Joyous ending, spiritual beginning
Chag Sameach! We are in the midst of celebrating some of the most joyous days in the Jewish calendar.
For the past week, we celebrated the joyous festival of Sukkot with our families and community. We recalled G-d’s compassion during our ancestors’ journey in the desert by enjoying all of our meals and spending quality time in our sukkahs. We held the Four Kinds, representing unity and the diverse personalities of our community. My family and I hosted a multitude of guests, took part in numerous gatherings, and brought the joy of this season to many seniors with a plethora of functions. For those who couldn’t come, we went about town to them with the Sukkah Mobile.
But the holidays aren’t quite over yet.
We now ride into the culmination of this period with the festivals of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
For seven days of Sukkot, we revelled in the revelation of the deep bond we forged with G-d on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Shemini Atzeret is when we internalise its depth to be permeated by it. Atzeret means “to restrict”, a reference to the unbridled flow of revelation by absorbing and internalising it. Shemini (the eighth) represents transcendence. Seven symbolises the cycle of creation, eight transcends creation and represents the Creator. Shemini Atzeret thus means “absorbing the transcendent”.
Which is why this holiday transitions into Simchat Torah. Before we begin a new Torah reading cycle, we want to channel this holiness into our ordinary routines, which is the hallmark of Sukkot – the mundane activities of our day become mitzvahs when performed in the Sukkah.
Hence we don’t celebrate the completion of the Torah by opening and studying it. Rather, we celebrate it by dancing with it closed. This is how we show that the Torah belongs to all equally, learned and unlearned. Had we celebrated Torah with lectures, it would have been enjoyed by the more erudite among us. As Torah is divine wisdom far exceeding any human intellect, it transcends even the scholars. By expressing our celebration in a physical way, simpleton dancing alongside scholar, we involve the entire community in an expression of absolute unity.
As we conclude the Torah and prepare to start again, we declare, “Chazak chazak vnitchazek! (Be strong, be strong, and let’s be strengthened!)” wishing each other the opportunity to return to the beginning and discover deeper inspiration to internalise teachings for our life mission. The more we study Torah, the closer we become to its author, G-d. When we finish the entire Torah and think we’ve comprehended it, we then return to the beginning and read again, “In the beginning”, realising that whatever we’ve previously studied is inconsequential in comparison to Torah’s true depth, and it’s just the beginning of our journey.
Indeed, the year’s journey has only just begun, and now after all of these holy days, we feel spiritually reinforced. May all of our experiences guide us in the right direction. Now it’s time to hit the road!