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RABBI DAVID SHNEYER (Spiritual Leader, Kehila Chadasha and Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Center of Greater Washington): Simchat Torah means “rejoicing with the Torah.” The Torah refers to the scroll of the Torah, which contains the five books of Moses. The day of Simchat Torah is a day that was created by our sages and also by the people over time; it’s not mentioned in the Bible.
It culminates the whole season of holidays that began with Rosh Hashanah. We’re in the month of Tishrei. That’s the seventh month on the Jewish calendar.
Part of the joy of Simchat Torah is being playful with the service. We’ve been doing some pretty heavy stuff throughout the month of Tishrei, and so this is time to kind of really let go a little bit.
One of the major features of the service is the taking the scrolls out from the Aron Hakodesh, from the Ark, and we do what are called hakafot, encirclements. We circle around the room seven times. We often have flags. What we do and other congregations around the country, and also around the world, will often take their hakafot into the streets. It is celebrated in a very joyful way, and with much singing and dancing, and we’re out there in the street dancing for, oh, twenty, thirty minutes. It’s an expression of the love for our Torah, our teachings. It’s also a great way to begin the New Year.
A special feature of the holiday is that we conclude the reading of the Bible, the end of Deuteronomy, and we begin again by reading from Genesis. There’s this wonderful ceremony where we kind of link the two like a wedding, a marriage of the two, and it’s like the end of the scroll and the beginning of the scroll are being wedded, and the teaching is that learning and Torah is a continuous process. There really is no end.