Jews with Views – Sukkot-Simchat Torah Edition 5783
Which Simchat Torah song do you find most meaningful and why?
BY RABBI MARCUS SOLOMON
Every year, on the night of Simchat Torah, a good-natured and light-hearted scuffle breaks out in shul between the mainstream adherents of the Ashkenazi protocol and those sympathetic to the custom of Chabad Chassidim.
The Ashkenazi custom is to conduct a public kri’at haTorah from the beginning of V’zot HaBerachah, complete with aliyot. Chassidut, however, contrasts our connection with the Torah on Simchat Torah with Shavuot. On Shavuot, we read the narrative of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and spend the night studying the full spectrum of the Torah’s wisdom. In stark contrast, our connection to the Torah on Simchat Torah reaches above and beyond our intellectual capacity. We celebrate our intrinsic and primordial connection with the Torah which every Jew shares, regardless of their intellectual capacity or scholarship. For that reason, we manifest our joy with physical dancing holding the Torah scrolls closed, without opening them up in a way that exposes the distinguishing abilities of different people. It is a distinctly unifying means of celebrating our integral connection with the Torah. For Chassidim, opening and reading the Torah on Simchat Torah night would run counter to that spirit.
Although all customs are legitimate and have their own beauty, there is something very profound about celebrating the unifying connection of everyone to the Torah without regard to their background, knowledge or capacity. For that reason, my favorite song on Simchat Torah is a song without words. It is any uplifting niggun, any wordless song, in which everyone can join from the depths of their soul – even if they do not know an aleph or a beit.
Rabbi Justice Marcus Solomon is the founding Rabbi of the Dianella Shule Mizrachi Perth. He was recently appointed a justice on the Supreme Court of Western Australia.
BY EMMA KATZ
It was the fourth set of hakafot in a small upstairs classroom in the Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem. There, holding my four-month-old baby boy, I connected to Eitan Katz’s Baruch Hu in a new way.
בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֱ-לֹקֵינוּ שֶׁבְּרָאָנוּ לִכְבוֹדוֹ, וְהִבְדִּילָנוּ מִן הַתּוֹעִים, וְנָתַן לָנוּ תּוֹרַת אֱמֶת, וְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם נָטַע בְּתוֹכֵנוּ.
“Blessed is He, our G-d, Who created us for His glory, and set us apart from those who go astray and gave us the Torah of truth and implanted eternal life within us.”
Today’s world is so jam-packed with technology, information, and material items, but so many still find themselves feeling so empty. People wonder, “who am I, and where do I belong? What purpose and role do I play in this complex world?” The song is an expression of our gratitude to Hashem for choosing us as His nation, thanking Him for giving us direction, meaning, and purpose in life.
As Jews, we are fortunate that Hashem gave us the answer to these deep existential questions. He chose us and gave us the Torah, with the holy mission l’hagdil Torah u’l’ha’adira, to spread Torah and sanctify His name in the world. We receive this charge as a blessing, in a world in which so many are lost.
Listening to this song while holding my baby was deeply moving. I was filled with gratitude to Hashem, for my son, born into this complicated, confusing world, is already a part of our elevated mission.
Mrs. Emma Katz is the Director of NILI – The Women’s Initiative of the Yeshiva University Torah MiTzion Kollel of Chicago and the Rebbetzin at Congregation Anshe Chesed in Linden, NJ.
BY RABBI ELLIOT SCHRIER
My grandmother was only eight years old when the Nazis invaded Belgium and her family fled their home in Antwerp. Her pre-war memories are a blur, overwhelmed by images of running, hiding, and ultimately sailing to safety across the English Channel.
She does remember, however, a particularly leibedik Simchat Torah at her grandparents’ summer home. She remembers the men practically shaking the floor with spirited singing and dancing, and the wide-eyed children watching their every move. Most of all, she remembers how Simchat Torah brought her diverse extended family together. Some of her uncles were devout religious Jews while others were freethinkers who had left the path of Torah. Seeing them dance together on Simchat Torah left a lasting impression.
Torat Hashem temimah, meshivat nafesh, “the Torah of Hashem is wholesome and complete, it restores the soul” (Tehillim 19). Personally, I’ve always been drawn to Rav Moshe Alshech’s interpretation of this verse: that “Torah returns our soul to its original, pristine state, when it was one with Hashem.”
Life has a way of corrupting the pristine state of the soul. We are beset by distractions and doubts and often lose our direction. Torah, and particularly dancing with the Torah, restores the soul’s simplicity. But Torah also restores us by bringing Jewish souls back to each other. When we celebrate our collective heritage, we draw closer to each other, regardless of our differences. Each of our souls begins in the same pristine state, and when we return to that holy state, we are capable of seeing holiness in others as well. When we circle the bimah, dance, and sing together, we experience that unique soul-restorative power of Torah as meshivat nafesh.
Rabbi Elliot Schrier is the Rabbi of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey.
BY TEHILA GIMPEL
I may be the least qualified person to comment on Simchat Torah’s musical playlist, as my shul attendance has been particularly sparse in recent years. Since moving our family to the far-off hills of eastern Gush Etzion to establish the Arugot Farm in 2018, our new life has not made it easy to attend hakafot. Crossing three hilltops with six children in pitch darkness to the nearest Jewish town wasn’t my idea of a good time!
But this past Simchat Torah, all of that changed. We decided that if we can’t get from our mountain to hakafot, we would bring hakafot to the mountain! A large group of yeshivah guys and couples agreed to pitch tents at the Arugot Farm and experience an unusual Simchat Torah on the Judean frontier.
With the Sefer Torah of my beloved grandfather zt”l, a makeshift mechitzah and food for dozens of young men that seemed to materialize out of thin air, I could hardly believe what I saw before my eyes – the fulfillment of our dream to bring renewed life, Torah, joy and prayer to these barren hills and caves of Biblical Zif, where King David himself hid and composed Psalms.
As elated singing and dancing reverberated throughout the farm, we sang David Melech Yisrael, chai v’kayam. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. Could it be that we have merited to be the answer to the prayers of our ancestors – to raise up a Sefer Torah in the mountains of Judea, dancing with all of our might, as David himself did before the holy ark? Every time I hear that song, it will bring me back to that moment of gratitude for the miracle that is our return to our ancient heartland.
Tehila Gimpel lives with her husband Jeremy and their six children on the Arugot Farm in eastern Gush Etzion. Tehila is an attorney and currently pursuing her PhD in Jewish Law.
BY RABBI ARI BOIANGIU
My favorite Simchat Torah song is definitely the slow version of Toras Hashem Temimah, a song that centers around children, who are tamim, pure, just like the Torah. Every year for the last twenty years I have thrown my children into the air as we sing this song. With all the fun and laughter, I try to grab a moment during the song to give thanks to Hashem as they get bigger and bigger – and harder to lift! – each year. At the right time, I look forward to doing the same with our grandchildren.
I find the niggun to be particularly powerful, expressing the joy of the Yom Tov more than any other. It begins slowly in an almost rubato (free time) feel. Then the middle section starts to ramp up speed, and then finally, BOOM! We break into full scale simchah, chanting “Moshe emes!” over and over again as we hold our kids up for Hashem.
Immediately following the Holocaust, thousands of survivors gathered in DP camps in Europe. In many cases, there were no Torah scrolls to dance with on Simchat Torah, and so the survivors lifted up the children and danced with them instead! This holy custom is a testament to Klal Yisrael’s strength and will, and it reflects the secret of our survival through all the generations of exile: teaching Torah to the next generation!
Rabbi Ari Boiangiu has been a Rebbe for 17 years, and currently serves as a 9th and 12th grade Rebbe at Rambam Mesivta. At night, he switches gears and is the owner/operator of Blue Melody Group, the premier Jewish Music band servicing the tri-state area.