“Simchat Torah….Wow, another holiday? Didn’t we just finish the two main ones? Plus, we ate a few meals in our sukkah. We are doing pretty good on the holiday scale – right?” Okay, similar thoughts have probably entered our minds once or twice (or maybe more). During the fall, we practically take up residence at our congregations. It often gets to the point that we find our missing bibles, shoes and casserole dishes hanging out in lost in found. This is true, but wait, there is more. If we don’t consider each holiday with the utmost intentionality, we will miss the blessings God has ordained for us, and this holds true whether you are 7 years old or 97 years old.
The Torah is so special! We read from it weekly at our synagogues. We instinctively rise with adoration when the ark opens. We study intensely for our Bat Mitzvahs where we will have the opportunity to read from the Torah publicly. When visitors come, we explain to them that we are not worshiping an idol but respecting God’s Word. We let them know that as the bible states in Psalms 119:103, the Word is sweeter than honey to our lips. The Torah is very important in Judaism and key to our Messianic lifestyle.
During the Simchat Torah service, we celebrate and honor God’s word in many ways. The “main event” of the service is rolling the Torah scrolls from Deuteronomy back to Genesis. To think that in a year we go through the whole Torah as a community is truly breathtaking.
As a congregation and community, we really go through life together with the Torah portions as mile markers. When someone is ill, we pray for them and bring matzo ball soup. When someone is having a baby, we throw a baby shower and marvel together at the birth of our newest congregant when he or she arrives. When someone is struggling, we struggle alongside them. When someone has great news to share, we all rejoice in unison. God designed us to live in community, with Him and His word at the center of it. It is no wonder that from that connection of His word and community, we created a feast simply for rejoicing in the Torah and rejoicing that we have gone through a whole year together as a community.
As we are heading into Simchat Torah, I want to encourage you to reflect on this past year. You might be thinking that you already did that during Rosh Hashanah and definitely Yom Kippur. I am not asking you to reflect the way you might have on Yom Kippur. I am asking you to think of the Torah being rolled back to Genesis. Think of the milestones (and the “mini-milestones”) that have taken place this past year for you and your community. What prayers have been answered? What prayers are we still requesting? What has taken place through all of these Torah portions of year 5777?
I have been reflecting a lot lately. A year ago, I interviewed for the job I have now. It has been a very interesting and exciting season for me. I was hopeful to one-day work in Messianic youth ministry, but I thought it would happen later in life. As we all know, God’s timing is perfect. He opened the door for me and said loud and clearly, “GO!” God truly brought me into this unknown for His plans to be accomplished, and it has been a faith builder just to live out this year. I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the Messianic communities putting on Messianic youth retreats. I have had a front row seat seeing the Lord transform the lives of so many youth. They will look back on these times as an integral part of their journey, and will see how God used these retreats to transform them. The youth of the movement are our future! At the end of each retreat, I have shed joyful tears of gratitude for all that the Lord has accomplished in our youth and eagerly await to see what is next. Yeshua has sustained me to reach this season as He has for you.
I learned at each retreat that the Lord is my source of strength because I am so weak. I am constantly in awe of what He accomplishes and that I get to just marvel at what He is doing. As I get to travel and be with Messianic youth all over the country, I am so impressed with the fact that we truly are one giant community as Messianic believers. We get to do life with our congregations and greater community.
In 2012, I went to Israel with the YMJA and we went to the Western Wall of Jerusalem, the Kotel, on Friday afternoon. It was truly holy ground. The atmosphere was peaceful, somber and breathtakingly beautiful. As the sun was coming down, Shabbat was entering in and the wall turned into a party! Both sides of the wall were singing, dancing and there was a joy that was so tangible I will never forget it. I was hopeful that one day I would get to relive that joy again.
A couple of years ago at my congregation, we got to that same level of joy on Simchat Torah. It was a mad house of joy. It started with everyone parading around with Israeli flags while the band was singing praise songs. Then the hora started and the youth started chanting, which echoed through the room. Meanwhile, the beautiful Torahs were being rolled back and admired by all. It was a sight to see. It was like we all became kids again. I didn’t realize it until now but there is so much joy in rolling back the Torah, simply because there is joy in following the Lord’s commands. The joy is so strong because we observe as a community. There is joy in the painful moments of the year, because we are not alone. There is joy in the wonderful moments, because we are not alone.
There is a Jewish tradition of reading the last verse in Deuteronomy and then immediately reading the first verses of Genesis. The purpose of the tradition was so that we would not leave the slightest impression that we are ever finished studying God’s word. It is a wonderful tradition. We are never done studying God’s word and His word will never return void. As Messianic believers, we have the Torah, Haftarah and Brit Chadashah. We have the opportunity to press in. We also have the opportunity to let the service leader or Rabbi read the portions and just doze off, since we have “been there done that.” We must approach God’s word with intentionality and each Shabbat with intentionality. It might be the worst week of the year for someone and for another it might be the best week of the year. Regardless, we get to be mishpacha and be there for one another. Then, at Simchat Torah we get to roll the Torah back and do it all over again. Yes, we GET to do it all over again and experience whatever God has for us in this new year and it is a joy because we are in it together.