One of the most joyous holidays in the Hebrew calendar is Simchat Torah. In fact, the translation is “Rejoicing with/of the Torah”. Simchat Torah is a celebration marking the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings and the beginning of a new cycle.
Temple Judea celebrated this annual occasion in an unusual setting. The first part of the early evening service was held out-of-doors surrounded by tall trees in the beautiful Lipsey Garden under an autumn sky.
Rabbi Todd Chizner and Cantor Deborah Jacobson led the congregation in songs and prayers, each at a separate podium, in front of the outdoor congregants who were seated at appropriate distance from each other. All wore masks. Also present but unseen were the at-home congregants who were attending the ceremony via Zoom.
The second part of the service brought the congregants who attended “in-person” into the ballroom where chairs were arranged socially distant from each other. In past years, one of the Torahs was opened to the last sentences of Deuteronomy.
Another Torah was opened to the first words of Genesis. Because the celebration could not be held in the Sanctuary and with less space available for the second Torah, Rabbi Chizner read the last words of Deuteronomy, which is the last book of Torah, from a book. This passage tells of the death and legacy of Moses, the prophet and leader of the Jewish people.
The first words of Genesis, “In the Beginning ___“, recounting the story of God’s creation of the world, were then chanted by Cantor Jacobson, reading from the Torah.
There is great symbolism associated with this ceremony. It represents the concept that there is no beginning and no end but continuity.
In past years when the celebration of Simchat Torah was held in the Sanctuary, children were given little flags as they marched, singing and marching along with the adults. This year, missing was much revelry, children, paper flags, candies and other goodies. The pandemic put a damper on this wonderful tradition. But there will always be next year !