Each year on Simchat Torah I am struck by the importance of remembering the importance of going back and revisiting our beginnings. More often than not we learn something new or remember something necessary to our present life.
On this holiday, which literally means “rejoicing in the Torah (or law),” we celebrate the completion of the annual cycle of reading the scrolls of what some call the Old Testament. (Jews read the whole Torah one section, or parshah, per week all year long.) It’s a joyous celebration during which Jews all over the world affirm that the contents of this precious “book” symbolizes a “tree of life. ” And Jews keep it alive through never-ending, life-long study of the text. To demonstrate their love of the wisdom within the Torah and the joy it brings to their lives, on Simchat Torah the scrolls are taken from the ark and carried or danced around the synagogue seven times. And to conclude the service, the final section of Deuteronomy is read followed immediately by the opening section of Genesis.
The reason Jews keep rereading the Torah each year is simple: We want to glean more and more from its pages. We know that if we keep going back to the beginning and looking at each line more carefully and discussing it with others, we are bound to find new meaning and insight in the words written there. The kabbalists, or Jewish mystics, also believed that there were different ways to read the text that took us deeper into its hidden meaning. Discovering the “secrets” the Torah holds, also requires continuous and repeated study.
Sometimes in life we need to do the same. We have to revisit the pages of our life, go back to where we started to remember why we got on the path we we’re currently traveling or chose the travel companions we chose or even ended up at the destination where we now find ourselves. This helps us understand our motivations, our goals, our desires, which we might have lost sight of along the way.
Sometimes we have to look deeply inside the stories of our life to find the “secrets” hidden there. These explain why we do what we do, or why the people we love act they way they act. This knowledge can provide us with the answers to our questions about why certain things happened they way they did, offering us that 20-20 vision so common with hindsight.
Sometimes we need better vision, memory and understanding in our relationships, for example. We find ourselves 20 years into a marriage with no idea who that person is sleeping next to us or how we ended up married to them. We need to go back to that day 20 years ago, or maybe 21 or 22 years earlier, when we first met the person who would become our spouse and remember who they were and why we fell in love with them. We have to try to look deeply into the pages of the years to understand the journey we have taken together to arrive at the place we now stand. And that can help us to understand the present moment -and possibly go back to the past to renew the relationship.
And that’s what reading Torah is all about. It’s about looking at the past and trying to understand it in a way that helps us understand the present. And when the present seems as confusing and frightening and changing as the one we find ourselves in today, we need to go back to the beginning and search for meaning, insight, wisdom, lessons…anything that will help us move through our now moment with more confidence, courageousness, centeredness, peacefulness, and joy.
So, go back to the beginning again and again…in Torah and in your life. For after all, your life is Torah unfolding. The world around us is Torah unfolding. Keep reading it over and over again, from start to finish, from beginning to end and beginning again.