Simchat Torah – Beginnings and Endings

On Monday night, our High Holy Day season ends with Simchat Torah, when we read the last few lines of Deuteronomy and the first few lines of Genesis. It is both an ending and a beginning at the same time, and yet neither. Judaism understandings the reading of Torah as an ongoing cycle that never stops and never begins, and yet clearly we have “books” or scrolls really that both stop and begin. So, instead of denying the dichotomy, we combine two opposite experiences into one: a true reflection of life.

Simultaneous beginnings and endings happen all of the time: a graduation leading to starting a new school; an end of one job leading to the start of a new job; leaving a home you’ve lived in for years to move into a new home; having a baby – the newest experience of all! – which means the end of many things you may be used to.

But more than just beginnings and endings, we feel multiple emotions simultaneously, emotions that don’t seem like they should mix. How many of us have felt  joy and sorrow at the same time? We are confronted with conflicting emotions that overlap, and we want to give each their proper attention but without letting one overwhelm the other. We celebrate with bride and groom while simultaneously acknowledge the loved ones missing from the circle. We express anger to a partner for one thing while feeling appreciation for something else they did.

Simchat Torah is a metaphor that life is simultaneous, meaning perfectly normal.

One of my favorite readings is based on a famous line from the book of Ecclesiastes, which is the scroll that is assigned to Sukkot, the holiday we’re still celebrating today. It expresses this sentiment beautifully.

The author of Ecclesiastes writes, “There is a time for mourning and a time for dancing.” But mourning and dancing are never fully separated. Their ‘times’ do not necessarily follow each other; and in fact, their ‘times’ may become one ‘time’. Mourning may turn into dancing and dancing into mourning without showing a clear point where one ends and the other begins. Our grief allows us to choreograph our dance while our dance creates the space for our grief… Mourning and dancing, grief and laughter, sadness and gladness – they belong together just as the sad-faced clown and the happy-faced clown,  who make us both cry and laugh. Let us trust that the beauty of our lives becomes visible where mourning and dancing touch each other.

May we embrace each experience and emotion as they come to us, knowing that they are all part of our human experience.

2 thoughts on “Simchat Torah – Beginnings and Endings”

  1. Rabbi,

    I always enjoy reading your commentary.

    Your comment, comparing the celebration of Simchat Torah (endings/beginnings) with events in our lives (e.g. graduations and births) in which mixed often emotions arise, reminds me of the various customs at Jewish holdidays and events which represent this. For example:

    • A Jewish wedding ending with the stomping of a wine glass
    • Putting drops of wine on your plate during Pesach while reciting the plagues
    • The mourer’s Kaddash which praises God, yet doesn’t even mention death

    This recognition of such mixed emotions is one of the best things I love about Judaism.

    Again, thanks for point this out to all of us.

    Richard Spool

  2. I just came back from the closing of the family home that my parents purchased the year after we came to the United States and while there was no question of my keeping it, I am happy to have completed the process of selling the house but sad that another family will now live in it. So this reading was perfect and meant for me.

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