This weekend Jews celebrate Simchat Torah, as we complete the cycle of reading the Torah with the last verses of D'varim (Deuteronomy) and begin with the first verses of Bereshit (Genesis), symbolizing the continuous reading and study of Torah. In all synagogues Simchat Torah is a festive occasion, marked by singing and dancing during the hakafot with the scrolls.
This year, with Israel's war with Hezbollah and the tragic shooting at the Jewish Federation that brought grief to our community, it is especially important that we celebrate on Simchat Torah. Here are 36 reasons to sing and dance with the Torah:
Throughout our people's history, Jews have lived by its teachings and sometimes died for its teachings.
We still read the Torah from a scroll, as our people has done for more than 2,000 years.
Each Torah scroll is lovingly handwritten on parchment, using all-natural items.
The last letter of the Torah, lamed, and the first letter of the Torah, bet, spell out the word lev, heart, reminding us that the Torah is the heart of Judaism.
Throughout our people's history, Jews have commented on every phrase, every word, even every letter of the Torah.
In the days of the Soviet Union, Simchat Torah was often the only day that Jews would take to the streets and celebrate openly as Jews.
The Torah begins not with the first Jew, but with the first human being, reminding us that we are part of humanity.
The Torah contains both laws and stories which guide our conduct.
The Torah contains the covenant between God and the Jewish people.
The Torah contains the rainbow covenant with all human beings.
The Torah contains the stories of our ancestors, with both their strengths and their flaws.
Despite our differences, the centrality of the Torah unites all Jews.
The Torah 'is a tree of life to all who hold fast to it, and all its supporters are happy' (Proverbs 3:18).
We live in a free society that allows us to study Torah openly.
The Torah insists that God act justly ('Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?' Genesis 18:25).
The Torah is the ketubah defining the relationship between God and the Jewish people.
Each year thousands of Jews-by-choice accept the Torah.
Each year millions of Jews-by-birth and Jews-by-choice affirm the Torah's teachings.
The Torah is our family tree.
We all were together at Sinai when God gave us the Torah.
While matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, took place on one date in our people's history, we receive the Torah each and every day.
Because, according to Simon the Just, the Torah is one of three things that sustain the world (Pirkei Avot 1:2).
Because, according to Rabbi Chananya ben Teradiion, when two people sit and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests between them (Pirkei Avot 3:3).
Because, according to Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, without Torah, there can be no derech eretz (proper conduct), but without derech eretz there can be no Torah (Pirkei Avot 3:21).
Also, according to Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, without Torah there can be no physical sustenance, but without physical sustenance there can be no Torah (Pirkei Avot 3:21).
According to Ben Bag Bag, we should turn the Torah over and over, for it contains everything; we should keep our eyes on it, study it, and not budge from it, for there is no better way of life than it (Pirkei Avot 5:25).
Each translation of the Torah adds new insights and understandings.
Jews throughout the world read the same Torah portion each Shabbat.
Centuries of Jewish teachings have their roots in the Torah.
The Torah begins with an act of loving kindness: God clothing Adam and Eve ' and ends with an act of loving kindness: God burying Moses (Sotah 14a).
One who loves Torah is never satiated (Deuteronomy Rabbah 7).
The Torah can be summed up, according to Hillel, by the teaching 'What is hateful to you do not do to another human being' (Shabbat 31a).
The Torah teaches us to love God (Deuteronomy 6:6), to love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19), and to love our neighbor as ourself (Leviticus 19:18).
The study of Torah is equal to honoring father and mother, performing acts of kindness, attending the house of study morning and evening, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick, rejoicing with bride and groom; consoling the bereaved, praying with sincerity, and making peace among human beings (Pe'ah 1:1).
The Torah was given in public, openly, in a free place so that anyone who wants to receive it may come and receive it (Mechilta Exodus 19:2).
When God offered the Torah to our ancestors, they answered 'Na'aseh v'nishma, we will do and we will obey,' before asking what was in it (Sifre Deuteronomy 33:2).
Bruce Kadden is rabbi of Temple Beth El in Tacoma, and co-author with his wife Barbara of Teaching Mitzvot, Teaching Tefilah, and Teaching Jewish Life Cycle.