The Purpose

One of the happiest of all the Hebraic holidays is Simchat Torah, meaning “Rejoicing in the Torah.” It is second only to Purim in its joyous celebration. Simchat Torah immediately follows the feast of Sukkot. This delightful holiday has but one word to describe it – Joy! There is joy in the home, joy in the weekly Sabbath gathering, and joy throughout the entire community. Characterized by singing, hand clapping, and dancing, Simchat Torah is a time of rejoicing over the Torah, “GOD’s teaching and instruction;” specifically the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Although the holiday itself is not biblical, the act of public reading is. Throughout the year, a portion of the Torah is read each week until all five books are read in their entirety. On Simchat Torah the current reading cycle ends and the new cycle begins, so that immediately after the last portion of Deuteronomy is read, the first portion of Genesis is read afresh!

The Elements

During this time of celebration, the Torah scrolls are taken from the ark and typically carried in a processional involving the whole congregation, circling the Bimah (Podium) or the sanctuary seven times, with singing, dancing, waving flags and banners. Lights and lamps might be lifted as a reminder that, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Some will touch or kiss the scrolls during the celebration, symbolic of their love for GOD’s Word. Others will be called upon to read portions of the Scriptures from the Bimah (Podium). Most often Psalm 119 is selected, as the congregation also identifies with David’s heart and great love for Torah.

The Food

A traditional food for this celebration is Stuffed Cabbage Leaves, because once cooked, their shape is a reminder of a rolled Torah scroll. Apples, strudels, nuts and candy are enjoyed representing the sweetness of Torah…sweeter than honey in the honeycomb!