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Dancing With the Torah

Dancing With the Torah

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I was first called for an aliyah to the Torah at the age of thirty-six. I was in a Chabad house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a stranger to the group of regulars filling the room, save for Rabbi Yosef Samuels, who had invited me. It was a short walk from my seat to the reading table. But in that brief period of time I became very anxious about what would be expected of me.

I recalled the synagogue that I attended infrequently as a boy, where the Ark stood in front of a large, sterile room, and only the richest, most influential members were called to recite the blessings before the Torah. In my boyhood, Judaism was very formal and distant, surrounded by ceremony void to me of meaning or substance. The Torah in the synagogue of my youth was a thing removed, without relevance to my and to my family's daily life. Never before, in my 36 years of life, had I seen the inside of a Torah scroll.

I was not expecting to be called to the Torah this Shabbat morning in Milwaukee's Chabad House. I hesitatingly approached the group of men surrounding the reading table. I could see only their backs draped in white tallitot (prayer shawls). I expected grim, serious faces to be peering out from beneath the white cloth pulled up over their foreheads. But when I approached the Torah, they turned to greet me with warm smiles. One of them, a person with whom I had briefly spoken before the prayers began, gave me a gentle nudge of greeting with his shoulder. The others were chatting while the reader found the place to begin. I was told to touch the Torah with my tallit and and then bring the cloth to my lips and kiss the spot that had touched the parchment and letters. I stumbled through the English transliteration of the blessings, and then stood nervously while the Torah was read. I recited the second blessing and was gently moved to the side of the reading table while a mi shebeirach was said in my honor. The man I had met briefly put his arm around me while this was happening and joked with me a bit while we stood waiting for the next reading to begin.

There was an atmosphere of informality and intimacy with the Torah that astonished me.

"The Torah is no stranger," Rabbi Samuels explained. "We live with it every day."

In the following months and years, I learned just how intimate the Torah could become, both in the lives of the Lubavitchers I came to know so well, and in my own life. I went through several Jewish yearly cycles, experiencing times of awe and veneration for the Torah, and times of familiarity bordering on irreverence. To drunkenly hug and dance with the holy scrolls on Simchat Torah! Who could have ever imagined!

But just as I was to become intimate with the Torah, so it was to become intimate with me. As I began to study, I discovered the Torah's relevance in every area of my life. As its deeper meanings were laid open to me through the study of Chassidic teaching, I found that I could turn to the Torah for guidance in every circumstance. Regardless of my mood or frame of mind, I could approach the Torah and find it waiting for me. Even in times of anger or rebellion, the Torah showed forgiveness and guidance. In times of sadness and depression, I would find hope and encouragement. In times of joy and celebration, I would find words of thanksgiving and praise for the One who provides all goodness. There was not an aspect of my life that the Torah did not enter. Slowly it penetrated my inner life, my career, my relationship with my children and parents, my marriage. When first introduced to the Torah, I felt I was coming to know a distant relative of whom I was aware but had never before met; with the passing of years I began to feel that my learning and observance revealed that the Torah had always existed within me. The Torah became deeply embedded into my life, part of the weave and warp of my being.

Now, when I rushed forward in the synagogue to kiss the Torah, it was with much affection and familiarity. When on Simchat Torah I danced with the holy scrolls, my inhibitions and emotions loosened from l'chaims, I would close my eyes and hug the Torah close, spinning in circles, enjoying a physical intimacy with the soft velvet cloth and the sacred writings it covered.

Without losing its place as my revered teacher and guide, the Torah had become my familiar companion. Today, I continue to marvel that the most holy of G‑d's creations allows itself to be embraced by me.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
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alfredo zarecht nsw, australia October 20, 2011

the blessing of the Torah Thanks for sharing and the expression of happines and dancing with the Torah.
This insight broght me memories of my own experiences, when I was desperately looking for a meaning of my poor existence. I found the reason for me to be in the book of Deutheronomy and I started a new existence under the shadow of G-d who takes care of me. I always said this book is talking to me and makes me happy. Thanks Reply

Lisa Loveland, Co September 30, 2010

So beautifull I m in tears Thank you for sharing Reply

Noii Asberry Chicago, USA September 29, 2010

Intimacy in Judaism One of the most remarkable revelations I've discovered in the love of G_d's Word, is the intimacy of pure thought, closeness, and reverence of being with the life of Judaism. It is such an indescribable intimacy with G_d that I am so very glad that G_d loved us so much to reveal this intimacy in Torah. I really enjoyed Jay's article. Reply

N. E. Lipschultz Chicago, IL October 4, 2007

This is a beautiful article! Thank you! Reply

Gita Levi October 3, 2007

Jay Litvin z What a blessing to be able to read Jay's inspiring words as Simchat Torah approaches. He is truly missed not only by those who knew him, but surely by all of us who learned and grew so much through his words, through his true Ahavat Yisrael and Yirat Shamayim. May the legacy he left us all serve him well as he rises to new heights in Gan Eden, amen ken yehi ratzon. Reply

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