As a young boy growing up in Phoenix, my youth is filled with such awesome High Holiday season memories. The walk to Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah, the uplifting close to Yom Kippur and the always beautiful Sukkot festivities. But by far my all-time favorite has always been the raw joy of Simchat Torah!
I remember one year my father, Rabbi Zalman Levertov — regional director of Chabad of Arizona — saying to the congregants on Yom Kippur, “If we are here praying for sweet judgment on the awe-filled High Holidays, we should also attend the victory celebration on Sukkot and Simchat Torah.”
Our sages teach us that Sukkot is a holiday and time of Jewish unity. The sukkah reminds us of the clouds of glory that G-d spread around the infant Jewish nation during their desert travels toward the Holy Land of Israel. The four species remind us of all types of Jews and of one body telling us we are all part of a single unit: the Jewish people.
Jews really know how to party. The Talmud states, “He who has not seen the joy of the Water Drawing (in the Temple on Sukkot) has never seen true joy in his life.” The raw zest for life exhibited with unparalleled devotion to G-d and mitzvot reaches its high with the dancing of the Torahs on Simchat Torah. As we celebrate the renewal of our yearly cycle of Torah reading, tradition is to dance the night away on the eve prior. Many have asked the question: If our celebration is the cycle of Torah study, why do we dance with closed Torahs? Should we not dedicate the time to intense study, to broaden our Torah knowledge and dig into the depths hidden behind each letter and word?
In HaYom Yom, a compilation of quotes and messages for each day, the Chabad rebbe addresses the question: What is greater, love of G-d or love of a fellow Jew? The answer: Love of a fellow Jew is greater because you are loving what G-d loves. There is no stronger force than a united Jewish community. There is no greater protection than our people being loving to each other and united. At the conclusion of the Amidah prayer we say, “Bless us our father for we are all together.” The commentary explains that just the unity of the Jewish people, even if we are not fitting in other areas of Jewish practice, is enough of a reason for G-d to bless us.
The Torah is an inheritance and a core part of each and every Jew, regardless of the individual’s Torah knowledge, intellectual capabilities, devotion or practice. G-d gifted the Torah to each and every Jew, and nothing can take the Torah from us. This then is the reason why we dance with closed Torahs. Our celebration is the unity of our people and our core connection to G-d and the Torah. After the highs of the days of awe culminating with the pure sound of the shofar signaling our core soul connection with G-d on Yom Kippur, we transport this core connection to a joyous unity of our people and celebrate the special union of G-d and the Jewish nation.
So I propose, if you made sure to be at High Holiday services during the most auspicious days of awe, you owe it to yourself to celebrate our deep connection and union with G-d and the unity of our people this Simchat Torah — together as one Jewish nation, throughout the world dancing with the closed Torah scrolls, reminding us G-d loves each of us unconditionally and equally. JN
Rabbi Dov Levertov is director of the Chabad of Phoenix.