Simchat Torah 5773 – Chag sameach!

The last and most joyous festival of the Jewish holiday season is almost upon us – Sukkot finishes tonight and Simchat Torah begins.

UPDATE: Today, the last day of Sukkot, is known as Hoshana Raba. Here’s a beautiful photo essay of the tefilot for Hoshana Raba  at the Kotel at dawn this morning.  A couple of pictures follow, but go and look at the whole article, it’s wonderful.

Hoshana Raba at the kotel

Hoshana Raba at the kotel

Performing Hoshanot

Performing Hoshanot

As I wrote for last year’s Simchat Torah post, (which I have updated for this year):

(Note: Several Hebrew terms have dotted underlines: mouse over them for an explanation.)

After 3 weeks of chagim (festivals), starting off with the solemn Rosh Hashana, continuing on through the fast day of Yom Kippur, followed closely by Sukkot, we are now hurtling straight into the last day of the festive season: Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah). It is a day that is combined with Shemini Atzeret (lit: 8th day of Assembly) in Israel, whereas outside Israel it is celebrated over 2 days, with Shemini Atzeret first, and Simchat Torah on the next day, for reasons to be found here.

The festival is almost schizophrenic in character because its two parts are so completely different.  Shemini Atzeret is festive yet serious, with the Yizkor (memorial for the dead) prayer and Tefilat Geshem (more on that here).

Dancing on Simchat Torah

Dancing on Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah on the other hand is pure joy, and in Israel, with the festival being celebrated all on one day, it always feels very strange to me to make the sudden switch from all the happiness and jollity of Simchat Torah to the serious prayers of Shemini Atzeret during the Musaf prayers.

But such is the reality of Jewish life I suppose, with seriousness and joy and celebration all rolled together.

So tonight we will all be gathering in shul to start the celebrations,  and the excitement of the day is something I still remember from my own childhood. All the Torah scrolls will be removed from the Aron Hakodesh  and distributed to congregants. Then the singing and dancing commences, with the Torah scrolls being danced round the shul in 7 hakafot; between each hakafah the Torahs are handed to other members. During the dancing sweets are handed out to the children who dance with their fathers holding flags (and bags to hold the sweets!).

Tomorrow morning, after morning services, the dancing with the Torah scrolls will be repeated, followed by the reading of the last chapters of the Torah: Zot Habracha (“This is the Blessing”), the blessing given by Moshe to the Children of Israel just before his death. The portion is read over and over (and over!) until every single member of the shul has been given an aliya. At that stage all the children are called up under a Chuppah, and they recite the Hamalach Hagoel prayer together with Shema Yisrael. It is an extremely exciting yet moving experience and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

There are several other customs on Simchat Torah: one person is nominated to be Chatan Torah, another to be Chatan Bereishit.

At the end of all the Torah readings, the Chatan Bereishit starts the Torah reading right from the beginning by reading the first chapters of Bereishit, to show how happy we are to begin the cycle again.

Once all these festivities are over, the atmosphere takes a sudden turn to the serious, and we say Yizkor, followed by Tefilat Geshem.

And when the Musaf prayer is over we stagger home for lunch!

One more aside: all the main prayers on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah were led by my very talented husband. Yasher koach on your hard work and beautiful singing.

Chag Sameach everyone!

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3 Responses to Simchat Torah 5773 – Chag sameach!

  1. Elchanan Eric Sussman says:

    Indeed you are correct your husband is very talented



  2. reality says:

    a guten winter everyone! Thanks to your very wonderful & talented husband who led us through all the tefillot over the past weeks & last night & today just ended it all wonderfully. I must say there was a really lovely atmosphere last nght in shul with so much dancing & on the way home our hubbies continued dancing in the streets with the Sifrei Torah of another shul causing the few cars that were around to stop & wait! & now the musag ‘acharei hachagim motek” is upon us! Time to go back to routine. sigh! We have to realise that we were very lucky to be able to celebrate today unlike the poor southerners who were barraged with mortars throughout the morning. Did they get to celebrate?

    • anneinpt says:

      Thanks for all your compliments. We had a great time at yours last night – too much food!

      ‘acharei hachagim motek” is upon us! Time to go back to routine.

      You are being funny I hope. You haven’t forgotten a minor detail like a wedding in 3 weeks time? Some routine!

      Agreed about the southerners. Will blog in a few minutes.

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