Friday, October 11, 2019

Simchat Torah (Hourglass)

Sometimes, you are closer to your destination than you might think.

In his wonderful book about the Days of Awe, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, Rabbi Alan Lew recalls a lesson that he learned from the great Orthodox Rabbi Joseph Solovetchik.  He notes: “If you are moving along the circumference of a circle, it might seem at first as if the starting point is getting farther and farther away, but actually it is getting closer and closer.  The calendar year is such a circle.  On Rosh Hashanah, a new year begins, and every day is one day farther from the starting point; but every day is also a return, a drawing closer to the completion of the cycle.”

If one thinks of our fall holy day season as a kind of marathon, then Simchat Torah represents the finish line—and it is within sight.  After the preparation of the month of Elul and the introspection of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we at last arrive at a time of pure and unabashed joy.  We exhale a collective sigh of relief: we have been written and sealed in the Book of Life, the harvest is secure—and now, at last, we can celebrate.

We dwell in the sukkah for a week, enjoying the beauty of the natural world.  And then, with Simchat Torah, we dance, we sing, we stomp and swirl and carry flags and Torah scrolls.   And amidst all this revelry, we welcome our newest students with a ceremony of consecration.  It is a raucous occasion; we’ve paid our dues and now it is time to party.  In the words of Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, “Simchat Torah celebrates a Torah of pure joy, a Torah without restrictions or sense of burden. . . It is a magical moment when all that exists are God and Torah and ourselves.  We throw ourselves into endless circles of dancing and become time lost.”

The circle is, indeed, the central image of the festival.  The Torah scroll circles back on itself, as we conclude the end of Deuteronmy and begin again with the Creation.
Our circle dances echo that circle of the text itself—and the circles that mark the journeys of our individual and communal lives.

Many marathons follow a circuit route: the finish and the starting lines are the same.  So, too, in so much of life: we end up, essentially, back where we began. 

But what matters is what we see and do along the way—the twenty six miles of the marathon, or whatever the years allotted to us.  “In the beginning” God creates the world.  At Torah’s end, Moses dies.  In between, in both the words and the spaces, life is lived.  And then God creates the world anew.  Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.

This marks my final e-Torah for the cycle of the past year, and so I’ll leave you, as usual, with a beautiful blues song—“Hourglass” from Patty Griffin’s spectacular 2019 self-titled album.  Her words capture the joy of this season with wonderful poetic imagery and deep feeling, as once again we finish and start anew:

The hourglass never really runs out of sand
You get to the end and you just turn it upside down again
It's like a book where the story never ends
The plot keeps turning around
I was dancing with my eyes closed
The music had me in a trance
Six o'clock in the morning came around
I was the last one at the dance


Next week, I’ll start the new cycle of e-Torah, which will truly be just that—
E(nvironmental)-Torah.  Each week, I’ll offer an ecological teaching based on something in the Torah portion for the coming Shabbat.  I look forward to re-reading the text through “green” eyes and sharing insights with you all.

Meanwhile, Chag Sameach—a joyous Sukkot and Simchat Torah to all.

No comments: