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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Simchat Torah
Jewish History

As a youngster (in c. 960), R. Chanoch was captured by pirates, along with his father R. Moshe and three other great Torah scholars. R. Moshe and his son were ransomed by the Jewish community of Cordova, Spain, where R. Moshe opened a yeshivah for Talmudic studies. When R. Moshe passed away, he was succeeded by his son.

These events marked a turning point in Jewish history. Until then, the primary centers of Torah scholarship were located in the great and ancient Jewish communities of Babylonia, and Jews throughout the Diaspora depended on their leaders for guidance. With the opening of the yeshivah of R. Moshe and R. Chanoch in Spain, Jewish leadership shifted westwards, and European Jewry slowly became independent of the Babylonian community. Thus began the golden age of Torah scholarship in Western Europe, where it flourished for the next five hundred years.

Link: The Four Captives

Laws and Customs

Today is Simchat Torah ("Rejoicing of the Torah"), on which we conclude, and begin anew, the annual Torah reading cycle. The event is marked with great rejoicing, and the "hakafot" procession, held both on the eve and morning of Simchat Torah, in which we march and dance with Torah scrolls around the reading table in the synagogue. In the words of the Chassidic saying, "On Simchat Torah, we rejoice in the Torah, and the Torah rejoices in us; the Torah, too, wants to dance, so we become the Torah's dancing feet."

During today's Torah reading, everyone, including children under the age of Bar Mitzvah, is called up to the Torah; thus the reading is read numerous times, and each aliyah is given collectively to many individuals, so that everyone should recite the blessing over the Torah on this day.

Links: Torah in the Winter; Dancing with the Torah; Love, Marriage and Hakafot; A Crown of Slippers

Vzot Haberachah (Deuteronomy 33-34)

Daily Thought

On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of the Torah. We read from it, study it, and celebrate with a festive meal.

On Simchat Torah, we celebrate the second set of tablets that Moses brought down from the mountain on Yom Kippur. We take out every Torah scroll from its place, hug and kiss each one, sing its praises, and dance with it late into the night—and the next day as well—even taking the celebration out onto the street.

Why are the second tablets so precious to us that we celebrate so much more on this day than on the day we heard G-d Himself at Mount Sinai?

Because they represent an unbreakable bond. That even if we make a golden calf and worship it, nevertheless, we will not be able to tear ourselves away from the G-d of Israel and His Torah. And neither will He tear Himself away from us.

Eventually, no matter how far they may have traveled, every Jewish soul will return home.