One of my favourite holidays has recently become Simchat Torah. You know, the holiday where one dances with the Torah with a joyful heart. Yes, it’s that holiday, the one that comes with copious amounts of schnapps and other types of distilled beverages.
However, what is Simchat Torah really all about?
The holiday, for those of you that do not know, marks the conclusion of the annual public reading of the Torah and marks the beginning of a new cycle of Torah reading. Now, I could go on explaining more about why this holiday is important or go into long explanations about how it is celebrated, but this post is about me. So I’ll keep it short!
Back to me, then! For just over one year now I have been attending a Chassidic Shul. I chose to attend the Shul for many reasons, but the three that stand out are:
1) For years I wanted to study Torah and other classic Jewish works from a knowledgeable and authentic source
2) For a while I have had a fascination with learning Chassidic philosophy and trying to understand and apply Chassidic wisdom
3) And the Rabbi at the Shul I now attend was so friendly, inviting, engaging and non-judgmental that I felt compelled to at least check out the learning environment.
And that’s how it all began. I started taking classes at the Shul, once a week and before I knew it I was a regular attendee at Saturday morning classes, davening all the holidays at the Shul and trying to follow the rituals practiced by this branch of the Judaic tree.
Now, back to Simchat Torah! I could only imagine what the celebrations would be like at my new Shul, since I had never attended Simchat Torah celebrations there. While I have been to other synagogues with meaningful services, I felt that not one pulled off even a half-decent celebration. But this year I have high hopes for an exuberant celebration full of warmth, joy, singing and dancing. Why do I have such high hopes for this year’s celebration at my Shul? Well for starters, it’s a Chassidic Shul, and as we all know Chassidim has a reputation for joyous celebrations. The warmth, friendliness, respect and joy I feel on Shabbos and other holiday celebrations surpasses those that I have experienced at all the other communities previously. It’s a special place to say the least.
This year’s Simchat Torah will mark one year of my reading and studying every Parashat, or weekly portion of the Torah. This year I made a commitment to express my growing commitment to Judaism by marking each week with Shabbat celebrations, each week learning Chumash with Rashi (Torah with commentary), reading Tanya (a Chassidic holy book) as much as possible, studying Chassidut (Chassidic Philosophy) and by wearing Tefillin daily and praying at least once a day, usually at night. There are many other things I have adopted, like the wearing of a Kippah all the time, but the above lists the major things I have done this year in my pathway to observance of all 613 Mitzvot.
So again, why will this Simchat Torah, be so meaningful for me:
1) I read and studied the whole Torah in one complete year for the first time. And this is what the holiday is grounded in. The reading and studying of Torah
2) I have a greater commitment to Judaism and appreciation of all that I have learned this year.
3) I have grown as a person and come to realize through my study of Chussidut how to be more truly joyful person and less frustrated with things I don’t control.
4) And the people I now share holidays, festivities and almost every Saturday with have shown me the power of community. Not just friends and family (very important) but community and the power of the communal spirit.
So there you have it. My thoughts on what this holiday means to me. And for your amusement I have provided a short video for you to look at. You can see my Rabbi and his six kids joyfully dancing in honour of Simchat Torah. Check out Chabad of Richmond!