Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Simchat Torah

Endings and beginnings –
Tonight (Friday night), we will observe the annual ritual of completing the reading cycle from the past year and beginning it for the next. There is no downtime in studying Torah, and in truth, by reading both pieces tonight, the cycle never really ends; it simply renews.

We are one year older than we were the last time we participated in this ritual. We have seen events unfold that we would never have predicted. The political conversation is as toxic as it could be short of partisan sponsored violence – and we have elements of that brewing. We discard relationships as if they were used tissues over contrasting propagandas that we accept, but never fully understand. Of course, that is the nature and power of propaganda. We fight wars and our ourselves and our families at risk to give other people power.

We are enduring COVID, which has completely disrupted our lives. Nothing is as it was before March. Many parts of what was normal will never be “normal” again. We turned science into politics, and even those infected and suffering lingering deficiencies continue to insist that it is a plot to manipulate people. We debate numbers as if the names behind them do not matter. We make life and death decisions for people because we fail to see past the politics of safety.

What has not changed? Torah has not changed. Yes, every year, we bring news eyes and an extra year of understanding into our study. Yes, last year’s understanding will yield to a new year’s epiphany. Yes, this year, we find ourselves creating commentaries on subjects and observances that may be unparalleled in our tradition. All that said, that is our Torah; that is how we keep it alive. It continues to evolve, not the words, but its present moral value.

As Moses finishes his career, he goes to walk with God before God eventually buries him. We immediately turn to creation and watch Adam and Eve walk with God, as God gives them life. Even as we witness the end of one hero’s life – we watch the birth of another.

We are prisoners of renewal. We just turned the annual cycle. Rosh Hashanah celebrated the birthday of the world. Every year we renew with the promise to make it a better year, whatever gets thrown at us. No differently, as we read the text, we gain new insight into the characters’ psychologies – including the role of God in the unfolding story. For thousands of years, we have read and reinterpreted these stories. Each year they speak volumes to us about how to make sense out of the real world. The miracle is that the conversations continue to evolve and are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.

The key is that we have to study – and study with partners. We need to learn together and grow together – and renew together. We are going to have our ups and downs. We will have moments when it looks as though no hope exists for our relationships – but then we return, and where we cannot pick up from where we left off, we start over. The faith that it takes not to quit is tenacious and rewarding. I encounter so many people who are so tired that their faith seems to have waned, and their behavioral standards default to knee-jerk reactions. I know I fall victim to this malady and sometimes struggle to figure out how to regroup. The struggle is always worthwhile, and the blessings it brings is never insignificant. As long as there is tomorrow, we have hope.

Shabbat Shalom and a joyous holiday!