Aveilim don’t go round the shul for hoshanot, so they are normally asked to hold the Sefer Torah. In the minyan that I have been davening in, there are three aveilim – so yesterday was my turn. I didn’t think too much about it. Took the Sefer out, walked to the Bima and held it there as the kehillah went round with their lulavim.
It was just before I took it back that it happened.
After Hoshanot, you recite a prayer and then just before returning the sefer to the ark we recite the paragraph beginning ‘Hoshia Et Amecha’. Normally, in a weekday minyan this line is simply said, not sung, but in this minyan we have been singing it.
So there I was on the bima, holding the Sefer Torah – and the song started.
Suddenly it hit me – this is one of my favourite songs to dance with the Sefer Torah on Simchat Torah. This year that will not be happening- so I closed my eyes, held that Sefer Torah close and without drawing any attention I began to dance – very subtly – more like moving from side to side, but I knew what I was doing, I was saying to the Sefer Torah, I don’t know if this year we can dance, but we are together now and that is all I may have – and our song is playing – so let’s dance.
I put the Sefer back and felt quite emotional – no one in the shul had seen anything – why would you look at the guy on the bima during or after Hoshanot.
What also struck me was that of all the restrictions we have had to endure during the pandemic, none have yet challenged us in fulfilling the essence of the chag – till now.
On Pesach we still had Seder night, Matza and Maror – yes, it may have been a much smaller seder and maybe it was not in the country you thought you would be in, but the essence of Pesach was the same.
On Shavuot we still had Tikun Leil, yes it may have been the day before, or we just spent some of the night learning, and maybe it was just with your family but the essence of Shavout was still there.
On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, yes, we may have had less time and less people in shul but the tefillot were the same, the intensity was the same – the essence of the Yamim Noraim were intact.
On Succot, yes, we could only have up to six people in the Succah, but we fulfilled the mitzva, benched lulav, did Hoshanot in shul – the essence of Succot was fully realised.
However, now we come to Simchat Torah, and the challenge begins.
Since I was a child this has been one of the highlights of the Jewish year. The celebrations, the food and drink, the singing, the dancing, the chatanim celebrations, the youth parties, the community parties….but what will be this year? Government guidelines to shuls have been very clear that we cannot bring in food and drink, we cannot dance with the sifrei Torah, so does this mean, unlike all other chagim, that we cannot fulfil the essence of Simchat Torah?
Let’s examine. What are all the celebrations for? Why are we celebrating?
Simchat Torah, as we all know, is the day we complete the reading of the Torah with the end of V’zot ha bracha, and we begin again with Bereishit.
That is the essence of the day – the finishing and beginning of the Torah – the Simcha of our connection to the Torah, to the physical scroll that contains the unchanging word of Hashem for eternity and the realisation of the centrality of the Torah in our lives.
That is what we are celebrating with dancing, with food and drink, with parties for the chatanim etc. We are celebrating our relationship, our love, our passion for the Torah.
This year we have to show that love, that passion without the dancing and the food – it’s different, but the essence of the day can still be accessed, can still be experienced, albeit without the normal celebrations.
So my premature ‘dance’ with the Sefer Torah to one of my favourite songs for Simchat Torah had the perfect words for our current predicament.
‘Hoshia et Amecha, u varech et Nachalatecha’ Save your people and bless your heritage.
Please Hashem, save us physically from the plague that is currently engulfing the world, but bless your heritage, the Jewish people, the Torah and allow us to realise that this year, even though we cannot dance, cannot celebrate as we usually do, it is still our life blood and to realise:
Ki Hem Chayenu v Orech Yamenu – It is our life and our length of days.