Finishing and Beginning Anew
The month-long cycle of the Jewish High Holy Day season is now over.
It seems that we had just begun, with the New Year and the Day of Atonement, and afterwards we built a little wooden booth on our deck, a sukkah, and had dinner in it almost every night for the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles and its adjoining Eighth Day of Assembly. Each of these holidays has its special meaning and traditions, and I love them all.
But my favourite of all the holidays is the very last one, the day of Rejoicing with the Torah. As you may know, it is my privilege to be the Torah reader at Congregation Etz Chayim. The Torah, or Teaching, is the holiest text of Judaism (some call it the Five Books of Moses). Each scroll is hand-written, in Hebrew, with a quill pen on parchment made from sheep or goat skins, and is rolled on two wooden handles, as you can see in the picture from my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, almost two years ago.
We treat the Torah with great reverence, and we read from it constantly. Each Saturday morning has its set portion, and we read shorter excerpts on Saturday afternoons, Monday and Thursday mornings, and on other occasions such as the New Moon that marks a new Jewish month. This practice has been around for thousands of years. We are not called the People of the Book for nothing!
Our calendar is set up so that we read the entire Torah in one lunar year – sometimes it has 12 months and sometimes 13, but we always finish reading the Torah and start it again at the end of the High Holy Day season. On the day of Rejoicing with the Torah, we finish reading the very last portion, describing the death of Moses, and immediately begin again with the first portion, describing the creation of the world.
The ending of a cycle and beginning of a new one is a very joyous occasion – we take as many Torah scrolls as we can, and sing and dance around the sanctuary with them. The children are given candy and other treats, and everyone enjoys desserts and time together, as we look forward to the new year.
How about you, what kind of cyclical observances do you enjoy? Do you finish something and immediately begin again? Let me know!