Rejoicing in the Law
by Petra van der Zande
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Simchat Torah is the day the Jewish people “Rejoice in the Law”. They celebrate the end of the annual reading cycle of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) and the beginning of the new cycle.
In the evening before Simchat Torah, (for the Jewish people the beginning of the new day), all the scrolls are taken out of the Ark (special cupboard in the synagogue in which scrolls are stored) and carried around the bimah (reader’s platform). This is the only night of the year that this is done.
There are seven processions, each one separated by an interlude of singing and dancing in which the people carrying the Torah scrolls are joined by others.
During the morning (synagogue) service, the seventh fold processions take place again, followed by reading the last chapters of Deuteronomy. (33 and 34.)
It is customary for all males to be called to the Reading of the Law.
In some synagogues both men and women are allowed to come to the bimah.
Blessing the Children
The children are called up and stand together under a large woolen prayer shawl, while Jacob’s blessing to his grandchildren is recited,
“Let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." (Genesis 48:16)
The last section of the Pentateuch is read by an honored congregant, after which a second scroll (Genesis) is taken and the new reading cycle begins.
The first mentioned in the Bible is during Joshua’s encirclement of Jericho.
During traditional Jewish weddings the bride circles the bridegroom seven times.
Many regard Simchat Torah’s encirclement as wedding circuits, symbolizing marriage between Israel and the Law.
In the synagogues, the Torah is read on Shabbat, most holidays and on the Monday and Thursday mornings.
This custom goes back to ancient times when most Jews were farmers or shepherds. On Mondays and Thursdays they brought their fare to sell at the market. When their produce was sold, they gathered to read the Torah.
Precious and expensive
Torah scrolls are very precious and expensive.
They are made of parchment (from kosher = permitted, animal hides) and written by a special scribe who uses a quill from a kosher bird and special black ink.
When he makes a mistake in words referring to God, he has to discard the parchment sheet and start anew.
When finished, the sheets are sewn together and attached to a wooden roller.
Rolled up they are kept inside an embroidered velvet or silk cover, and kept inside the Ark.
When the scroll is taken out for reading, the reader uses a pointer, a yad, for the parchment must not be touched.
The Jewish people rejoice because God gave them the Torah.
Our Bible contains both Old and New Testament, and as Christians we can say with David,
“I rejoice at Your word as one who finds great treasure.” Psalm 119:162 NKJV
Let’s start digging for those treasures!
This article is an excerpt of the soon to be published E-book called:
“A Christian Guide to the Jewish Festival of Sukkot”.
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