A Joyous Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah to Our Readers In 5775

October 15, 2014

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The following article is an adaptation of an article that appeared last year before Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

In keeping with the laws of Jewish Sabbath and holidays, there will be no articles posted on this web site Thursday, October 16 or Friday, October 17 . Posting will resume Saturday night, October 18.

Tonight, Wednesday, October 15, the holiday of Shemini Atzeret will be ushered in with candle lighting in Brooklyn at 5:58 PM. Tomorrow, candle lighting in Brooklyn will be after 6:56 PM. Friday, candle lighting for Shabbat will be at 5:55PM. Even within New York City, and certainly beyond, the start times for Shabbat and holidays varies significantly. Chabad.org has times for your location in the United States or any other place in the world. As always.Aish.com has worthwhile material to read before the holiday or to print and read on the holiday.

During the years of Stalinist rule in the former Soviet Union, keeping any aspect of Judaism was dangerous. To attempt to spread Jewish teachings was a capital offense. Chabad.org has a story of the heavy price some individuals paid, and how their self sacrifice ultimately bore fruit. The memory of communist persecution is an integral part of Jewish history that should be studied and preserved.

In addition, Chabad.org has an a section explaining the meaning and practices of  Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

For many people, Judaism is something that is passed down, something that is “in your blood”. There are some people who are “Jews by choice”, who convert to Judaism and join the Jewish people. Aish.com has a story about a couple that started life as devout Baptists, and eventually found their path to Jewish beliefs and to conversion to Judaism. According to Jewish tradition, the Torah was offered to all of the nations, but was rejected by each of them. There was, however, a minority within each nation that wanted to accept the Torah. The provision within Jewish law for conversion allows such souls to find their place within the Jewish people.

Friday, the day after Shemini Atzeret, will be Simchat Torah, a day when the cycle of the Torah reading is begun anew and the Torah reading cycle starts anew with the reading of Parshas Bereshit.

This is a holiday in which the biblical account of the creation of the world is read. It is a reminder to us that the entire human race is descended from one couple, who in turn were created by G-d. There is no “better couple or “inferior couple ” from whom the people of this planet are descended. Adam and Eve are a reminder of our common humanity. The story of their struggles and failures reminds us that our actions have repercussions after we are gone, and that those who live after us will have to deal with how we helped shape their world.

Simchat Torah is not only a holiday of rejoicing in the Torah but a holiday that we celebrate being bound by G-d’s laws. A world in which individuals live only for themselves degenerates quickly into chaos. One world under G-d is orderly and harmonious. This should not be equated with conformity and uniformity. Once can act for the common good from one’s own unique perspective and also “march to a different drummer.”

On Simchat Torah, there is joyous dancing with the Torah scrolls as they are hugged like a beloved family member. Each way that our holy books is handled reflects an aspect of our relationship with them. There is reverence, pride and fascination defining our relationship with the Torah and all that proceeds from it.

In the almost 2000 years since the Holy Temple was destroyed, impoverished Jewish communities cared for our holy books and sites as best as we could. Periodically, our national treasures were burned, trampled and desecrated, as they were by the Nazis, and also by raging Muslim mobs during periodic pogroms that occurred in the Muslim world as they did in medieval Europe and ancient times.

The  books such harsh treatment are often proudly and lovingly maintained displayed, as they are in the Shrine of the Book and in Jewish museums around the world. Far more frequently they are studied and worn at the edges from daily use. It is ultimately the lives built around and illuminated by sacred study that are the best tribute to the books and teachings that have survived through the centuries.

The State of Israel with G-d’s constant help, protects the Shrine of the Book and other Jewish national treasures from what would almost certainly be grievous desecration if Israel’s neighbours would G-d forbid have their way. Such treatment would, of course extend G-d forbid to the People of the Book as well.

May G-d protect and strengthen us as a people, not only in peace and security, but in our adherence to the commandments of the Book as well.

 

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