Shavuot and Simchat Torah

Shavuot is called "Hag Matan Torateinu"; meaning the Festival of the Reception of the Torah - yet we have a separate holiday (coming up) called the Festival of the Rejoicing in the Torah. Does that mean we did not rejoice when God first gave Moses the Torah? Keep in mind I'm using the Torah story as a guide, because it is the story which defines who we are, regardless of its historical accuracy (or not). The value of the Torah is in what it teaches, so the story is what it is important. Back to the story...

Seven weeks after leaving Egypt, Moses came down with the Torah and gave it to the people (Zot HaTorah asher sam Mosheh lifnei Beth Israel mi pi Adonay b'yad Mosheh - "This is the Torah which Moses presented to the Children of Israel, from the mouth of God by the hand of Moses). So why waiting several months to actually rejoicing in the Torah?

Archeology and History will tell you that Simchat Torah marks the day in which King Josiah had the Torah scroll read in front of the people assembled at the Temple (after "finding it" during renovations) at the end of Sukkot. Historians and Biblical scholars will tell you that Josiah combined the traditions of Judah and Israel as a way to integrate the refugees from the destruction of the northern kingdom who made it into Judah, and that the scroll read at that assembly was the book of Deuteronomy. These are the facts according to science.

The tradition of Simchat Torah is quite different, and like most traditions, it exists to reinforce values and ethics which are an intimate part of who we are as a People. According to the Rabbis, Simchat Torah is separated from Shavuot because the People could only rejoice in the Torah after they studied it. Before reading it, they had no reason to rejoice in it, because they did not know her (the Torah). What does this say about Jewish Culture?

The tradition talks about an undercurrent of skepticism which underlies Jewish tradition; the need to ask questions about everything and to question everything. This is the root of the permanent dissatisfaction mentioned by Shimon Peres in his offhand definition of the Jewish People. It is also at the root of Jewish participation in the Sciences, and the inquisitive nature of the Talmud. It was necesary for the People to read the Torah before making up their mind.

To this day, that is the way we do business as a People. We tend not to accept anything at face value, and we tend to live between the safety of the known and proven (tradition) and the unknown and undefined (change). That place in between is what has fed the creative tension in Judaism and the tendency of Jews to get involved in new and unproven endevours.

So when a change is proposed, we Jews look it over from top to bottom; from left to right; from front to back - and we question it every step of the way. This community did exactly that when confronted with the need to revisit how the community is structured. For about eighteen months, in countless Zoom meetings and discussions, the community struggled with the changes and what they imply to define a path forward. None of the decisions were easy (or simple), but the quest for a new model reflected this milenarian tradition of Jews of investigating every angle before making up their mind. I commend the community for going through the process and confronting the reality of change.

And since some time have passed since we received the Torah, it is time to rejoice! HAPPY SIMCHAT TORAH.




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