THE JOY OF THE TORAH

Jewish terms and names are notorious for being misnomers. Shemini Atzeret, is case in point. Simchat Torah is a combination of two words, which ought to be separated by a comma, in that those two words embody two different phrases (on the eighth – Shemini,  an Atzeret – a stoppage, should be unto you). Similarly, Chanukah is a shortened version of Chanukat Habayit, the dedication of the “House” or holy Temple. Why, even Tiferet is a misnomer, in that Tiferet means “Glory of!” Simchat Torah however, takes the cake. Simchat means “the joy of.” As such, rather than “rejoicing with the Torah,” Simchat Torah means “the joy of the Torah.” Rather than serving as the object, the Torah is the subject!

Over time, the Torah has been the object of wrath. It has served as a convenient avenue for expressing hatred towards the Jews. In their quest to inflict pain and sorrow, anti-Semites over the ages, have been known to desecrate and destroy Torah scrolls. So much so, our rabbinic sages felt compelled to provide a way of responding for distraught and devastated Jews. Accordingly, they handed down a halacha or ruling that dealt with how Jews are to mourn such a travesty. Rather than place one tear in our garments, as we are required to do when confronted by the loss of a family member, our sages ruled that we (the community) are to place two tears in our garments. One tear is to mourn the destruction of the script of the Torah; one tear is  to mourn the destruction of the parchment of the Torah. At the risk of personifying Torah scrolls, perhaps it can be said that grateful that no travesty has befallen them, the Torah Scrolls set aside one day a year to express joy that they are intact and unmarred.

We at Tiferet are blessed. Unlike other congregations that make do with two or even one Torah scroll throughout the year, we at Tiferet have ample scrolls. There is however a downside. Whether it be size or accessibility, typically the same two Torah scrolls are read from throughout the year, leaving the other Torah scroll as place markers. Rarely, if ever, throughout much of the year are those Torah scrolls removed from the ark, much less read from. Simchat Torah is different. Not only are all (or most) Torah scrolls removed from the ark, but they are carried down from the bimah, as congregants participate in hakafot (circuits) and are danced with. From the point of view of the Torah, Simchat Torah is the festival of equality. All Torah scroll are treated the same. Because of this, all Torah scrolls have good reason to rejoice. Afterall, the word of HaShem remains the same, regardless of the age of the Torah, the size of the Torah or the accessibility of the Torah.

Unlike all other ark openings throughout the year, the ark opening on Simchat Torah, is preceded by an additional 10 verses. Among them, we ask that HaShem neither leaves us nor abandons us( I Kings 8:57). An excellent case could be made that those very same sentiments could also be expressed by the Torah! Throughout our history, the Torah has been set aside and forgotten by our people. And even when the Torah was read from on an ongoing basis, its teachings were either conveniently overlooked or forgotten. The very fact that a synagogue service is set aside to mark the completion of the Book of Deuteronomy as well as the beginning of the Book of Genesis is ample reason for the Torah to express joy.

Why not set aside Monday evening, October 21 and Tuesday morning, October 22? Why not join us here at Tiferet to celebrate a festival with a misrepresented and perhaps even a misunderstood name. Join us as we witness the “joy of intact and unmarred Torah scrolls. Join us as we make a point of treating all Torah scrolls the same so that no Torah scroll is overlooked  because of age, size or accessibility. Join us the Torah scrolls at Tiferet are reminded that they are neither neglected nor abandoned. Join us as we share in the joy of our sacred Torah scrolls.

A meaningful Simchat Torah to all!

KRISTALLNACHT, A WINDOW TO OUR EXISTENCE

Kristallnacht (the night of shattered glass) ought to take on greater significance this year. Not just because this Friday and Shabbos  mark the 80th anniversary of what Adolph Hitler hoped to be “the beginning of the end” for Jews of Europe, but it brings with it a powerful message to each and every one of us, especially the “oy vey” Jews who, as a result of a lone lunatic in Pennsylvania, are all of a sudden beginning to question their physical safety at synagogue services.

Numbers aside (close to 100 Jews were murdered, while windows were shattered and buildings, including synagogues were set ablaze), Kristallnacht serves as a stark reminder that not only did the German government not protect the Jews, but it was Nazi officials themselves, who ordered German police officers and firemen to do nothing as the riots raged and buildings burned. Unless  blazes threatened Aryan-owned property, firefighters were forbidden to extinguish any flames. Yet, here in this country, immediately following the disaster in Pittsburgh, community-wide programs were held, including one here in Dallas, where the Chief of Police spoke, and a letter of support was read from the Mayor. A cogent argument can be made that random acts of mayhem and carnage notwithstanding, Jews living in the United States of America ought to feel more secure than Jews living in any other country, outside of Israel.

The flames of Kristallnacht shed light on yet another catastrophe that was very much evident in Germany. Whether out of zeitgeist or fear, many non-Jewish Germans either stood idly by, as the wanton destruction took place or cheered the frenzied mobs on, as those mobs wreaked havoc on synagogues as well as stores and homes owned by Jews. While I can only speak for Dallas, the outpouring of support and solidarity from non-Jewish friend and stranger alike, has been most heartening. For far too long throughout our history, when confronted by the deadly deed and venom of the anti-Semite, we Jews knew only too well, that we had no one to turn to but ourselves. Yet, within these last two weeks, it was the outside world who turned to us! I, for one, cannot help but feel that it is so very unfortunate, that we Jews do not show greater appreciation to this outpouring of solidarity.

Close to three decades ago, Reuven Bulka, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, Canada, published a book about misconceptions of Jewish life. One misconception concerns the breaking of the glass at a Jewish wedding. According to Rabbi Bulka, there is no connection between the breaking of the glass under the chuppah and the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Rather, the breaking of the glass finds its origin in the Talmud, where a rabbi, an invited guest at a wedding, deliberately threw his glass at the wall, thereby shattering that glass, in an effort to temper the level of joy that had gotten out of hand. I should like to add yet another reason for the breaking of the glass under the chuppah.

Eighty years ago, in Germany, the breaking of glass signified destruction of a past, hatred of others and lives in turmoil. Under the chuppah, the breaking of the glass represents the exact opposite. Under the chuppah, the breaking of the glass represents building a future, love of each other, and a life of harmony.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima, a rabbinic sage who lived at the time of the Bar Kochba revolt (135 C.E.) reminds us that 80 is synonymous with strength. Let’s draw strength, knowing that we live in a country where the government protects Jews. Let’s draw strength, knowing that we live in a society where non-Jews are genuinely concerned about us and Israel. Let’s draw strength, knowing  that we are part of a tradition where, provided it is done under the chuppah, the shattering of glass is among the most beautiful sounds we ever hear.