Well, we have almost made it! At long last, we are approaching the end of the High Holiday Season. A lot of my non-Jewish friends growing up always joked about the holiday hangover when it came to the Christmas season. Even though it’s not a competition, I just want to go on record and say I think we have them beat with our Fall holiday hangover….
First, we had Selichot, the official start of the High Holy Day season, followed by two days of Rosh Hashanah, Tashlich, 25 hours of Yom Kippur, and we are now approaching day five of Sukkot. Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are next, and then we are in the clear until Hanukkah...phew!
Each calendar year, we actually have two separate holidays that celebrate and focus on the Torah -- Shavuot in the Spring, and Simchat Torah, which will begin this Tuesday evening at sundown. During Shavuot, we celebrate “matan torah,” the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai, according to our biblical narrative. We are supposed to stay up all night studying, showing our willingness to learn, and accept God’s teachings. On Shavuot, each of us agree to take on the burden and the responsibility of the Torah and its commandments.
Simchat Torah, on the other hand, focuses simply on the joy and the love of Torah, with dancing and celebration, but I think it goes much deeper. On Simchat Torah, we renew our relationship to Judaism. This is an intimate relationship that is different for each individual reading this. Just as any marriage, or any relationship takes work, our Judaism needs a reboot every once in a while -- and a renewal of our commitment. This is the essence of Simchat Torah.
Whether this reboot means celebrating more Jewish holidays at home or with our Wilshire Boulevard Temple community, making it a priority to have Shabbat dinner each week with family and friends, or maybe it’s something deeply personal -- and a need to reboot your own connection to the divine. On Simchat Torah, we all have a chance to recharge and recommit.
The rabbis of the Talmud cleverly pointed out that the first letter of the Torah is a Bet for “Breisheet” and the last letter of the Torah is a Lamed, for “Yisrael.” If we put those two letters together, it spells “Lev,” which simply means “heart.”
For the Jewish people, Torah is wisdom. It is a moral code, but it is also our heart. As we prepare to begin the Torah anew next week, we reboot our hearts, and we renew ourselves to another year of learning, another year of holidays, and another year of sacred community. I promise you, that just like any relationship, this reboot will lead to a relationship filled with endless love. Love for Jewish traditions. Love for Jewish values. Love for one another.
Cantor Lisa Peicott