A Torah Dance
Can you imagine the Supreme Court judges setting aside a day each year to celebrate the LAW, compose songs, and dance round the White House hugging a copy of the Constitution? No way! Yet, this is precisely what Jews do on Simchat Torah. Therefore, if you want to see the dignity of the law, go to court. If you want to see the joy of the law, go to a synagogue on Simchat Torah.
Identifying Jews as the “People of the Book” is an understatement. We are a people because of the Book. It is more than our constitution; it is G-d’s love letter to us. As such, we not only read it, we pore over it incessantly.
This holiday was not legislated by a supreme Rabbinic Council. It emerged from the hearts of simple Jews who understood what made them different. They were the people who carried G-d’s word, even as the Word carried them. In the absence of a physical home, it was their spiritual home and joy.
In Judaism, learning is to the mind what food is to the body. Just as you don’t give up eating when you become an adult, so you don’t give up learning. In truth, Judaism is a supremely adult faith, deep, complex, subtle, vast, and one that rewards each encounter with a new insight.
In that sense, Judaism is a fellowship of learning. Not the kind of knowledge one acquires from the daily news, because Judaism is countercultural. Our values are not the values of the world around us. We believe in marriage, family, and being part of a community. We are convinced that morality is objective; not everything we feel like doing is right. The timeless wisdom of Jewish life stands in sharp opposition to the value-free culture which is currently in vogue.
Thus we dare not take the Law for granted. As seen in many of today’s rogue states (Iraq, Sudan, etc.), it is not easy to create a Rule of Law. Yet without it, there is no freedom, justice, or basic human rights. That is why Jews see law as G-d’s most precious gift. Law tells us that we are all equal under the rule of justice, that might is subordinate to right, and that everyone is entitled to a hearing. Law insists that wrongdoing must be called to account.
Other cultures have found it hard to understand our love of Law. To them it sometimes seems like an obsession with detail. But as we now realize, Torah speaks to society, as much as it does to the soul. It represents the idea that there is no facet of life that cannot be sanctified and turned into the service of G-d: eating, relationships, workplace, the economy, or justice.
When law rules, we have time and energy for higher things. When it fails, all that is left is misery and fear. Which is why, once a year, Jews dance in a circle with the Torah at its center. In celebrating Simchat Torah we celebrate everything and everyone. We celebrate what Torah has to say about marriage and business, learning and recreation, about holidays and workdays, about respecting parents and raising children. It speaks to the scholar and the ignoramus, the pious and the wicked. It addresses all values and all people.
A childhood memory: The adults are dancing with the Torah scroll held aloft for all to see, while I play along with my imitation toy Torah. Even then, I sensed something mysterious about this strange book that looked quite unlike any other. You could see the reverence mixed with wild joy. What a heady combination.
So grab a Torah and feel the full weight of what it means to be a Jew. Simchat Torah is not an afterthought. In some ways, it is the holiday that gives everything else perspective. Perhaps the Justices in Washington could learn something from our Torah…even when it’s wrapped up and closed