Elie Wiesel wrote about marking Simchat Torah while interred in Auschwitz. There were of course no Torah scrolls to be found. Life was a harrowing, belittling reality. Food was scarce. Death lived around every corner. Robbed of their dignity, inmates struggled not only to live, but to remember who they were in such desperate times. When stripped of an identity, turned into a number, how does one remember that they are also a person, a Jew, a human being with a story? Auschwitz brought to the fore the worst of humanity: hate, ruthlessness and a dire lack of compassion. Auschwitz also displayed, however, the best of the human condition: perseverance, conviction and moral courage.
On Simchat Torah, recalls Wiesel, those present chose to dance with a child in their arms, in place of a customary Torah. They danced with the young child as if he himself were a Torah scroll. Our children, after all, embody the essence of Torah: hope, possibility, life and love. The two mimic each other as they are both so precious; just as each scroll is unique so is every child unique. As each scroll must be tended to with great care, so does every child deserve our greatest level of care. As children are our future, so can there be no Jewish future without the enduring words of our Torah.
I will tell you that Simchat Torah is my favorite Jewish holiday. It is about joy. It is about celebration. It is about raising up second chances: As we end one reading cycle, we begin our reading cycle again the very next minute. We do not stay stagnant in one place, but rather start over and we do so with enthusiasm and with purpose. What will this new reading cycle bring us? What will we learn together? How will the words of Torah challenge and change us this year? So it is with new beginnings in our own life; we can choose to come to them with hope and enthusiasm, greeting them rather than fleeing from them.
Moreover, Simchat Torah has us acknowledge the gift that is Torah in our lives and the fact that we are here to live lives of Torah and Jewish values. For the six million, such gifts never came. When we dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah, we are doing so not only for ourselves, but the many who never would. It cannot be lost on us that we are so fortunate to be able to learn and pray in relative safety and live full Jewish lives in our own time.
After the heaviness of Yom Kippur, we come to a holiday that is light, family-friendly and festive. Please consider joining us this Friday night for a big Simchat Torah service. We will unroll the scroll, touch it with our very hands and be inspired together.