I was blessed to grow up in an environment that took Jewish tradition seriously. Shabbat and festivals were welcomed with great anticipation and we felt a deep and palpable sense of the rhythms and cycles of living lives that were sanctified and sacred. No Holy-Day was more eagerly awaited than Simchat Torah with its full-throated singing, passionate dancing, the pageantry of parading our venerated Torah Scrolls around our shul, and then allowing the festivities to pour out of the sanctuary and into the streets of our community. And who could possibly forget those decadent candy apples…
At some point in my mid-teens, I recall asking one of my elderly teachers, a gentle man who had survived the horrors of the Shoah, why Simchat Torah felt so very different than all of our other celebratory occasions. Even Purim, with all of its mandated gaiety and sanctioned buffoonery, did not match the unique energy experienced on “Simchas” Torah. His profound answer remains with me to this day.
Quoting the Rambam, he stated: “The Great Eagle (an epithet given to Maimonides) reminds us that when the Torah commands us to be “Joyous on our festivals, Vesamachta Bechagecha” it is really telling us how to behave, not how to feel. Actions can be mandated, emotions cannot. However, by acting jubilantly, even if we are not feeling euphoric, we attain at least a measure of happiness and fulfill the Divine command to be joyous on our festival days. And by acting joyful, we can at least in potential begin to feel that way as well. In other words, fake it until you make it!”
At this time of unrest, uncertainty, and tumult in our lives. A period when we are experiencing so much stress, anxiety, upheaval, illness and death. An unprecedented era when we face the challenges ofCOVID-19, social unrest, economic uncertainty, and environmental upheaval, we would be wise to recall that our Torah is an Eitz Chayim. Not just a Tree of Life, but also a Tree that enhances, uplifts, ennobles, and enriches our lives and our days on this earth. May our Simchat Torah celebrations, as modest and circumscribed as they necessarily must be in this extraordinary year, allow us to experience the unique joyous energy of Simchat Torah. And if you find yourself struggling, let me humbly suggest that you “fake it until you make it!”
Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose is The Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association.