A while ago, my family went biking in a secluded area along a picturesque nature path. The path was a few miles long, and if you completed it you made a full circle and ended up back at its beginning.
The route had small hills throughout. We loved cycling down those hills; it was effortless and enjoyable, the pull of gravity doing all the work for us.
Uphill, though, was a different story altogether. That’s when the going got tough. We needed to use all our muscle strength to cycle forward. But we soon learned that if we used the momentum from the easy ride down to propel us at least part of the way up, it made the ride easier. It also helped to keep in mind that after our strenuous effort, we would soon be rewarded with something easier—maybe even a fun ride downhill.
Life is full of these hills, big and small. Sometimes we’re cycling on easy street, enjoying the free ride. More often, it feels like we’re exerting too much energy and moving forward far too slowly.
But no matter how short or long the rides up or down, the pattern is pretty much cyclical; hills melt into valleys, and then swell into hills again.
This week we celebrate the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah, as we finish the yearly cycle of Torah readings. The Torah is divided into portions; every Shabbat we read one, sometimes two, portions, to complete the entire Torah. To celebrate our completion of the cycle, we joyously dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah in circles that go round and round, reflecting the circles and cycle of life itself.
Interestingly, the last Torah reading, Vezot Haberachah, doesn’t have its own Shabbat on which it is read. Instead, we read it on the holiday of Simchat Torah, while on the Shabbat following Simchat Torah we have already begun with the first Torah portion of Bereishit.
Perhaps the point is that there should never be a closing Shabbat in which the Torah is concluded. Rather, the readings are continuous, always ongoing, beginning immediately afresh, never taking a break and never ending.
Simchat Torah marks the climax of a three-week period of holidays ranging from awe-inspiring to joyous. As a bridge between the holiday season and the rest of the mundane year, it is the most joyous of holidays, even more than Sukkot, the season of rejoicing.
Perhaps its message to us is that life can be full of cyclical ups and downs, but at all times we need to remember to keep moving forward. And only through our continuous movement forward, riding the hills and the valleys, will we find the greatest joys, in the continuous cyclical path of life.
Wishing you a most joyous holiday!