Reflections on Simchat Torah
It is difficult to know where to begin. I could start by describing the world around me at this moment; the sunset casting a golden glow on the Jerusalem stone of my apartment complex as I sit on my own little mirpeset contemplating the weight of renewing our Torah cycle. I could start by recounting the awe and magnitude of the past few weeks, describing the waves of emotions we’ve felt as we’ve taken stock, sought out those we’ve wronged, apologized, forgiven, cleansed, and finally celebrated under twinkling autumn skies. Or I could start by describing the welcomed joy each new summer brings as our chanichim take their first leaps off buses onto Conover soil, ready to begin a new chapter, a new eidah, a new step in their camp journey.
But just as I find the task of writing the perfect opener daunting, we as Jews seem to feel a similar anxiety over the concept of a true, stark “beginning.” This week, when Jews across the world unravel Torah scrolls in celebration, we will connect the end – Moshe’s final blessings unto the tribes of Israel, his glimpse into the Promised Land, and his death – with The Beginning. We will read both Torah tziva lanu moshe morasha kehillat Yaakov (Moses charged us with the Teaching as the heritage of the congregation of Jacob. Devarim 33:4) and Vayevarech elokim et yom hashvi’i vayikadsh oto (And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy. B’reishit 2:3) in the same Torah service, reminding us that there is no gap between the end and beginning of Torah, no halt to our tradition of teaching the next generation.
Whether in tracing our heritage through the ancient text that we unravel and wrap around ourselves each year at this time or by walking around camp on the last night of Nivonim to every cabin we’ve ever been in to find the plaques of years gone by, embarrassing nicknames and all, memory is a crucial piece of the Jewish experience. During the month of Elul, it is a key ingredient to successful teshuva; we recall our misgivings in order to repair damaged relationships, and only then can we properly and finally give way to joyous celebration during Chag Hasukkot. And then, we begin again. Devarim’s repetitive recounting of the Israelites journey gives way to Breishit’s exciting creation of the world. Year after year the cycle repeats; one moment we are remembering last summer’s Zimriyah, and the next we are packing and preparing to create new memories, looking forward to creating new goals.
This past summer, Bogrim focused on life’s transition points, every week’s Shabbat theme tying back to a central principle outlined in chapter three of Pirkei Avot: “Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are responsible.” We explored the origins of our families, discussed the history of the Conservative movement, and considered the unique journeys we all took in order to join together as a summer community, but all with a singular goal: to emphasize that memory must make way for action. We look back, yes, but then we do. We unravel the scroll, we remember, and then we renew the gift of Torah by starting from the beginning again. The Rambam tells us that the well-known verse from Devarim that we will read this week, “Moshe commanded us the Law, an inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov,” teaches that Torah belongs to everyone; as soon as we can speak, we are to be taught Torah. At camp, our Jewish learning starts from the very moment we arrive, no matter our age or background, and as we grow, as the plaques increase and our roles change from camper to counselor to Rosh Eidah, we give to the next generation of Ramahniks. Our camp journey is a microcosm of the Jewish experience, modeling the beauty in the life cycle, in learning and then teaching, in remembering and then creating.
In this new year, let our memories inform who we become. As we unravel the scrolls, let us relish the moment that memory becomes action, and let us celebrate the sweetness of the never ending, never beginning gift of Torah.