The final day of the Jewish festival of Sukkot is known as Simchat Torah, which means, literally, “rejoicing in the Torah.” It marks the completion of the annual cycle of Torah readings. Every week in synagogue, Jews all over the world publicly read from the Torah beginning with the first chapter of Genesis and continuing through the book of Deuteronomy. On the Sabbath, the cycle will begin once again.
As its name suggests, Simchat Torah is a day of great rejoicing. As the holiday begins, all the Torah scrolls are taken out of the Ark in the synagogue and carried around the sanctuary seven times amidst singing and dancing, with children leading the procession. (Needless to say, traditional synagogue rules of decorum are suspended on this joyful day!)
We read before the congregation the concluding portion of Deuteronomy and the first portion of Genesis. In this way we demonstrate our love for the Torah, and give thanks to God for the gift of His word.
This day always reminds me of an unforgettable ceremony I once attended in Israel. Through the generosity of Fellowship supporters, we funded the construction of a spiritual center for Ethiopian immigrants in the central Israel city of Lod. How thrilling it was, as the Torah was carried in for the dedication ceremony, to watch the joy of these Jews who finally had come home, and to see them finally able to live openly and worship freely as Jews!
It was an extraordinary scene that made a great impression on me. I recall thinking what an incredible document the Torah is; how it binds Jews together, despite differences of race or national origin. And, through my years of interfaith work, I have come to understand that God’s word not only binds together Jews, but Jews and Christians as well.
On Simchat Torah, we celebrate our love for the Torah and are reminded that we never stop being students of the Bible. Learning from and studying God’s word is a lifelong process because there is always more to learn. Even the Hebrew term for a great Torah scholar is talmid chacham, meaning “wise student.” Today and every day let all of us, Christians and Jews alike, seek to be “wise students” of biblical wisdom.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein