Please take a few moments to mentally fill out this form. Please think neatly and clearly, so that your answers are thinkable and organized.

1. How would you describe the Torah to someone who never heard of it before?

  1. Book of Jewish history/stories.
  2. Book of Jewish law.
  3. Book of Jewish ethics.
  4. Book of Jewish prophecies.
  5. Book of Jewish sermons.
  6. All of the above.

2. What do you imagine G‑d thinks about in His spare time? What thoughts occupy His mind?

What do you imagine G‑d thinks about in His spare time?3. There is already a holiday called Shavuot – the anniversary of the day when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai – that celebrates the Torah; in your opinion, then, is Simchat Torah simply an after-party, or a party unto itself?

4. If your response was "party unto itself," what do you suppose the unique rejoicing on Simchat Torah is all about, and how does it differ from the celebration of Shavuot?

5. In the Torah reading of Simchat Torah there is a verse that reads, "The Torah that Moses commanded us is an inheritance for the congregation of Jacob." There is a peculiar noun in this verse. Which one do you think it is?

6. If (for whatever reason) you chose "inheritance" (did the italics give it away?), please explain why.

7. On Sukkot we make merry through a nightly ceremony called Simchat Beit Hashoevah, recalling the water drawing ceremony held in Temple times. Then, on Simchat Torah again, festivities are held.

There is, however, a big difference between the two. The first joy-fest featured –during Temple times – a unique cast of performing dancers and jugglers drawn exclusively from the finest of ancient Talmudic scholars; the second dance-festival includes anyone with a pair of happy feet.

Why the distinction?

(Turn over your computer to read the answers. Just kidding.)

The Answers

Question 1: All of the above and more.

The Torah is not just the best book ever written for man.

It contains not only the most comprehensive moral and legal code, the greatest insights into human nature and psychology, and a selection of multifaceted stories that provide profound messages for living a noble and meaningful life.

The Torah is first and foremost the wisdom of the Divine, not just divine wisdomThe Torah is first and foremost the wisdom of the Divine, not just divine wisdom. It documents precisely that which is on G‑d's mind.

According to the Talmud,1 the opening word of the Ten Commandments, "Anochi" ("I"), is an acronym for words that mean, "I have written Myself into this book that I am giving you."

While hard to imagine, and harder to comprehend, when we study about the mitzvah of tzitzit, explore the Torah's definition of justice or business ethics, or revel in the beauty of biblical narrative, we have done more than stimulate our minds and hearts—we have entered the train of G‑d's thought.

Indeed, according to tradition, wherever, whenever, and however a Jew learns Torah, G‑d is there with him partnering in study.

In other words, the experience of Torah study engages both the conscious and subconscious elements of the Jew.

Consciously, he acquires wisdom and understanding through a corpus of academic knowledge. Subconsciously, his soul communes and converses with the Divine.

Consciously, his brain is sharpened, his heart is softened, and his character molded. Subconsciously his soul is nourished and re‑jew‑vinated.

Consciously "It is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who will hear all these statutes and say, 'Only this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'"2 Subconsciously, it fuels and energizes us to be a "light unto the nations."

Question 2: Answered.

Question 3: Party unto itself.

Question 4: On Shavuot, the conscious aspect of Torah is emphasized, i.e., the Torah is studied all night and the Ten Commandments are prominently read the next day. We interact with the letters, words, and ideas of the Torah, and great emphasis is placed on rededication to the word and will of G‑d.3

On this night, Torah scrolls resemble gifts in their wrappingOn Simchat Torah we dance, not study, the Torah away. On this night, Torah scrolls resemble gifts in their wrapping, their soft velvet belts and mantles clinging tightly to the worn but firm parchments.

Like a child clutching his parents' gift, we elatedly draw the Torah to our bosoms, touched and uplifted more by the overwhelming love and connection that lies behind the gift than the exciting prospects offered by the gift itself.

Questions 5-6: On Shavuot we were gifted the Torah (hence it is referred to as Z'man Matan Torateinu, "the Season of the Giving of the Torah"); on Simchat Torah, we inherit it. A gift, while unpaid for monetarily, is often paid for in other ways. Gifts are not given randomly. They can be a response to loyalty and dedication for example. The type of unconditional commitment demonstrated by the Israelites to G‑d at Sinai, when they stated, "We will do" before "We will hear [understand]," qualified them as worthy recipients of the Torah.

Inheritance, conversely, is not earned; it is the automatic consequence of a parent-child relationship, the type revealed between G‑d and Jew on Simchat Torah.

Question 7: The joy experienced at the water drawing ceremony was associated with the fulfillment of a mitzvah (that of drawing water for the Sukkot daily water libations) — with the legal aspect of the Torah. Who better, then, to represent the joy of G‑d's law than those most proficient in its knowledge and practice? Enter the sages of Israel.

On Simchat Torah, however, we celebrate the soul of Torah and the connection it forges between our souls and the soul of G‑d! A connection that can be found in the soul of every single child of G‑d, be they sinner, saint, scholar or simpleton.4

Congratulations! You have won a free pass to celebrate Simchat Torah (regardless of how you fared on the questionnaire)! This offer is conditional only on your dancing the night away!