parasha

Simchat Torah 5778

A Dance of Joy
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

On Simchat Torah, which marks the end of Succot (Feast of Tabernacles), synagogues around the world do “hakafot” – joyful dances around the Torah scroll.  This joy is connected to the order of the Torah reading every Shabbat.  Every year we complete an entire cycle of reading the five books of the Torah, beginning with the book of Breishit and ending with the book of Devarim.  This yearly cycle is completed on Simchat Torah.  We are happy, and express this joy, because we were privileged to complete another cycle of reading and learning Torah and because we are privileged to begin another yearly cycle.

We complete the cycle on this festive day with the reading of the last parasha in the Torah, Vezot Habracha, and begin immediately with the first parasha in the Torah, Breishit.
Vezot Habracha describes Moshe’s parting from Am Yisrael prior to his death.  With his death, the writing of the Torah comes to an end.  The leaders that follow him will write the books of the Prophets, but the Torah is “Moshe’s Torah” alone and as his life comes to an end, so does the writing of the Torah.
Moshe’s parting from the Jewish people was moving and was accompanied by blessings, praise, and wishes of the great leader.  He described some characteristics of the Jewish nation in general, and of each of its tribes in particular.  At the beginning of his blessings, Moshe poetically described the amazing event that took place forty years earlier – Ma’amad Har Sinai – when the Torah was given to the Jewish people. Our national identity has been based on this event since then.
Let us examine one verse of Moshe’s speech:
The Torah that Moses commanded us is an inheritance for the congregation of Jacob.
(Devarim 33, 4)
This verse has undergone an interesting process in Jewish tradition.  Upon simple reading, and surely also an accurate one, it describes the Torah as Am Yisrael’s legacy.  The use of the word “inheritance” expresses the basic and inextricable connection between the Jewish nation and the Torah.  A person who inherits something from his parents does not need to justify his ownership of it; it is the most natural and justified ownership.
But our sages say something quite to the contrary in the Ethics of the Fathers:
Perfect yourself for the study of Torah, for it is not an inheritance to you. 
(Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 2)
It is easy for us to relate to this as well.  Indeed, despite the natural connection between the Jewish people and the Torah, this is not information we are born with.  On the contrary.  We must prepare ourselves to learn Torah, to open our hearts and minds, to learn to listen to its subtle melody, to be sensitive while uncompromising in learning Torah, since the Torah is not something passed in inheritance.  A father can be brilliant in Torah but his son can be far from it.  It depends on how much each of us invests in learning Torah. 
There is a third facet added to these two. On the one hand, Torah is a legacy, an inheritance; and on the other it isn’t.  This third facet is revealed to us by the sages of the Talmud:
Moses commanded us a law [Torah], an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. Read not morashah [inheritance], but me'orasah [betrothed].
(Talmud Bavli, Tractate Berachot, page 57)
The Torah, say these sages, is not an inheritance.  It is betrothed.  They compare the Torah to a bride who has made the decision to tie her fate to that of her beloved.  The couple must step forward as a couple, get married, and commit to one another to live a shared life in every aspect of it.  The engagement is the initial and partial connection, but it is the seed slated to blossom and grow into a long and happy life of two parts who found each other and became whole.
There is an essential difference between the concept of “inheritance” and that of “betrothal” or engagement.  Inheritance is a natural connection that does not need justification.  But it is a connection of ownership and control, a one-sided connection of a person to an asset.  Engagement is the complete opposite.  The connection between two people is not natural.  It is accompanied by hardships and challenges.  It requires justification and continued effort, and therefore – it is not a connection of control but of partnership, of a two-sided relationship between one person and another, between one heart and another.
When sages described the Torah as a bride engaged to Am Yisrael – this is what they were referring to.  Indeed, to know the Torah and learn it requires effort.  It is a challenge that demands our devotion and focus.  But the relationship that ensues from this devotion is not one of a person with an asset.  It is a living, active relationship.  A person who learns Torah regularly begins to feel a partnership with it, a partnership with God.  The relationship between the Jewish nation and the Torah is a relationship of love and devotion – two parts that found one another and became whole.
When we finish reading the Torah and begin a new cycle – joy erupts, hearts sing, and our legs can’t stop themselves from dancing.  We hug and kiss the Torah, dance with it, and promise to stay loyal to it forever. 

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