There is a well-known interpretation that notes that the last letter of Torah is a lamed while the first letter of Torah is the bet and those two letters for the Hebrew word lev, which means heart. This week we will end Sukkot with Simchat Torah and begin another Torah reading cycle. It is a curious juxtaposition in the coming days for as we end this year’s reading cycle, we do so with the portion V’zot Ha’Bracha which discusses the death of Moses. A powerful combination of texts and emotions will face us, ending, death and new beginning. In a sense, the texts re-enact life.
I wanted to explore this a little as these passages speak to our generation as so many of us are in transitions. All of us, in our own way, are greeting this new year and are concerned as to what the year will bring and how we shall fare. After all, as much as we wish to exert control over time, we know in our hearts that we cannot. I think that we can take some lessons from Simchat Torah well beyond the parade of scrolls around the sanctuary. The message I want to ask you to consider from this festival is one of renewal and redefinition of self.
I take this from that bet that begins Torah. It is closed at the top, at the bottom and in back, but open to the future. We have noted this before, but I wanted to remind us of this as I think this week and this celebration brings the message of renewal and redefinition back home to each of us. We all have the opportunity, even the invitation from tradition to write our own scroll, as the High Holiday liturgy reminded us. Consider the idea of invitation. We begin Genesis again. It is like tradition is inviting us to look again at the texts and thus, our own life. What do we wish to create in this new year that has dawned? What new experiences do we look forward to and what new relationships? What on-going relationships do we hope to continue to nurture? What estranged relationships can we hope to repair? As we get older, that line in Genesis 2:18 means so much more: it is not good to be alone and thus our relationships and community become more important than ever.
In this season of the harvest of our soul, we can also relate to this theme of renewal and redefinition in our liturgy. One of the ways we can understand the second prayer of the Amidah is to see the phrase m’chayai meitim as symbolic of opportunity we are given at this season, and indeed every day, to bring a new sense of life and purpose to our souls. While many of our community reject the literal meaning of the phrase to resurrect the dead, we can see the phrase as a metaphor for always having the possibility of change and growth open to us.
So many of our generation are re-engaging with sacred texts as they seek a more mature Judaism. In doing so, they find that when we become open to seeing the text in light of our own life experience, the texts take on new meaning. This is part of our renewing the Torah cycle. We will meet Torah this year differently than before because we are different.
Simchat Torah then is an invitation to embrace our own future. Like Avram in Genesis 12, we are being “called” to go into our future, a future that we cannot really know. But that is part of being human, the invitation to continue to grow, to learn and to be open to new experiences. The only barriers to that continued growth are the barriers we place upon our own self. And how shall we embrace this new invitation? With our lev, our hearts, for as we age one of the lessons, we begin to learn is that to walk into tomorrow supported by love and kindness to our self, our family and community will make that journey so much more meaningful.
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.