Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sing! Dance! Rejoice!

Today is a special day for some, a day called Simcha Torah.
Until about ten years ago, I had no idea what "Simchat Torah" might possibly be.
It showed up on a few calendars; no explanations were ever given and my usual curiosity failed me completely.
I never bothered to look it up or find out what it was all about.
 Then I made friends with folks that celebrated Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah), and was invited to a Simchat Torah event.
Oh how blessed was I!
The picture above is what it is all about for me:
The very last passage in the Bible.
For my Jewish friends it is the last passage in the Torah, or what we Christians call the Old Testament.
For Christians, it would be the last passage in the New Testament.
The Jewish population reads through the Torah in one year, each year.
They begin their new year of reading after a seven day holiday called Sukkot, during which time they are to live in temporary shelters outside with roofs that are open enough to see the stars at night.
Sukkot is right after Yom Kippur, the day of atonement when Jewish people fast and are to renounce sin and get their acts together, to express it in a modern phrase.
Imagine what it must mean to a community for everyone to take a full day to fast and pray and get their lives back on track spiritually.
Then imagine what it mean if everyone then basically went on week long campout together, a retreat, with everyone living in temporary huts, eating together, visiting and being able to see each other's faces for a full week.
Bonding time.
Sharing time.
Get real time.
(Anyone who has ever gone to a camp understands how connected one feels with one's fellow campers. It just happens!)
 While all that is going on, the community continues to do their daily scripture readings...

Until they come to the last scripture passage.
Everyone gets together again for that last reading.
Special groups are called forward to read passages.
The time I participated in Simcha Torah, the groups were little kids, teens, newest married couple, oldest married couple, oldest member of the congregation.
Little kids carried toy plush Torah roll cute!
Between the reading of the verses leading up to the final verse of scripture,  everyone sang with gusto, danced in a circle around the room, and cheered loudly.
When the final verse was read you would have thought the BEST thing in the world had happened.
The singing, the dancing: it was rock out city!
And then...
what really blew my mind...
They told me why they were partying.
Not because they had completed the reading for the year.
Oh no.
It was
Can you imagine that?
Of course the Jewish people treasure their Scriptures.
A baby is introduced to Scriptures early, with their finger being touched to the first letter of the Scriptures
"In the Beginning..."
and that first letter of the first word has a drop of honey on it.
The baby touches it, and then the finger goes in the baby's mouth.
The scriptures...are good!
Sweet even!
In worship services when the velvet encased Torah scrolls are brought out of a special cabinet, the scrolls are walked through the congregation.
People reach out and touch the velvet covering, then touch their fingers to their own lips.
So sweet.
Sometimes I feel bummed out that in Christian services the Word is chucked into the racks in the back of pews, and flashed up on the wall via a powerpoint slide.
I get it...the Word is made available to everyone this way.
But the specialness of the Scripture is lost.
In traditional church worship services the Bible is read through, "Reading from the Old Testament" followed by "Reading from the New Testament", usually in a three year cycle.
Occasionally there is a push to get the congregation to read through the whole New Testament during Lent or Advent.
Celebration for the whole reading of the Word?
Never seen it happen.
Until I saw a Simcha Torah.
Now it is a celebration I wish all Bible believing groups would embrace!
(See one Messianic congregation celebrating here:


Vee said...

Fascinating really... Though I'm not a Christian who celebrates Jewish holidays and observances, it is intriguing to see how it all fits together. What struck my eye most especially were the words "Surely I am coming quickly."

As for camping, I'll take your word for it. =D

ellen b. said...

One thing I enjoy being a part of and celebrating with singing, clapping, and joy are baptisms. I think we do that well. It was fun to see the video after your post about Simcha Torah!

Lovella ♥ said...

That is so interesting. I love the idea of having a baby touch scripture with a dab of honey to go in it's mouth. We can certainly learn so much from other cultures.

Kathie said...

So interesting Jill - I love learning about our spiritual background. There's so much we miss when we don't understand where we've come from. And it's wonderful to see their joy in the Word!