Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Simchat Torah

Last night was the beginning of Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday where we read the last bit of the Torah before rolling it back and reading from the beginning again. It's a holiday that celebrates the Torah, celebrates Judaism, celebrates new beginnings and Jewish life and the goodness of celebration. For someone like me, who appreciates both the chance to start over and the excitement of the book of Genesis (I know, cliche, but I can't help it--I love the stories!) it's a wonderful holiday.

This year was slightly different for me. It was my first Simchat Torah in New York, and really, my first celebration outside of Temple Israel in St Louis. We celebrated at B'nai Jeshrun, a conservative (traditional? reconstructionist?) synagogue in Manhattan. They had the traditional 7 hakafot (Torah processionals) which each lasted about 45 minutes and were full of dancing and singing and so much joy with the several Torah scrolls passed around from person to person. There were people of all ages celebrating, smiling and laughing and loving the Torah.

Normally on Simchat Torah, I stand in the pews, watching the people around me dance and have fun. I've never felt comfortable dancing in public where others can see me. But this year, I danced. No concern for what others were thinking, no worries about the sweat dripping off of me, no care for how I might have looked. I stopped thinking and started dancing, and had one of the most amazing experiences of my Jewish life. I realized that simply attending Simchat Torah services wasn't justly fulfilling the commandment of observing the holiday; the point is to dance and sing and carry the Torah with your only concern being the celebration itself.

So I danced. And sang. AND--carried the Torah for awhile :) Surrounded by friends and Jewish brothers and sisters, not caring about how my body looked, concentrating only on joy and new beginnings and the gift of Torah. THIS is what my body was made to do, and for the first time I was able to let loose, let God enter my soul AND my body, let my most beautiful self shine through.

Such a refreshing wake-up call and a beautiful start to my year of Torah. I didn't stay for the actual reading (we left in the middle of the 4th hakafa--too many people!) but it still amazes me the lessons God and the Torah can teach without reading a single word.

I know the revelation of Torah is celebrated on the Jewish holiday of Shavuout in the spring; but I don't think God would mind me saying that I had my own Torah revelation last night. From this point forward, the Torah will mean so much more than it ever did before.

Thanks, Dude, for the gift of Torah.

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