For the week ending 28 September 2002 / 22 Tishri 5763

Simchat Torah

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The Circle Dance

Matthew from Silver Spring, Maryland wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Why do we have the custom of dancing round and round in a circle on Simchat Torah? Why not a "square dance" for a change? (Just kidding.)

Dear Matthew,

The mystics teach us that G-d's Unity is revealed in this world to the extent that there is unity amongst His ambassadors in this world, the Jewish People. When His ambassadors are united, G-d's presence is detected unmistakably.

One of Judaism's great gifts to mankind is the verse in the Torah -- "And you will love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18) When we love each other and we are genuinely happy for our friends' successes, this causes a greater perception of G-d in the world. When we do the reverse -- when we see ourselves in a dog-eat-dog world -- we take a step down towards the canine world. We lose that G-dly radiance which shows that He made us in His image.

On Simchat Torah we complete the annual reading of the Torah. As soon as we finish the last verse, we start again at the beginning. Without a break. We read the Torah in a continuous cycle because the circle is a symbol of eternity. It goes on forever. It is eternal, just as the One who gave us the Torah is Eternal.

The circle symbolizes eternity. It starts nowhere and it finishes nowhere. The circle is also a symbol of equality. Every point in the circle is equidistant from its center.

There is an ancient Jewish custom to dance for hours around the bima (lectern) on Simchat Torah -- the festival on which we celebrate the completion of the yearly Torah cycle. This circle of dancing symbolizes the eternity of the Torah and its Author.

The mystics tell us that in the next world the righteous will make a circle around G-d. And they will dance around and around Him just like we do around the bima on Simchat Torah. There will be many different kinds of Jews represented there: Jews from Iran and Jews from Indianapolis. There will be Jews of all colors and from all walks of life. There will be those who, while keeping faith with unbroken tradition, strongly differ in the emphasis in their service of the Creator. There will be Chassidim and Litvaks, Ashkenazim and Sephardim. As they dance in that circle they will all realize that you can be 180 away from your neighbor and yet you can still be equidistant from the center, from G-d.

Sources: Rabbi Zev Leff and others

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