest it on my shoulder, or if I feel ambitious I can lift it in the air and keep prancing around, as long as I protect it from falling. Falling can be a serious risk, if only because dropping a Torah scroll incurs a penalty of 40 days fasting – for the whole congregation! Not of uniform size or weight, a scroll can weigh as much as 50 pounds, and it does not go on a diet.
But there are positives too. My dear Torah scroll has no feet to step on, and will never criticize me for an awkward turn.
So sing with us: Sisu v’sim’khu b’sim-has torah – “Rejoice and celebrate on Simhat Torah!” Make a toast, crack a joke, enjoy your heritage – and be adventurous enough to grab a Torah scroll and DANCE!
You can contact Rabbi Baruch Cohon for further discussion and/or comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org