Posted on October 9, 2020 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
A Message for Shabbat & Simchat Torah
In 1999 I was invited to write the following commentary for the URJ 10 Minutes of Torah. It was subsequently published in a URJ Press collection of Torah teachings. I share it with you now on the eve of Simchat Torah to lift your hearts and inspire us all to celebrate the festival with greater meaning and joy. Please join us this evening for our online celebration at 7:00 p.m. (see links below). We will share the dramatic conclusion and renewal of Torah and join in a virtual hakafah to dance with the Torah from the safety of our homes.
Joined at the Heart
One of the most moving and dramatic moments of the Jewish year is when, on Simchat Torah, we conclude the reading of the Torah and begin again without pausing for a breath. When I introduce bar and bat mitzvah students to the study of the Torah, I ask them why they think it is that we keep reading and re-reading the Torah year after year. Why don’t we read it once really, really well, and then go on to read a different book next year?
The answer, of course, is that the book stays the same. It is we who change, as we grow from year to year, learning from Torah as we learn from life. This view of Torah as a tool for human and Jewish growth is reflected in the very words that are most central to the reading on Simchat Torah-the last word of Deuteronomy, which is Yisrael, and the first word of Genesis which is b’reishit. In that magical and sacred moment of renewal, the last letter of the Torah, lamed, joins the first letter of the Torah, bet, to spell out the Hebrew word lev, which means heart. Like a wedding ring which has no beginning and no end, the linkage of the lamed and the bet that forms the word lev, reminds us that the Torah links our hearts to the Heart of the Universe.
The Torah was given to us to incline our hearts toward God and toward one another. Most learning is intended to shape the mind through the power of ideas. Torah learning is different. Its purpose is not to convince us intellectually to live a certain way. Rather, like the loving wisdom we receive from our parents, the goal of Torah is to shape the heart and refine our character.
Torah speaks to us, above all, because it is the root and record of our relationship with God. God gave us Torah and mitzvot out of love that we might grow to reach our full potential. And we, the people Israel, have struggled throughout our history to fulfill them as a measure of our love for God.
Torah is like a love letter. We read it again and again because through it we hear God’s love for us. It is the lev, the lamed joined together with the bet, that closes the circle and draws us back to Torah, year after year, to grow in our relationship with God and with each other. It is the lev, the heart, that wells up with emotion when we see the Torah held high, when we kiss it with our prayerbook or our tallit, and when we hold it close and dance with it in joy on Simchat Torah.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Arnie Gluck