The Circle of Jewish Life

Dear Friend,
On Simchat Torah we do Hakafot, it means “circling.” Why do we dance with the Torah in a circle?

In a circle, the point of departure and the point of arrival are identical. In a circle, we end up right where we started despite all of our movement. In contrast, when we travel in a straight line we move 
further away from the starting point or beginning.
To Jews, the past remains intimately close. No 
matter how far we travel, no matter how much progress we make, we also remain tied to the past.     
Yes, Judaism is a forward-looking faith. We welcome scientific and technological advances. And Israel, a country that is smaller then Kruger National Park in South Africa, has created the largest high tech industry outside of the United States. As Jews, we march forward, we embrace the future. Yet, we never lose sight of the point of departure.
Think about the first Jew, the starting point for all of us here. For us, Abraham is not a mystical figure from the murky dawn of history. Sarah is not a foggy image of the past.  We travel with them daily. We travel with Moses through the desert, we sing with King David, we celebrate with Esther and Mordechai, laugh with Rabbi Akiva, and study with Maimonides. We welcome Elijah the Prophet into the house on Seder night. During Sukkot, seven esteemed guests, the Ushpizin, join our family in celebration as we eat in the Sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Jo- seph, and King David. (Chassidic Ushpizin accompany them as well) Our heroes are not dead and gone, but dynamic, living heroes who visit the Jewish people to bring comfort, inspiration and hope. Friends, to live Jewishly is to be part of the “circle of life” where the past, present, and future merge.

Our existence as a people is dependent upon this “Circle”, remembering where we came from, understanding what we are called on to do, and living fully in the present. Simchat Torah is a time when we rededicate ourselves, so we don’t fall out of the “circle of Hakafot.” A nation which loses its sense of purpose cannot survive. In our Simchas Torah Hakafot, we dance with the To- rah, again and again returning to our point of departure; repeatedly reminded of the source of our true strength and singularity.
Years before the United Nations Partition Plan of November 29, 1947 (which divided Palestine into Jewish and Arab states,) an earlier plan was offered which would have given the aspiring Jew- ish state a very meager parcel of land.
David Ben Gurion, head of what was then called the Provisional Jewish State, was unsure whether or not to accept the U.N.’s offer. He greatly respected Yitzhak Tabenkin, a leading Labor Zionist of that period, and agreed to abide by Tabenkin’s decision. Tabenkin asked for 24 hours, insisting that he had to seek the counsel of two individuals.
The next day, Tabenkin advised Ben Gurion to reject the plan. “I accept your decision,” said Ben Gurion, “but just tell me who your two advisors are?” “I had to ask two very important individu- als,” responded Tabenkin, “I took counsel with my grandfather who died ten years ago, and with my grandson who is not yet born.”
As Jews, we need to remember where we come from and where we are headed. We don’t travel a straight line leading us further and further away from our origin. As we move forward in the world, we are also simultaneously connected to the past. We live equally in the past, the present and the future.
And so friends, dance the night away.  
Those who celebrate with the Torah become part of an unbroken circle, an ancient dance that continues throughout the millennia in which are included all of Israel’s prophets and sages.
Indeed, our tradition teaches us that what we can accomplish on the High Holy Days through prayer and fasting, we accomplish on Simchat Torah through dancing and celebration.
So let us dance and tip the Heavenly scale of blessing for ourselves, the Jewish people, and the world.
Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

Article 2

Level: Basic
Significance: A follow-up to Sukkot; the completion of the annual cycle of Torah readings
Length: 2 days (Some: 1 day)
Customs: Limited "dwelling" in the sukkah; dancing and rejoicing with Torah scrolls
...On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the L-RD... on the eighth day, there shall be a holy convocation for you. -Leviticus 23:34
Tishri 22, the day after the seventh day of Sukkot, is the holiday Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is also the holiday of Simchat Torah. Outside of Israel, where extra days of holidays are held, only the second day of Shemini Atzeret is Simchat Torah: Shemini Atzeret is Tishri 22 and 23, while Simchat Torah is Tishri 23.
These two holidays are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot, but that is technically incorrect; Shemini Atzeret is a holiday in its own right and does not involve some of the special observances of Sukkot. We do not take up the lulav and etrog on these days, and our dwelling in the sukkah is more limited, and performed without reciting a blessing.
Shemini Atzeret literally means "the assembly of the eighth (day)." Rabbinic literature explains the holiday this way: our Creator is like a host, who invites us as visitors for a limited time, but when the time comes for us to leave, He has enjoyed himself so much that He asks us to stay another day. Another related explanation: Sukkot is a holiday intended for all of mankind, but when Sukkot is over, the Creator invites the Jewish people to stay for an extra day, for a more intimate celebration.

Simchat Torah means "Rejoicing in the Torah." This holiday marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. Each week in synagogue we publicly read a few chapters from the Torah, starting with Genesis Ch. 1 and working our way around to Deuteronomy 34. On Simchat Torah, we read the last Torah portion, then proceed immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.
This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration. There are processions around the
 synagogue carrying Torah scrolls and plenty of high-spirited singing and dancing in the synagogue with the Torahs. Drinking is also common during this time; in fact, a traditional source recommends performing the priestly blessing earlier than usual in the service, to make sure the kohanim are not drunk when the time comes! As many people as possible are given the honor of an aliyah (reciting a blessing over the Torah reading); in fact, even children are called for an aliyah blessing on Simchat Torah. In addition, as many people as possible are given the honor of carrying a Torah scroll in these processions. Children do not carry the scrolls (they are much too heavy!), but often follow the procession around the synagogue, sometimes carrying small toy Torahs (stuffed plush toys or paper scrolls).
In some synagogues, confirmation ceremonies or ceremonies marking the beginning of a child's Jewish education are held at this time.

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