And now we arrive at the point where Jewish practice attains the apex of a rich and beautiful theater of the absurd. This Simchat Torah, a Jew will take a book off the shelf, kiss it, dance with it, jump, twirl and holler with it. Alone.

Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz), whose presence will be missed this Simchat Torah, once pointed this out. “This is a Jew!” he declared. “One who kisses a book when he puts it down after reading from it.”

Yes, so poignant. But how about dancing with a book? Is that typical human behavior? Scrolls are books, aren’t they? And this year, no synagogue, no scroll, no circles of Jews whirling and twirling together, dancing with the Torah. Nope—just you and your lonesome, in the privacy of your own home, dancing with whatever book of Torah you might pick up off the shelf.

Seriously, before committing this absurdity, let’s think this through. What’s behind this notion of dancing with a book?

Books Are People

Having lived a Jewish life of books, I totally get it. The home of my childhood was not quite religious, but certainly drenched with Jewish values. My dad would visit the public library once in two weeks and snatch books off the shelf like a lion tearing at his prey. The entire back seat of the car was literally filled with them. Within a day, they would be strewn throughout the house.

My mother would complain, “Can’t you put them back in place?”

To which he would respond, “That is their place. This is a Jewish home, and a Jewish home has to have a book everywhere.”

Of course, only on tables and other respectable surfaces. If a book was seen on the floor, my father would chide us, “Books are people! Treat them with respect!”

Yes, books are people. Real book lovers don’t say, “I’m reading Grapes of Wrath.” No, it’s “I’m reading Steinbeck.”

Much as a Jew studying Mishneh Torah will tell you he’s “learning Rambam.” Rambam—Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon—that’s a person. You get into his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, ask the right questions, scratch your head, read all the little men lined up around the page, argue your arguments, pound your fist on the table, and scratch your head some more—and you’re not just studying what he wrote. You’re learning him, the person, very deep into the person.

The Artist Exposed

I once asked my uncle, a successful actor, “Tell me, Uncle: Who are you really? The person I am meeting now, or the person acting on set?”

He thought for a moment, and then answered, “Actually, it sounds crazy, but I feel most myself when I am acting as someone else.” And after another pause, he added, “Especially someone very different from myself.”

Yes! The artist is most found in the act of his art. So too, in the book, we have the author far more, far deeper, raw and undiluted, than we have him in person.

And so too with the Author of the Torah we hold in our hands—yes, we hold Him in our hands when we hold that Torah Scroll. Or book.

Including a Talmud, a Midrash, or any work of any dedicated student who struggled night and day with the words and teachings of this divine wisdom we call Torah. Because that struggle itself is divine—so that inside that struggle, too, is the original Author Himself.

And it’s such a different experience then—when it's the author you hear inside. Like when I heard Liona Boyd the second time around.

I was a teenager. The Classical Guitar Society had just started up in my hometown of Vancouver. We brought out Liona Boyd for a concert and a workshop. So I heard her play. Not bad. Not my style, but good technique.

Then she gave a workshop. After the workshop, I got to chat with her. Like, here I was, half the age of the next youngest in the room, and Liona Boyd is sitting and talking things out with me as though I were her peer, really listening, really being a real person, really ignoring everyone else.

Then Liona gave another concert—and that second concert I heard from her was the first time I heard her play. Now I heard Liona—not her music, not her guitar. I was listening to a good friend I had just made. I was discovering something deeper about her than I could have known from any conversation between us.

Deep Meaningful Convos With Dad

Neat discovery, Freeman. But here we’re not talking about a chat with a sweet lady. This is about a deep meaningful interaction situated at the vortex of the universe.

When you do a mitzvah, you’re a servant of the Supreme Being doing His bidding, fulfilling the mission assigned to your soul in this world. When you learn Torah, you’re G‑d’s child, sitting with Him at one small table, discussing with Him His thoughts.

Child and parent, that’s so much tighter than any conversation with any friend. No outsider can ever understand what’s really going on between them. The parent’s best student may know more, but the child can empathize with a parent in a way no outsider ever could.

So that in this conversation, it becomes impossible to distinguish between the words of the parent and the words of the child. The parent speaks words only the child could understand, and the child speaks words the parent hadn’t realized he wanted to say. This is a conversation in which Dad says, “My child, you’ve got me there again!”

Because inside they are really one, just that one is the child, the other the parent.

It’s a communion in some ways deeper than prayer. Prayer is about you, about sharing with G‑d what’s in your heart, where you’re at right now. Learning Torah is about Him—discovering Him within His thoughts about this world, within the meaning of all those mitzvahs He gave you, working all that through with Him.

So that’s where you discover there’s something beyond ideas over here. Someone inside.

Infinity Inside

Sometimes, after racking your brains to disentangle a debate in the Talmud, or clawing desperately into the meaning of a story, or deciphering the encoded message of a mysterious passage of Zohar, or clarifying the application of a Halachah in your particular situation—sometimes you just have to sit back and say, “Oh wow—that is sooo beautiful! Oh wow! I gotta tell this to somebody! Anybody!”

And sometimes you feel like Abraham when he got wind of the Sodom and Gomorrah elimination decree. Like you can’t help but say, “Please, Dad, I really hope you don’t mind me asking, but—why? Why? How could You want such a thing?”

Abraham asked. Moses asked. Rabbi Akiva asked. The Baal Shem Tov asked. The Rebbe asked. Sometimes they found an answer. Sometimes they worked out a deal. Sometimes they had to walk away and say, “So I don’t understand. There are many things I don’t understand. What’s the big deal that a mortal meat-patty with eyeballs can’t understand the Creator of Heaven and Earth?”

And you too must ask. Because, if you don’t ask, in what way is this Torah? If you can’t ask, in what way are you G‑d’s child?

Now you have begun to dance with G‑d’s Torah—as we Jews have done for 3, 333 years this year since we started learning it with Moses. Sometimes we pull together, sometimes we distance—and then we return again. And it is in that back and forth, pull and push, close and far, that we discover there is something here beyond our understanding, beyond any understanding—even if understanding comes from there. Inside here is G‑d.

And now that we know Him from His book, now we can find the Infinite everywhere, in all things.

Is it absurd to dance with a book? Is it absurd to dance with the Maker of Heaven and Earth?

Yes, certainly. So close the door and nobody will see. Dance alone with G‑d.