One Simhat Torah the wife of the Ba’al Shem Tov saw that his chief disciples
were rejoicing and dancing, and drinking a great deal of wine. Worrying for
Kiddush and Havdala, she said to her husband: “Tell them please to stop dancing
and drinking, for otherwise you won’t have enough wine left.”
smiled and said: “Good point. Go along and tell them to stop, and they’ll
The rebbitzin opened the door and saw the disciples dancing in
a circle, while over their heads hovered a canopy of fire. Thereupon she herself
went down to the cellar, and brought them as much wine as was
Sometimes a sliver of anguish assails me during the tumultuous
joy of Simhat Torah.
It happens whenever I become too aware of Jewish men
standing on the sidelines, passively watching the traditional lively dancing,
resisting all polite invitations and rough arm-jerkings to join in. I am not
talking about the ones that may have tried participating, but for whatever
reason enjoy it more as spectators.
Although I sometimes feel sorry that
they are passing up a special opportunity, at least I can assume that they are
clear about their options.
What makes me wince is people sitting it out
because of a simple yet profound miscomprehension.
“I don’t study the
Torah the rest of the year,” they say. “So how can I presume to dance with it
now? I don’t deserve the privilege.”
And it is not only the
three-times-a-year attendees I hear this from. My attempts to explain the
fallacy in their assumption while the dancing is going on are too often
skeptically viewed as yet another, albeit subtle, ploy to draft some more
dancers, so here is a bid to head off the problem this year by addressing it
comfortably in advance.
In one respect they are right: Jews are supposed
to energetically study the Torah throughout the year. And in that context
perhaps it is possible to distinguish between Jews according to the effort they
make, the depth of their understanding, and the knowledge they
It could even be that some Jews at the top of this list will
feel more joy during the dancing on Simhat Torah than others who have made less
of an investment. But that is far from the whole story.
The name Simhat
Torah is usually understood to refer to the joy we have in dancing with the
Torah. An equally valid explanation, however – and one which is emphasized by
the Sisu v’simhu prayer after the dancing – is the joy that the Torah has from
us. That is, we do not dance for our own pleasure, we dance to honor the
Every other time of the year we have the opportunity to honor the
Torah by studying it. On Simhat Torah, however, the Torah scroll remains
covered!It is not available for intellectual study, only for being rejoiced
through our dancing. And while we each attain our own unique personal level in
Torah study, when it comes to circling around the Torah together, we are all
equal – two feet each!Distinctions based on level of intellect or even
commitment are irrelevant.
We just dance. Then the Torah is “happy,” God
is happy, and we have a good time too. Afterwards, we should find that the
dancing itself arouses us to increase our Torah study efforts throughout the new
This article is reprinted with permission from the writer and