Simchat Torah -a little late, but a lot of dancing

I know this is a little late – the blur of the last few days has made for some holes into which my to-do lists disappear.  Nevertheless, if you did have a chance to dance with the Torah, great!  If not….well, next year for sure. And maybe this post will encourage you…

I remember the first time I was handed a Torah to dance with, for a split second,  I looked around for a man to give it to, because surely it shouldn’t be resting on my shoulders.  That brief moment of doubt stays with me decades later. It surfaces every time I see this picture (left) of Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, with whom I had the honor of praying with years ago.  It surfaces still when I take the Torah on Simchat Torah, for just that brief moment, and I’ll forever be both pained and elated at its presence in my psyche.

Pained, because for too long in my childhood, the Torah was something withheld from me, literally.  Pained because I even have to think twice as to whether I can wrap my loving arms around this beautiful object.  And elated, because it’s mine, now, mine.  Torah is my friend and my challenger.

There is a teaching from the Talmud that says there must always be white space around each black letter of every word in the Torah.  If it doesn’t, if the black touches the black, it’s not a “kosher” Torah.  Why?  What’s so important about the white spaces?  Rav Kook, the renowned 20th c Torah scholar during the pre-State Israel, said that the black letters are the black fire – the one we see and touch and read and chant from – and the white space is the white fire, the Sinai experience.  I like to say that the white fire is where commentary and Midrash live; it’s the space that makes room for our own voice in the text.

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Nina Mizrahi, Director of the Pritzker Center for Jewish Education at JCC Chicago writes in her weekly Shabbat message,

“In this context I return to a teaching of scholar, master Jewish Educator, cartoonist and storyteller, Joel Lurie Grishaver, who introduced the phrase, “Be Torah.”…Given Rav Kook’s teaching, what does it mean that each Jew is Torah?  Are we the black fire of the letters or the white fire between the letters? Are there established beliefs, practices and experiences which qualify a person to be Torah, or can any Jew claim his/her Torah?   

That’s what makes me happy enough to dance – the idea that I can be the Torah, I can be my own Torah, that I can claim the Torah as my own. Since those days when the Torah was taken out of my hands, I have dived deep into its wisdom and relevance to me.  I splash in its living waters; I question, I argue, I laugh, I share, O cry, I ponder.  I am thoroughly engaged, and so can anyone else.   There is so much deeper to go!  But I get to do it now, and no one can take it out of my hands any more.  Ever.

So, as powerful as Anat’s picture is, I prefer to keep a parallel one in my head for Simchat Torah – that of all hands reaching out to caress and celebrate.

Go find a Torah to dance with!

Chag Sameach…

and Shabbat Shalom,






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2 Responses to Simchat Torah -a little late, but a lot of dancing

  1. Always a gem that it’s my pleasure to re-post!

  2. awareci says:

    Although women have been given a Torah to dance with for Simchat Torah for a number of years in our Orthodox synagogue, not many women feel comfortable. However this year we did something new – which for those women that were paying attention was apparently very moving, inspiring and special.

    For several years we’ve moved the service from the main shul into the synagogue hall. The reason for this is so that both men and women can dance and have space to dance. There is a mechitzah placed down the centre of the hall. It’s not high – as it’s not a permanent place of worship, and so is there just to separate the two groups.

    This year, when laining started, the bimah was moved right next to the mechitzah so that women could follow the reading directly – as close as the men (except for the reader himself). One woman said she’d never had the chance to actually read from a Sepher – as that is how close they were.

    It shows that even in Orthodoxy, there is a lot that CAN be done to be inclusivist with both sexes able to join in, without breaching restrictions. The problem is that most don’t think about it!

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