Friday, October 13, 2006

Yay Simchat Torah!

I love Simchat Torah. It is perhaps my favorite holiday of the whole year. When they start reciting "Atah hareitah la-daat..." in the familiar tune, I get a chill down my back. Ve-zot ha-Berachah is my favorite parsha. I have it memorized! The excitment of completeing the learning of the Torah once again fills with with wonder, joy, contentment and hope. The Jewish people have triumphed for yet another year - we are still here and we are still fiercely loyal to the Torah. We celebrate our accomplishment and look eagerly to the future, of begining the Torah again.

Every year, I look for a new commentary to learn on the parsha (in addition to Rashi of course) for the year. I have done all of the standard commentaries - Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam. This past year, i learned the Chizkuni, Rabbi Chizkiya ben Manoach, who lived Provence around the year 1250. His commentary is printed in the Torat Chayyim edition of the chumash, put out by Mosad haRav Kook. Torat Chayyim is my chumash of choice, because of the accuracy of the text of the commentators. This year basically completed the commentaries found in the Torat Chayyim. So this year, I am going to learn the Gur Aryeh, a super commentary on Rashi. I am excited at the prospect of learning Rashi more in depth. I feel like I often rushed through his comments on my way to a more exciting Ramban. Gur Areyh was written by the
Maharal of Prague in the 1600's.

It always surprises people when they hear that Simchat Torah is my favorite holiday, espcially as Simchat Torah isn't known for being a particularly woman friendly holiday.

To that, I say that I have actaully had wonderful experiences as a woman on Simchat Torah. During my high school years, I went to NCSY's Simchaton, where the dancing for the women was just as available and spirited as the mens. As we watched the men dance the Torah back to the ark at the completion of hakafot, I couldn't help but admire the intense devotion and joy that I saw, of rejoicing with the Torah.
As a side note, NCSY had a beautiful compromise on woman dancing with the Torah. Several sifrei Torahs were placed on a tallis-covered table in the center of the woman's circle. Between hakafot, the Torahs were rotated (ie new ones placed on the table and the old ones brought back to the men's side) and we had a chance to dance with all of the Torahs. I have no desire to dance holding the Torah. Not only because they are really heavy and I would imagine hard to dance with, but as a matter of tradition, it's not something that I feel comfortable with. I found NCSY's approach to this to be balanced and respectful.

In college, I was a "Torah Tourist," meaning I traveled to different communities on the Torah Tours program with YU. In these cases, our job was to liven up the dancing and run educational programs and other such things. Usually, the dancing on the women's side was small, but we always had fun and I think the women and children of the communities did as well.

I will be spending yom tov this year in my apartment, with friends. Where you will be, I hope you will share my joy and excitment as the Jewish people says "chazak chazak v'nitchazek."


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