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How to Celebrate Simchat Torah

How to Celebrate Simchat Torah

Unbridled joy, aliyahs for everyone, concluding the Torah and starting it anew

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Photo: Melanie Boisvert (none of the photos were taken on Simchat Torah)
Photo: Melanie Boisvert (none of the photos were taken on Simchat Torah)

In 2017, Simchat Torah (which comes on the heels Shemini Atzeret) begins at nightfall on Oct. 13 and ends the following night. See this link for exact times.

The highlight of this holiday (which means “The Joy of the Torah”) is the hakafot, held on both the eve and the morning of Simchat Torah, in which we march and dance with the Torah scrolls around the reading table in the synagogue. (In many synagogues, hakafot are conducted also on the eve of Shemini Atzeret.)

What to Expect at Simchat Torah Services

This is a major holiday (yom tov), when most forms of work are prohibited. On the preceding nights, women and girls light candles, reciting the appropriate blessings, and we enjoy nightly and daily festive meals, accompanied by kiddush. We don’t go to work, drive, write, or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook (using a pre-existing flame) and to carry outdoors (except on Shabbat).

Learn the laws of yom tov

Wondering how to celebrate Simchat Torah? Read on!

Holiday Candles

Photo: Mushka Lightstone
Photo: Mushka Lightstone

Note: If Simchat Torah falls on a Saturday night, before lighting the holiday candles, or before doing any work that is forbidden on Shabbat, one should say, “Baruch hamavdil bein kodesh l’kodesh,” “Blessed is He who separates between [the] holiness [of Shabbat] and [the] holiness [of the holiday].” (This is unless one has already prayed the evening prayers, which includes a passage with the same theme.)

After dark, all women and girls (or if there is no adult woman in the house, the head of the household) light candles to usher in the holiday. See this link for information regarding when exactly the holiday candles should be lit. The candles should be lit from an existing flame (such as a pilot flame or a yahrtzeit candle).

After lighting, recite the following two blessings1:

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu be-mitzvo-tav vi-tzi-vanu le-hadlik ner shel yom tov.

Blessed are You, L‑rd, our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the candle of the holiday.

Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-ye-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Candle-Lighting Times for Your Location

How to Light Yom Tov Candles

Evening Prayers, Hakafot & Holiday Meal

The holiday evening prayers are followed by the lively hakafot dancing in the synagogue.2 In many synagogues, the hakafot are preceded by a lavish kiddush (indoors, usually, as we have already bid farewell to the sukkah earlier in the afternoon), so that no one is dancing on an empty stomach.

After the hakafot, everyone goes home and enjoys a traditional holiday meal.

Read the Full Procedure for Hakafot

What to Expect at Simchat Torah Services

Morning Prayers

The Simchat Torah morning prayers follow the basic order of all holiday morning services, but with many additions.

The Priestly Blessing is administered—in almost all communities—during the repetition of the Amidah of the morning service, as opposed to all other holidays, when the blessing is recited during the Musaf prayer. This is because on this joyous day many make kiddush and consume alcoholic beverages before Musaf, and a priest who is even slightly inebriated may not administer the blessing.3

Learn more about the Priestly Blessing

The open ark in the main sanctuary of Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie.
The open ark in the main sanctuary of Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie.

The repetition of the Amidah is followed by the recitation of the Hallel, and then the morning hakafot, after which the Torah scrolls are returned to the Ark.

Read the Full Procedure for Hakafot

Completing the Torah

Three Torahs are then taken out for the Torah reading. From the first one we read Vezot Haberachah, the final portion of the Torah; from the second we read the first section of Genesis (1:1–2:3); and from the third we read the maftir from the book of Numbers (29:35–30:1).

It is customary for everyone to take part in the celebration by receiving an aliyahOn this joyous day when we conclude the Torah, it is customary for everyone to take part in the celebration by receiving an aliyah. The problem is, there are only eight aliyot available (the five standard holiday aliyot, Chatan Torah, Chatan Bereishit, and maftir), and at least ten men—and usually more. There are several solutions for this issue. In most synagogues, the first five aliyot of the Torah reading of Vezot Haberachah are repeated as many times as necessary, until all adult men have received their aliyot. In other synagogues, the congregation will divide into smaller groups, and several Torah readings will take place concurrently. In yet other—larger—congregations, several people together will be called up to the Torah to share an aliyah.

The last of these aliyot is traditionally reserved for the children, who also receive an aliyah on this day: all the children are gathered together and, together with the adult who received the honor of leading this beautiful rite, recite the traditional aliyah blessings. In many congregations—though not in Chabad ones—a tallit is spread over the heads of the children, and after the conclusion of the aliyah, someone pronounces Jacob’s blessing: “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land.”4

Until this point, the five aliyot read were from the first part of Vezot Haberachah (Deuteronomy 33:1–26). The next two aliyot will conclude the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:27–34:12), and then (from the second Torah scroll) begin the new cycle of the reading from the beginning of Genesis. For we never, heaven forbid, finish the Torah; as soon as we conclude studying the Torah—G‑d’s infinite wisdom—on one level, we immediately start again, this time to discover new and loftier interpretations.

The individuals honored with these two special and highly sought aliyot are known as Chatan Torah (the “Torah Groom”) and Chatan Bereishit (the “Genesis Groom”). Because these aliyot are in such demand, they are often given to individuals who pledge to donate substantial sums of money to charity. (It is acceptable for these aliyot, too, to be shared by several individuals. A kohen or Levite can also be honored with either of these aliyot.)

A rather lengthy Aramaic poem is read in which the Chatan Torah is summoned to discharge his honor. The following is excerpted from this poem:

With the permission of the great, mighty and awesome G‑d; with the permission of the Torah, which is more precious than fine gold and pearls . . . May it be the will of the Al-mighty to grant life, kindness and crowning glory to (name and father’s name of honoree) who has been chosen to complete the cycle of the reading of the Torah; to strengthen him, to bless him and to exalt him in the study of the Torah . . . Arise, arise, arise, (name and father’s name of honoree), the Chatan Torah, and give honor to the great and awesome G‑d . . .

The Torah is then concluded. With the final verse, everyone rises to their feet, and at its conclusion all proclaim, “Chazak chazak venit’chazek!” (“Be strong! Be strong! And let us strengthen one another!”)

The second Torah scroll is then placed on the reading table, and the Chatan Bereishit is summoned, also in poetic form:

With the permission of He who transcends all blessing and song, awesomely exalted above all praise and hymn . . . With the permission of the Torah, the glorious daughter of the King . . . Arise, (name and father’s name of honoree), rise and gird yourself; come, take your place and stand at my right, and read the narrative of creation, in honor of the Maker who created it . . . How great will be your good, and how abounding your reward . . . Speedily arise, arise, arise, (name and father’s name of honoree), the Chatan Bereishit . . .

The Torah is read. When the reader reads the story of creation, he pauses before the conclusion of each of the six days of creation for the congregation to chant, “There was evening and there was morning, the (number) day!” after which the reader reads those words from the Torah. The last three verses of the reading (Genesis 2:1–3), which discuss G‑d’s resting on Shabbat, are also first chanted by the congregation, followed by the reader.

Photo: Clifford Lester
Photo: Clifford Lester

In many communities it is customary for a tallit to be spread over the heads of the Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit during the course of their aliyot (such is not the Chabad custom).

This is all followed by the day’s maftir and haftorah (from the Book of Joshua). When the haftorah has been completed, it is customary to sing a hymn beginning “Sisu vesimchu besimchat Torah” (“Rejoice and exult on Simchat Torah!”), and several other hymns. The Torahs are returned to the Ark, and the holiday Musaf service commences.

The day continues with the holiday meal, and then the afternoon services.

Hit the Road Running!

After the post-holiday evening services,5 it is a Chabad custom for the gabbai (beadle) to announce: “VeYaakov halach ledarko” (“And Jacob went on his way!”)6

An inspiring month of holidays has reached its conclusion. Now it is time for “Jacob” to take all the spiritual treasures he has amassed in these few weeks, and “go on his way” back into the mundane world. Newly invigorated and spiritually recharged, he can be assured that in the coming year he will have the strength and fortitude to unflinchingly confront all the challenges that life presents, and bring meaning and holiness to every area and situation that divine providence will send in his direction.

Read More: Torah in the Winter

Footnotes
1.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, sixth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, explains that the Shehecheyanu blessing recited on Simchat Torah—by women and girls when lighting the holiday candles, and by men during the kiddush—has a dual denotation.
1) As on all other holidays, we express gratitude to G‑d for “granting us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach the occasion” of this holiday.
2) After reading and learning the whole Torah during the past year, and completing it on Simchat Torah, a “new radiance” is added to the Torah; it is renewed. As we begin to learn anew (according to the Jewish custom of beginning again immediately), it is, so to speak, a new Torah, a higher Torah; and for this we say Shehecheyanu.

2.

In most Jewish communities, the Torah is read on Simchat Torah night—actually the only occasion when the Torah is read at night. (There are various customs regarding which section(s) of the Torah is read, with most reading from Vezot Haberachah, the last weekly portion of the Torah.) This, however, is not Chabad custom.

3.

In some communities, in fact, there is no Priestly Blessing at all on Simchat Torah.

5.

If Simchat Torah is on a Friday, this proclamation waits until after the evening services of Saturday night.

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Betty Durmeier September 28, 2015

Prayers and things we are to do the next 'I think 7 days?' Reply

Norman Bar London, UK October 3, 2012

Chatanim Torah and Bereishit "Because these aliyot are in such demand, they are often given to individuals who pledge to donate substantial sums of money to charity."

I suggest that ability and willingness to pay large sums should not on their own be appropriate criteria, unless allied with other worthy qualities of character, and I suggest you should make this clear.

To name but a random few, what about service to the community, whether to one's shul or to the wider community, gemilut chassadim, piety, being a "mensch"?

Having and giving lots is not enough, or shouldn't be. Reply

Rochel Chein for chabad.org August 15, 2011

Re: simachat torah and shmini atzeret There are different customs regarding eating in the Sukkah on Shmini Atzeret. Some eat the night meal in the home and the day meal in the sukkah; some don't eat at all in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, and yet others make kiddush in the Sukkah and eat some baked goods there, and finish the meal in the house. The Leshev baSukkah blessing is not recited though.

For more on this topic, see A Deeper Look at Shemini Atzeret. Reply

s.neufeld potomac, usa August 12, 2011

simachat torah and shmini atzeret Are you permitted to eat in the Sukkah on the erev of these holidays ( or lunches too)? Reply

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