Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Synagogue Simcha!!

It's almost Sundown in Israel. SIMCHAT TORAH begins tonight with the reading of the concluding Torah portion & the commencement of a new year of Torah readings.  Simchat Torah,  literally means "rejoicing in the Torah," & celebrates the completion and beginning of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. The final Parashah  of Torah(known as V'zot Habrachah in the Book of Devarim) is read from the Torah and is immediately followed by the reading of the first portion of the Book of Bereishit. Beginnings!!

The Torah-reading ritual on Simchat Torah is characterized by the ha'kafot service. Jews dance with Torah scrolls in hakafot (literally, "circles") in the Synagogue and on the streets outside.   The Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and given to members of the congregation to hold, then they march around the Synagogue and everyone kisses the Torah Scrolls as they pass. This ceremony is known as hakafot, which means "to march around" in Hebrew. Once the Torah holders return to the ark everyone forms a circle around them and dances with them.    Simchat Torah is considered a kid-friendly Jewish holiday, and it is not uncommon to find children with flags and banners perched on parents' shoulders throughout the festivities. Dancing while holding the Torah is considered a great honour on this holiday. In congregations with multiple sets of scrolls, Torahs are passed from one person to the next during the dancing. 

Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) have a thing for the number Seven. Among other things, there are Seven days of Sukkot, the holiday that precedes Simchat Torah. Ha'kafot dancing occurs Seven times during Simchat Torah services. A set of 17 verses is read ~ in some congregations it is repeated three times in each of the seven hakafot -- and then the dancing begins anew. Each of the seven dances is associated with the seven divine emanations (known as Sephirot in Kabbalah) in the physical world ....  kindness, judgment, harmony, victory, splendor, foundation and kingship. While each day of Sukkot has a similar association, on Simchat Torah all of these aspects are united on one day. Jews dance in circles on Simchat Torah to acknowledge this unity.
Because Simchat Torah is such a happy day, services are not as formal as at other times. Some will drink liquor during the service, others will make a game out of singing so loud that they drown out the cantor's voice. Overall the holiday is a unique and joyful experience, Baruch Ha'Shem!!!!

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