Friday October 7, 2023 – כ״א תִּשְׁרֵי תשפ”ד
סוּכּוֹת ז׳ – הוֹשַׁעְנָא רַבָּה
Dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah has the dynamic potential to encourage or inspire us to adhere to, learn more about, or even just open the actual scroll more frequently. This holiday was a later invention by the rabbis when our people transitioned out of their agricultural cycle. We nonetheless clung to our holidays even as they became more symbolic of a time when we were deeply tied to the natural cycle.
Simchat Torah offers a beautiful tradition of revering a book, elevating the physical Torah scroll, and reminding us of its sanctity. Nowadays, in addition to looking for deeper meaning and soul-cleansing spiritual enlightenment, we look for action. On Yom Kippur we are told to take action, to mend ourselves and our relationships. On Sukkot, we can take action by opening our homes to guests and strangers and connecting with both people and nature. On Simchat Torah, my hope is that we make a point of doubling down on Torah.
How often do we read the Torah (or TaNaKh) and really study it? Do we live our lives and behave the way we do because of what the Torah teaches us? While I’m not suggesting that we should live biblically or use the entire corpus of Jewish law as an instruction manual on how to live our lives, I do want to suggest that we can base our worldview on the wealth of guidance and wisdom that the Torah and later rabbinic tradition contains concerning the establishment of a just and compassionate society and how we ought to create our own sovereign entity.
That guidance and wisdom became suddenly directly relevant 75 years ago with the establishment of the State of Israel and the Jewish people becoming a sovereign nation. This year that guidance is yet again influential as we engage in the fundamental questions of what it means to have a Jewish State, and what kind of a democracy we want our state to be. In response to those fundamental questions let us learn from the Torah to emphasize our penchant for democracy and justice, our commitment to treat all human beings with respect and dignity by virtue of our being created in the divine image (especially after images of a disgusting phenomenon has been making the news in which Haredi Jews have been spitting on Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem’s Old City), and our conviction that a Jewish society requires a fair and impartial judicial system to survive. So, this year dance with the Torah, go wild, but also take a minute to remember what’s in it, and fight for the values that it teaches.
This week we will be featuring more high holiday sermons. Two of our authors, Rabbi Ken Chasen and Rabbi Jaqueline Mates-Muchin, served as delegates to the special World Zionist Congress in April 2023. Their account of the battles fought and won, of the polarization between religiously liberal and Orthodox, and the way in which this arena is a microcosm of Israeli politics and protest movements, could not be a more important message for us to consider right now.
Thank you for all your submissions for our week of Solidarity during Sukkot! Keep them coming, and we will feature them next week in our newsletter!
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
 It is not known earlier than the 11th century and most likely originated in Western Europe according to Theodor Gaster, Festivals of the Jewish Year.