Saturday, October 14, 2006

Simchat Torah. Where is the Joy?

Simchat Torah is not an easy day. I think that there are few people who feel an innate rush of energy that propels them to dance endlessly with the Torah. It is for this reason that people stand at the side and talk, people resort to the Kiddush option; many people only truly participate in the dancing to give their kids an authentic Simchat Torah experience. But how many participants are rejoicing with the Torah, celebrating its completion, revelling in the beautiful synergy of Torah and the Jewish people?

I say this even in learned and commited communities. Somehow, it isn't always easy to spontaneously generate genuine feeings of elation in regards to Torah.

On Simchat Torah, I was in shul, and I approached a learned friend who was sitting there with his Gemara learning as all the hakafot were going on around. He looked up and he said; "lots of people are dancing with the Torah, but is anyone studying Torah today?" And I responded, "But maybe today is about the dancing and NOT the learning of Torah!" In other words, there is a time to understand Toah but there is also a time to rejoice in the special gift that God has given us.

This all reminded me about an experience I had in London about 20 years ago. I visted a chassidish shteibel on Simchat Torah. At a certain point in the dancing, the Rebbe instructed everyone to put the Sifrei Torah down. and then he announced: "Everyone go to the bookshelf! Get a Gemara! Pick the massechta that you are learning!" And everyone grabbed a Gemara and began to dance holding their Gemaras in the air, dancing. The atmosphere was electrifying. The mood suddenly accelarated and elevated many degrees. The energy surged and somehow the book of the Gemara connected with the people there in a deeper way than even the Sefer Torah!

Why? Why should the moment in which the Gemara is held be more powerful than the Sefer Torah? After all the Sefer Torah is the ultimate source of holiness. But maybe the Gemara has more power because we have studied it, we have grappled with its words, its phrases. we have struggled with the Rishonim and Achronim. We have forged a relationship; we have made a kinyan HaTorah. Somehow the Sefer Torah is a symbol, but it is so sacrosanct, so holy, that it is in a way distant. It is beyond relationship, beyond intimacy. It stands at a distance; majestic, sacred. And yes, we chant its words, but how often do we get an Aliya? How frequently do we engage with the object that is a Sefer Torah?

But the book that I learn every day: My Daf Yomi, my Chumash Rashi - That I could dance with! It nourishes me on a daily basis; it provided the lifeblood of my Judaism, it challenges and excites, informs and inspires, it is my companion, my partner in conversation, my Chavruta. I have a relationship with it.

I am not referring to the difference between Torah Shebal Peh and Torah Shebichtav but rather the development of emotional ties that we forge in relation to objects, the sentimental, emotional, and sometimes nostalgic feelings that can be evoked by a particular object in which a physical item encapsulates a whole world of feelings.

And so, this is what I began thinking about this Simchat Torah. Maybe if we were dancing with our Gemaras, we could dance with greater fervour. Possibly it isn't that we have no Simcha in our connection with Torah, but rather that the Sefer Torah specifically fails to generate the elation that we might feel!

Maybe my friend should have danced with his Gemara instead of studying it!

1 comment:

Elana Lubin said...

Thanks for sharing that fascinating story and offering this insight into the holiday (even if I'm only seeing this now!). Chag Sameach!