As a child, when the High Holiday season approached, the day I anticipated most was Simchat Torah. What an exciting day! The kids would get flags and dance around the Torahs together with the adults. We would have delicious treats and we even got to watch the adults behave like kids. This was a day when everyone had fun, dancing and feasting: adults, kids and many people who didn’t usually come to synagogue. I always tell people, if you are going to bring your children to the synagogue one day a year, make it Simchat Torah so that they can see the joy and vitality of Judaism.
Each Shabbat, we read a section of the Torah in the synagogue, completing all five books every year. The conclusion of the cycle is on Simchat Torah—this year at sundown, Monday, October 24—and we celebrate that day with great fanfare. The first question many ask is, why is this done at this time of year and not on Shavuot, the day that G-d gave the Torah at Mount Sinai? The answer is that after the Jews received the Torah and Moses brought down the two tablets with the Ten Commandments, the people made a golden calf and violated the first two commandments, to accept one G-d and not to worship other gods.
Moses broke those tablets and spent the next 80 days praying for atonement and ultimately bringing down a second set of tablets on the day of Yom Kippur. So the second tablets represent atonement and forgiveness. Being righteous is a great thing, but even greater than that is the power of teshuva — a return to the right path after a transgression and reconnecting with G-d. The conclusion and celebration of the Torah is done shortly after Yom Kippur at the culmination of the joyous festival of Sukkot.
The second question people ask is, if we are celebrating the Torah, which is our guide to daily life, why aren’t we spending the day studying? Why are we dancing with a closed Torah with its cover on? The answer is that on Simchat Torah we are celebrating our essential bond with the Torah and G-d, and that is something to which we all have equal access. It’s not about how knowledgeable we are, and whether we have been involved in Torah or not — that bond can never be broken. It is always heartwarming to me to see the diverse group of people who come to dance with the Torah. Novices and Torah scholars, children and adults, everyone expressing their Judaism and celebrating our heritage together. This beautiful day inspires us to pursue and express our connection to Torah and our history throughout the year.