(September 27, 2018) – “We are a circle within a circle with no beginning and with no end….”, or, how Simchat Torah is magic:
“Chag” [as in saying Chag Same’ach, “happy holiday”] is the Hebrew word for Festival or Holiday. The root of the word is חגג, which is to walk or dance around something. So, our ancient word for a holy-day comes from the action of circling something, like an altar, or dancing together in a circle. This is one of the most basic ritual actions of our tradition – beyond singing, praying, playing music or even sacrificing. And while all the above have been and still are central to our worship (we’ll talk about sacrifices at some other time), the act of creating a circle should not be forgotten or placed aside.
Being in a circle creates community in that we all see each other and are active in worship. Creating a circle with our bodies and moving together, allows us to synchronize as a group, a feeling that manifests itself even by just stand around together. We allow ourselves to connect, and through that be connected to something larger than ourselves.
One of the ancient names for Sukkot was “Ha Chag” – THE Festival, in that it was an extremely important moment in our calendar. But beyond that – Sukkot, and along with it the festivals of Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are all about closing a circle and of reconnecting that which may be disconnected. We ask for a healthy cycle of rain, connecting Heaven and Earth. We pray for community to come together and heal human ties, Jewish and non-Jewish. And on Simchat Torah we tie together the end and beginning of our yearly reading cycle. With no beginning and with no end. Rolling the Torah and reading her ancient words over and over year in and year out, we are dancing the holy magic of our tribe, our nation.
Dancing with Torah on Simchat Torah is not about dancing with a holy “object”, rather it is about aligning ourselves with the ancient rhythm of our people. I encourage all of you to join the circle on Simchat Torah, when we open the scroll. Dance, stand or sit- we want and need you here with us to be a circle within a circle, with no beginning and with no end.
Gila Caine is the Rabbi at Temple Beth Ora, a Reform Judaism synagogue in Edmonton.