Simhat Torah: Ending and beginning – Torah without stop

In this way, we acknowledge that even if we completed the yearly cycle of Torah reading, we still have much more learning in store.

A SIMHAT Torah flag, waved jauntily during hakafot. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A SIMHAT Torah flag, waved jauntily during hakafot.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Following seven days of Sukkot, we celebrate another holiday that stands on its own. The original name for this holiday is Shmini Atzeret. This is what it is called in the Torah and how we refer to it in the prayers of the day. But nowadays it is better known as Simhat Torah. (Outside Israel, these two names remain distinct and are celebrated on consecutive days, while in Israel they are on the same day.)
What is the meaning of the name Simhat Torah (literally – the Joy of the Torah)? One of the most ancient regulations determined in the history of the Jewish nation is that of reading the Torah. Every Shabbat, during prayer services in the synagogue, the Torah scroll is taken out of its ark and a section is read from it. Over the years, this Torah portion was called “Parashat Hashavua,” the weekly portion. For the past almost 2,000 years, the Jewish nation has been arranging this Torah reading in a yearly cycle so that every year we finish with the final portion of the Torah – Vezot Habracha – on Simhat Torah; and on the very same day, we start reading the Torah anew with the first portion of Bereshit. With this arrangement, the entire nation reads all five books of the Torah every year, thus gaining a strong and stable basis for our personal and national lives.
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