Bringing The Cycle To An End

The end of the fall holiday season looks forward to redemption.

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Shemini Atzeret is a taste of the messianic, of the time when Torah, the Holy One, and Israel will be one. This comes to a climax with Simchat Torah. Instead of circling around the Torah scrolls as we did on Sukkot, during hoshanot we circle with the Torah scrolls. We take the connecting link between us and God--our ketubah [marriage contract], as it were--and circle around an apparently; empty space that is filled with the One who fills everything.

simchat torah quizSimchat Torah celebrates a Torah of joy, a Torah without restrictions or sense of burden. We circle God seven times with the Torah and then no more. There is no eighth circling. We read from the last portion of the Torah just before we enter the promised land, but leave the last few verses unread--the Torah unfinished. It is a magical moment when all that exists are God and Torah and ourselves. We throw ourselves into endless circles of dancing and become time lost.

But this moment must pass. Time does continue, and therefore the unity is broken. The sun rises and historical time, briefly halted, begins again. Cyclic time begins as well, for we start again the Torah reading cycle. There is no end to Torah; after Deuteronomy, we immediately begin Genesis as part of a constantly renewing cycle.

We also read the first chapter of the Book of Joshua, which shows that even after the Torah there is still something else. The Torah did not end last night. There is more to hear, for not only does the Torah cycle begin again, the Torah itself enters historical time beginning with the Book of Joshua.

Then, too, the Book of Joshua is the fulfillment of the dream of entering the Promised Land. It tells us that last night was no illusion, that the moment of redemption is always at hand.

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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.