The Torah is of course what we most prize and deem most holy.
Some people were upset because they did not get a chance to kiss the Torah scrolls this past Yom Kippur. Unfortunately, there was a traffic jam in the sanctuary’s middle aisle. I therefore decided it would be best to avoid the congestion and take the Torah scrolls around the outer aisles. A number of people were unable to kiss the Torah and shared their disappointment with me after services. I am really sorry.
I underestimated the power and importance of this ritual. Now I want to take a few moments to think more deeply about this custom. First a clarification. Actually we don’t kiss the Torah. Instead we allow it to give us a kiss. We touch our hand, or prayerbook, or tallis to the scroll and then touch our lips. This custom is the same as that for a mezuzah. When entering our homes, we reach up, touch our fingertips to the mezuzah and then touch our hand to our lips.
We don’t kiss the mezuzah or the Torah. We allow these holy objects to kiss us. We allow them to offer us a measure of their holiness.
We are not nearly as holy as these sacred objects. The Torah is more holy than we are. Or is it? Torah cannot really be Torah without us. It needs us.
We must read it. We must study it. We must discuss it and debate it. If it were obvious what the Torah always said or meant, then there would be no need for interpretation, there would be no need for the volumes and volumes of holy books, spanning thousands of years. There would be no need for…rabbis. What makes Torah Torah is our relationship to it.
We do not worship it. We do not hold it up as an amulet. We must carry it. We dance among its verses. We discover ourselves in its chapters.
We touch it so that we may take some of its holiness into our lives. That task is actually a daily endeavor. We touch it and allow it to give us a kiss so that we might be reminded that we must take more Torah into our lives—always. To touch the Torah is to remind us of what is our holiest task. To do better. To bring a measure of healing to the world around us.
We need the Torah to carry us as much as it needs us to carry it.
Still, on Simhat Torah, everyone and anyone who wants can again have an opportunity to kiss the Torah and even dance with these scrolls. Come to Simhat Torah services and grab this additional opportunity. Even though Yom Kippur is the more widely observed Jewish holiday, Simhat Torah is the more quintessential day. On it we sing and dance. We rejoice and feast. What could be more Jewish than a party?
On this day we remind ourselves that holding the Torah close to our hearts is our most important task. On Simhat Torah we endeavor to take more Torah into our lives.
And some extra kisses never hurt to remind us of this task.