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October 15, 2016 by Wlliam H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

Dancing With the Torah

Simchat Torah is the final day of the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles on the Hebrew calendar.  It translates to “Rejoicing in the Torah.”  This year it falls on the common calendar on October 25, which on the Hebrew calendar is Tishrei 23.    It is a joyous time in synagogues across the globe.

During the synagogue service the annual cycle of Torah readings is begun again.  The last chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Genesis are read in the service.  Every effort is made to allow everyone in the synagogue to read a portion of the Torah.  Following the readings the Torah scrolls are wrapped up and paraded through the aisles as the congregation celebrates God’s gift of the Torah to his people.

The word “Torah” has a range of meanings.  In the most limited sense it refers to the five books of Moses.  In a broader sense it can refer to the entire Hebrew Bible, often abbreviated with the acronym “Tenach,” meaning the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings.

In English Bibles the word Torah is often translated “Law.”  In the Christian writings the Greek word “nomos,” is used to translate “Torah,” thus reinforcing the English translation of “law.” The Hebrew however has a different tone than the English word “law.”  It would better be translated as “instruction.”  The idea is not that God has given us rules to control us, but rather instruction to inform and to guide us.  It is more readily understandable that one would rejoice in the fact that God has provided instructions for living life than the issuing of a set of rules.  Psalm 119: 103-104 sums it up in these words.  “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”

In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevie sings “If I Were a Rich Man.”  Deep into the lyrics we hear him sing these words.  “If I were a rich man I’d have the time I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray.  And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.  And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.  That would be the sweetest thing of all.”  The Eastern wall is the wall closest to Jerusalem.

My wife and I were in Jerusalem during Simchat Torah only once.  We walked down to Liberty Bell Garden after dark where the public celebration was being held.  Groups from synagogues representing Jews from various Middle Eastern nations came with their scrolls to dance before the Lord with the Torah.  The scrolls were not for them some icon or relic.  The scrolls contained the Word of the Lord.  It was the communication with God that was precious.  It was to read and be cherished and enjoyed as honey for the soul.

On Sunday morning when the Scripture is read from the pulpit of the sanctuary the concluding statement is always, “The Word of the Lord.”  The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God!”

If we make God’s Word again a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105) as individuals and as a nation we might again find our way.  Those of us who “dance with the Torah” do so, not because we are good, but because we need it.  Life without the instruction book is hard to put together.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs