Simchat Torah

On Simchat Torah we will literally open three books of Torah-the end of Devarim, Deuteronomy, the beginning of Bereshit, Genesis, and the Maftir section from BeMidbar, Numbers. As we open these volumes, it is perhaps appropriate to meditate on the different levels of knowledge to which we can aspire. There is a pre-verbal level of comprehension-we listen to words like infants, seeking to integrate them but are not yet capable of breaking the sounds into ideas. Then there is a next level of learning where the words take concrete form-we can read them, write them, and interpret them. Finally, there is a third level of learning in which the words again escape their received form because they are now our words-they are a book which we ourselves are writing, just like the book of Adam.

Sometimes we are in that first stage-overwhelmed by the vastness of Jewish knowledge and unable to categorize the flow of letters and words. Most of the time we are in that beautiful middle realm of interpretation. We are "Jews for exegesis," reading and translating ancient texts. But it is that third level which is most creative and powerful, when the words recombine through the force of our cumulative learning and experience, and we imagine ourselves entering a prophetic mode, generating new knowledge-this is the book of our Torah.

It is even possible to associate these modalities of learning with the three books of Torah that we will open on Friday. We begin at the end-with "this blessing" offered by Moses, the man of God, before he dies. The poetry of this section is often quite obscure-it flows over us with strange power, but we have little specific relationship to its imagery. The second book, Bereshit, opens before us with the promise of new life and comprehension. We thirstily take in its account of origins, willing ourselves into a new hold on life. But it is that short third reading, the Maftir, which is our opportunity to add to the Torah. This is the only reading which describes (sacrificial) ritual behavior. Although we will not be offering animal sacrifices, we can imagine and trust with this reading that our own "avodah", or worship, will be found acceptable to God.

Devarim describes the righteous leader Moses at the end of his journey. His book is complete. The second book, Bereshit, tells the story of the dreadful fall of Adam and Eve, Cain's murder of Abel, and God's disgust with humanity, "who do evil all day long". They are written into the book of the wicked. But it is again in the third book -- the book of uncertainty, that we ourselves inhabit -- that written within are our own words: our insights, our deeds, our Torah. What will we write in it this year? Will we be righteous pillars of the world?

As we dance with our sifrei Torah on this festival and celebrate completion and resumption, let the words we write be suffused with joy and light. May the words of Torah be sweet in our mouths and in the mouths of the children of Israel.

An early Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham