Friday, October 1, 2010

Simchat Torah Asks, Why SO Serious?

The Jewish High Holidays are a rollercoaster of emotion. We are happy with the start of a new year, yet pensive and introspective as we reach Yom Kippur, reaching that spiritual high that only comes after a certain amount of emotional agony. During Sukkot, we again rejoice, while thinking about the temporary status of this corporeal life and the possessions we cannot take with us. And so, the sheer unabashed joy of Simchat Torah is a bit of a relief.

Simchat Torah, literally the joy of, or rejoicing in the Torah, is one of these holidays in which we seek to approach an ecstatically joyful state, without the 'on the other hand' which characterizes so many of our experiences.

Too often, we put restrictions on ourselves, on the degrees to which we will experience or partake of certain emotions, experiences, or opportunities. And usually this is a good thing. Unreturned love causes pain, so we feel out our partners to make sure we aren't somewhere they aren't. Overindulgence in food, alcohol, or just about anything else has both immediate and long terms consequences. Even on other festive holidays, we rejoice, but often almost cautiously, remembering the evil we had to overcome in order to survive (and thus be able to eat and rejoice). Simchat Torah, though, is different.

One of my first memories of St. Louis comes from 'parent's weekend' at Wash U my freshman year, which happened to coincide with Simchat Torah. I was still fresh on campus, but at Bais Abe, the modern Orthodox Shul on the Delmar Loop, I felt able to let my guard down and boogie. Joy is contagious in that way.

While many religious rituals are heavy, somber, and often beyond our powers of understanding, the simple joy of celebration is one of the easiest traditions to follow. Chag Sameach.

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