Simchat Torah

What’s the Deal with Simchat Torah?

A 150 year-old vintage torah scroll tied with a faded purple ribbon to keep it from unrolling.

Just when you think you’ve made it through all of the autumnal Jewish holidays, there’s one more: Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah is a celebration of Torah, but perhaps even more so, it is a celebration of endings and beginnings.

Ritually, we mark the finish of the Torah reading cycle, and in the very next breath, we usher in the beginning of the next cycle. In this way, the hard stops between beginnings and endings are erased; all that is left is a singular line of continuity.

As a mom and as a rabbi and as a person with an admittedly complicated relationship with my own professional and personal identities, I so appreciate the messages of possibility, continuity, and renewal inherent in the holiday of Simchat Torah. It fills me with hope and helps me gain perspective on my life and the anxieties that I shoulder. This year, as I reflect on the decisions that I have made to reach this moment, I share with you the lessons that I am taking from Simchat Torah:

1. There is always more in life. The cycle of Torah has so much to teach us about the cycle of life and all its many ups and downs and unpredictable twists and turns. But one of the greatest lessons we can glean from Simchat Torah is this idea that beginnings follow endings as naturally as the tide goes in and comes back out again. In the moments we feel we’ve bottomed out, or reached a roadblock beyond which there is nothing further, we can take comfort in knowing that the story does not end. There is always more to be written. There is always more to learn. And even when the last panel of Torah has been unscrolled, there is yet more to unscroll. There are no endings, full stop, in our lives; just transition points until the next beginning.

2. Every choice gives way to new opportunities. Three years ago I made the difficult choice to leave my job. So many of us face difficult choices when it comes to working or staying at home or some combination of the two. But just as the end of Torah always ushers us back to the beginning, let us consider that every choice we make also carries us somewhere. Contrary to what we might feel or fear, there is no singular career decision that closes every door; there is no one decision that wipes away our past.

In these three years, I have learned—in so many ways—that life is fluid and every decision, no matter how common or controversial, takes us on a journey. The route may be completely unfamiliar and the path may be rocky, but it moves us forward nonetheless. Deciding where we go from here may be challenging—surely it is—but realizing that we haven’t hit a dead-end, and that we indeed have somewhere to go, is half the battle.

3. We can and we should begin again—and often. As adults, we don’t always give ourselves the opportunities to try new things or learn new skills. And yet, our Torah teaches us that there is so much joy that comes with new beginnings, and so much discovery and wonder, too. I’d love to begin something new this year. And I’d love to try and succeed! But honestly, I’d love more to try and fail. I want to practice taking risks and being vulnerable and taking chances. I want to embrace that sense of unfamiliarity and enjoy the ride at the very same time. In the very act of starting the Torah over, Simchat Torah opens a well of opportunity for us all and reminds us that starting at the beginning, no matter how late in life, is not only a legitimate and worthy endeavor, but it is, even more so, a sacred endeavor, that we all merit in our lives.

4. To learn is a blessing. If there was ever a time to reignite our passion for learning and exploring and questioning, Simchat Torah is that time. As we look out onto the scroll in its unfurled glory, we notice passages we’ve never read and stories that we’ve never heard. We are reminded that there is so much yet to learn, so much knowledge yet to acquire, so much wisdom yet to obtain. Of course, as with Torah, it is with life. My goodness, I have so many books I want to read and discuss and digest! I have so many projects I have been aching to start! I have classes I’ve been meaning to take and lectures I’ve desperately wanted to attend!

This year, I truly want to gift myself with the blessing of learning. I want to nourish that part of me and feed my hunger for knowledge. I want to engage that part of my soul, no matter how many lunches I have yet to pack or how many phone calls I have yet to make. Learning is vital. And Simchat Torah reinforces that fact, reminding us that learning and studying are part and parcel of what it means to be Jewish, and that growing the mind is a profound mitzvah.

This Simchat Torah, may we take all these lessons to heart. May our endings lead us to surprising beginnings and may our beginnings bring us profound joy and meaning. And may the act of opening our collective Torah help us all open ourselves to new paths, new possibilities, and new life.


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Rabbi Sara Sapadin

Sara Sapadin is a rabbi and mother of four. Ordained by HUC-JIR, Sara most recently served Temple Israel of the City of New York where she focused on issues of social justice, Israel, and revitalizing Jewish living for young families. Sara has written for a number of Jewish publications and is also a proud contributor to The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate (CCAR Press).  She, her husband Danny, and their children reside in New York City, where they are raising their dog to be Jewish.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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