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Rabbi Zaltzman on Parashat Sukkot

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(Flickr photo)

A graduation ceremony usually consists of intellectual speeches connected with the academic subjects that were studied. Some are even accompanied by full-fledged symposiums that explore topics and texts in depth. So it is a  bit curious that on Simchat Torah, when we conclude the annual study cycle of the Torah, we close all our books, including the sacred Torah scrolls, and dance. There is no studying, no discussion – nothing of the sort, other than a few verses that are bombastically and enthusiastically chanted.

The Torah is the birthright of every Jewish person, regardless of their level of scholarship or dedication. If we were to commemorate it through study, it would seem like it belongs to some more than others. But when we dance, we are all one. Even though we each dance differently, the basic act of moving one’s feet in rhythm is a great equalizer. When we dance together, in sync, as one body, we are giving expression to the very essence of what the Torah is about: the oneness of our people, our Creator and of existence. In the study of Torah, we engage in its expression and manifestation, but at its core, it is a vehicle through which we experience oneness. To feel that, you have to dance.

Simchat Torah is not just a celebration of the Torah as a book, but a celebration of a unified reality that we are all part of. The darkness of the world often clouds that unified reality, but the light of the Torah penetrates it and reveals the oneness within the world. When Mashiach arrives, new dimensions of the Torah’s light will be revealed that will cause the oneness of the world to shine through. We’ve been getting a preview of that in the last few centuries with the proliferation of kabbalistic and Hasidic teachings. When we dance on Simchat Torah, it is very much a taste of a liberated future – complete oneness, tapping into a higher reality.