The feast began last evening at sundown:
Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in the Torah.” This holiday marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. Each week in synagogue we publicly read a few chapters from the Torah, starting with Genesis Ch. 1 and working our way around to Deuteronomy 34. On Simchat Torah, we read the last Torah portion, then proceed immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.
This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration. There are processions around the synagogue carrying Torah scrolls and plenty of high-spirited singing and dancing in the synagogue with the Torahs….
And the relevance is...?
Wisdom is the foundation of the law and the prophets and their crowning glory. God’s plan for his people was revealed in detail for their own good, so that they would thrive among the nations, and the relationship between the two parties in the Covenant would prosper. Sometimes the community would adhere to the commandments of God more closely than at other times, and it must be admitted that now and again in history one would be hard-pressed to distinguish the Jewish remnant from their neighbors; but in time, they would return to their faith, and they would cling once more to the special covenant with the one true God Who called them out of darkness.
To help the people see what lay shrouded in the Scriptures, the spiritual covenant even took tangible form, especially in the yearly celebration called “Rejoicing in the Torah.” During this feast, in Hebrew called Simchat Torah, “one takes the Torah under one’s arm, as if it were a bride, and dances with it in the synagogue.”The men who participate are actually called “bridegrooms of the Torah,” which underscores the nuptial reality, and the day allows the community to celebrate God’s mercy anew and acknowledge that it is Lady wisdom that gave life to the children of Israel.
For all the passionate love bound up in this earthy and joyful feast, the care taken with the actual Torah throughout the centuries reveals that there is a chasteness to this love, a abiding reverence for the “law as bride.” The scrolls are treated with great respect, being kept in an ark-like tabernacle (often, fittingly, with a crown adorning it), and the law forbids them from being touched by human hands. Even when they are removed so that a portion of the law may be read each day to an assembly, they would never be laid on a bare table but always on a prepared cloth, and then there are layers to be reverently removed: first a mantle, often finely embroidered, then an outer covering of expensive material, and then a girdle of silk which ties the scrolls together. At this point, a silver bar is used as a marker, recalling the admonition of God Himself that nothing should ever touch the Ark,
which rested in the midst of the Chosen People. These very same men – who loved wisdom with the ardor of a husband – would go so far as to lay down their lives to protect their scrolls, as witnessed by tragedies over the centuries in which many sons of Israel would die in trying to rescue them from fire or abuse.
Jesus, upon reaching the age of maturity, read from the Torah and even unlocked its mysteries in a way that would astonish those assembled. He knew them intimately, of course, since both He was the author, creator, and spouse of the wisdom therein. He would later stress to his followers that he did not intend to do away with even the smallest portion of the law, saying “For truly, as I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished,”Indeed, if He allowed such a thing to happen, He would have distorted or erased the very features of His own bride. Rather, He reminded us that all of the law and the prophets could be summarized in the love of God and of neighbor. Understanding this allows us see the parallels, and to more easily grasp the spiritual truth – that the revealed laws of God were simply tangible dimensions of the Bride of the ages, whom He could embrace as easily as a rabbi did his beloved scrolls (fromThe Authentic Catholic Woman).