Simchat Torah, which concludes the festival of Sukkot, is a joyous time in Jewish life. In congregations, Torah scrolls are paraded around the congregation, there is dancing and singing and often Consecration of new religious school students. There is that very symbolic moment when the last verses of Deuteronomy are read and immediately the first verses are read from Genesis. A very real symbolic beginning. And so we come to this festival again and I was thinking of that end/beginning moment and how meaningful it can be to Boomers.
This new beginning carries over from the Holidays. But, unlike the Holidays, there is this very real visual of starting over…again! There is a famous Midrash about this time of year being the time when we are given the opportunity to write our own scroll. Indeed, we had this discussion with a congregation that I was with on the Holidays that this time of year really offers us the opportunity to write the next chapter of our own life. That is a very meaningful concept. None of us know what will happen in this next year. The very immediate beginning of reading from Genesis can, I think, remind us that we have, each of us, the power to write our own next chapter of our life. For many of us at this stage of our life, the choices are very much more personal. We may be looking at decades of life, God willing, and hopefully we have some sense of economic and family security. So as we listen to the words of Genesis and the theme of creation, we can personalize it. What do we wish to create as our next chapter? Can we actualize the dreams we have? Can we “go forth” into a future that we have been given?
This is, for many, a frightening reality. Freedom is a challenge, choice is an obligation with consequences. Yet, every year at Simchat Torah, we begin again. There is another Midrash that reminds us the first letter of Torah, the “bet”. It is closed on top and bottom and from behind. It is open to the rest of the scroll. It is as if we are being reminded that we cannot control what was, yet, we are able to choose what will be. What will our next chapter be? That really is the challenge and the call of Simchat Torah, for to paraphrase those opening words…as we begin to create our next chapter of life……..
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.