The Circle of Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah, the holiday at the end of the festival season, is a time of circles: the congregation dances in circles with the Torah seven times, and the end and the beginning of the Torah are read, making a circle of sacred text. This completion of the circle relates to the earthly cycle of life.

On Simchat Torah morning we read two Torah verses in succession:

"Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom God singled out face to face…for all the strong might and great awe that Moses performed in the eyes of all Israel.”
Deut. 34:12

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 1:1

These verses help us leap across the line between past and future, and propel us forward into the new year.

Simchat Torah was my favorite holiday long before I read about shamanism or used feminine God-language. I loved the dancing, the humorous poking fun at prayer that occured duing the service, and the sense of expectation as the Torah readers moved from the end of Deuteronomy to the beginning of Genesis. Now I think of Simchat Torah in a deeper way: it is the representation of eternity.

On Simchat Torah, we move directly from the death of Moses to the life of the world at the beginning of creation. It is a moment when the circle is unbroken, when we leap from mortality to infinity, from silence to speech. It is the culmination of the new year festival, when we begin a new circle of time. We move both in a line, toward the future, and in a curve, to repeat the seasons.

If you read from the last phrase of the Torah to the first, the sentence reads; “In the eyes of all Israel God created the heavens and the earth at the beginning.” We are all constant witnesses to the work of creation. To move from the end of the scroll to the beginning, we must believe in more than history: we must believe in the triumph of life over time itself.

Shir Yaakov Feinstein Feit once taught me that the last letter and the first letter of Torah spell out lev, which is heart. The truth that the circle of Torah is never-ending, and that the circle of creation always holds us, should always be in our hearts. The seven circuits we make on Simchat Torah, representing the seven aspects of God, and representing the Shekhinah, who is symbolized by the number seven, help us to feel the beauty of the dance of Divine and human. We experience this dialogue through prayer, study, and dialogue. As we dance with the Torah this Simchat Torah, may our hearts be full of the knowledge that our study of Torah is part of the song of the circle of life.

Rabbi Jill Hammer is a senior associate at Ma'yan: The Jewish Women's Project, the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women, and the founder of Tel Shemesh.

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