Simchat Torah 5781 - Weekly Torah Portion

There is something fascinating about the tradition of Simchat Torah where on the very day that the Torah reading is concluded, and without further delay the reading starts from the beginning. It is like an endless circle. Maybe not really a circle but an upward driving spiral where in with each turn we also get a little higher. Maybe not by much but during the cycle we read, study. Learn, think, deduce and arrive to the next cycle better prepared.

The reading of the last portion of the Torah concludes with these words, “Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated. So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end. Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.” The Torah scroll is immediately rolled up another Torah is brought forward and the reading starts once more. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”

There is life and death, then darkness and then light. We moved on the spiral of progress for one full year but we do not really go back to where we started at. We get back to the same story from the death and the darkness but the burst of light opens new opportunities and an ability to guide ourselves towards new understandings. Some of you probably have heard or read the book of my sermons Ha’azinu MeBereshit – Listen from the Beginning that was published last year. It includes seventy-three of the sermons I have delivered over a decade at my congregation. The book gives an opportunity to move though several turns of a spiral noticing how step by step, layer upon layer, struggle after struggle, there are some noticeable results, changes in the Israeli society.

True, we always expect more, we want it to happen faster, root deeper, but it is also important to notice the under currents that advance with vigor. Sometimes it is frustrating, at times may look pointless, but no one should underestimate our resolve. Unlike rigid conservatism on one hand and lack of any constraint on the other, we peacefully weave our way through the pages of history, a step at a time, one turn of the spiral above another. Each step may seem minute but after several of them it is possible to see that we are moving forward.

The festival of Simchat Torah is a time to rejoice the opportunity we have to finish one cycle and begin another. It is the happiness it brings even when there is a loss of a great leader like Moses because out of death and darkness, we know that a bright light will shine. Things will start over again, possibly even better than they were before. As we read it is said that “Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom”. It is a message that ought to be understood today too. Especially for all those who think that there are irreplaceable leaders. The cycle of the reading of the Torah teaches us that it is not so. When there is a loss there is also an opportunity, there is wisdom, and light will emerge.

This Simchat Torah, like all of our festivals since Passover, is going to be different. We will not be dancing with the Torah scrolls in our hands, but nevertheless it must be joyful. We rejoice because of the opportunity to change, to go over what we have already learned and understand it better, renew our understanding and thereby renew ourselves with that knowledge. It is a Simchat Torah where we must ask ourselves what it is that we should be studying during this new cycle? How can we develop better responsibility and more solidarity in our society? It seems to me that our country leaders should take this to heart this time around more than ever before as too many of them had not followed what they have ordered us to do. May when each of them will be able to say “there was light” they will comprehend how much darkness they have shed upon us in the past six months.

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim LeSimcha.

Reuven Marko, 22 Tishrei 5781, 9 October 2020

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