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!