Monday, October 24, 2011

Simhat Torah

What joy!  We begin the Torah reading again.  This is the sentiment surrounding Simhat Torah, the concluding holiday of the busy month of Tishrei.  On this day we proclaim, “I am privileged to reach this milestone again.  I am blessed to open this book again.  I am overjoyed that I can unroll the Torah scroll yet again.”

For Judaism the greatest blessing is not the new, but to return to the old, the familiar.  We return to this same book year after year.  We read the Torah every year in the hope, and with the faith, that we will find something new there.  In these pages we believe we will discover something new and restorative. 

It is this same sentiment that accompanies our visits to the land of Israel.  When we journey there we return to the land.  It may very well be a modern state but in our souls we know that we are returning to an ancient land.  This is Israel’s great and lasting power.  (We rejoice as well about Gilad Shalit’s return!)

So much of modern day life is about the new.  Do you have the iPhone 4S or are you waiting for the iPhone 5?  Have you replaced your LCD TV with an LED TV?  Moreover why watch football on a regular TV when you can watch it in 3-D?  Such is the sentiment of contemporary culture.  The newer something is the better it is called.

It is a bitter irony that the man who relentlessly developed such technologies and more efficient ways of communicating spent his life estranged from his birth father.  Because Steve Jobs’ birth parents were not married when he was born they gave him up for adoption. After hiring a detective to find his birth parents, he developed a relationship with his birth mother and sister, but never his father.  Despite extraordinary wealth, unrivaled technology and seemingly effortless communication tools, parts of Steve Jobs’ life remained fractured.  What is new does not always redeem. 

This is why Judaism suggests that the new is discovered in the old.  We believe that it is in the old, in the ordinary, and in the most basic of relationships that truth is revealed.  On the High Holidays we prayed that we might return to our truer selves, that we might rediscover the lofty purpose of our lives. 

Even the bar and bat mitzvah on which we lavish so much attention is not the celebration of something new.  It is not simply a thirteenth birthday party.  It is instead the arrival at something old.  On that day our son or daughter peers at the lettering of the Torah scroll and becomes linked to past generations. They return to the faith of their ancestors.  Of course no generation’s faith is the same as its predecessor’s.  Yet holding the scroll close to their hearts they reclaim their parent’s faith as their own. In the ancient calligraphy of the Torah scroll they also discover something new about themselves. 

In our return we always discover something new.   Such is our faith.  This is our belief.  This is our celebration on Simhat Torah.

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