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Simchat Torah Lessons
09/28/2002

Every year on Simchat Torah, we march with Scrolls and flags around the synagogue. We read of Moses' death, finish the Book of Deuteronomy, and then -- without a pause -- start the Torah cycle over again with Bereshit and the Creation story.

This seamless segue can effect me in various ways, depending on my mood.
If my world seems balanced, then the simple, rhythmic movement from ending to beginning feels logical and even comforting. If I'm hurting, this life-goes-on-in-spite-of-everything stuff can strike me as the Ultimate Cosmic Cliché. And if I'm bone weary, the unbroken circularity makes me yearn for a time out.

Obviously, the world, as the Broadway show says, won't stop and let me get off. But when I look closely at the text we read on Simchat Torah, I find a way to put things on hold.

Come with me. * * *
It is said that God created man in His image, yet none of us resemble any other. Furthermore, in one of the many Midrashim based on the Creation story read on Simchat Torah, we are told that while God was creating this world, He simultaneously created countless smaller worlds -- a metaphor (perhaps) for Mankind.

Imagine it! Zillions of people -- zillions of small worlds -- each spinning in its own orbit. Sometimes we spin out of control and collide. Often we spin so far away we lose sight of one another, of God, and the wonders He created for us.

Nachman of Bratslav understood this when he said, "Just as your hand, held before your eyes, can hide the tallest mountains -- so this earthly life can keep you from seeing the vast radiance that fills the universe."

But even as our individual, small worlds keep busily spinning, we can find a way -- and the time -- to see the radiance of the universe. All we need do is take our hands from our eyes and read the opening verses of Bereshit.

From the text we learn -- as we learn every Simchat Torah -- that after God spent six days creating the heavens and earth and all they contained, He brought into being His crowning achievement -- the Shabbat. The day that He blessed and called holy, and on which He rested from all the work He had made.

Shabbat, says our tradition, is a gift from God. It is a day of sweetness, peace and delight -- when the cares and troubles of the past week are forgotten and we can rest, rejoice and be happy.

The prophet, Jeremiah, said, "Take heed of the Sabbath, for the sake of your souls."
If -- during the year -- we forget this teaching, we can thank Simchat Torah, and the lessons found in Bereshit, for reminding us that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come -- a quiet haven when this world is too much with us. * * * *

Another Simchat Torah lesson.
According to the Psalms, in The Beginning, before He created any thing or any body, God created Wisdom. And this Wisdom, said the rabbis, was Torah. And, reasoned the rabbis, if God created the Torah before all else, He must have done so for a purpose. That purpose, they said, was so God could have a blueprint upon which to build the world.

A Midrash teaches that the Torah itself declared, "A human king builds a palace not according to his own ideas but according to the ideas of an architect. And the architect depends on parchment and tablets on which are drawn the plans for the rooms and entrances. I," said the Torah, "am God's architect, and so did God look into me and, accordingly, create the world."

Now, if God looked into the Torah and followed its wisdom in the act of Creation, it seems logical that we -- cast in His image -- should do the same.

And what better time to follow Torah than on Simchat Torah!
So. Let's all march and dance and follow Torah around the synagogue in the holiday hakafot. Then, when the festival has ended, let's continue to follow its wisdom as the blueprint for building our personal worlds.

And through the year, we would be wise to increase our study of Torah -- to learn from it and rejoice in it -- so we may help complete the work of Creation that God began for us -- Bereshit!