Torah Cannot be Torah Without Us

Rabbi Steven Moskowitz

“It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it, and all its supporters are happy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:17-18)

Recited at the conclusion of the Torah reading service, these verses from Proverbs reinforce the centrality of Torah in Jewish life throughout the ages. They remind us that the Torah, the story of our people, is to be prized and revered.

The beginning of the Torah service, when the scroll is paraded through the congregation in a ritual known as hakafahhakafahהַקָּפָה"encircle, round off, circle around, orbit;" procession of worshippers carrying Torah scrolls that circles the sanctuary; plural hakafot. , offers us an opportunity to demonstrate our love of Torah with kisses. As the Torah passes through the aisles, it is customary to reach out to touch it – with a hand, a prayer book, the corner of your tallittallitטַלִּיתPrayer shawl; plural: tallitot – and then to touch the object to your lips.

This is an important and powerful ritual – the same as the ritual for entering a home with a mezuzahmezuzahמְזוּזָהLiterally, “doorpost;” a decorative case that holds a handwritten parchment scroll of the Shema and V’ahavta. Mezuzot are placed on external and internal doorposts of homes to fulfill the commandment in Deuteronomy 6:5-9 “inscribe them [these words] on the doorposts of your house.” . When entering Jewish homes, some people reach up, touch their fingertips to the mezuzah, and then touch their hand to their lips.

Let me be clear: we do not kiss the Torah or a mezuzah. We do not worship them. We do not hold them up as amulets.

We are not nearly as holy as these sacred objects, so instead, we allow them to kiss us, offering us a measure of their holiness.

But is the Torah truly more holy than we are?

Torah cannot be Torah without us; it needs us.

We must read it, study it, discuss it, and debate it. We must carry the Torah. We must dance among its verses, discovering ourselves in its chapters.

If we always understood the Torah’s meaning, we would have no need for interpretation or for the volumes of holy books that span thousands of years which explain and expound upon the text.

What makes Torah Torah is our relationship to it.

We touch it so that we may take some of its holiness into our lives. We allow it to kiss us so that we might be reminded that we must bring more Torah into our lives – always. To touch the Torah is to come face-to-face with our holiest task: to do better and bring a measure of healing to the world around us.

Indeed, the Torah needs us to carry it as much we need it to carry us.

Simchat Torah is a holiday devoted to Torah, the day we read the last verse of Deuteronomy and immediately begin again with Genesis. It is a day devoted to singing and dancing, to rejoicing and feasting. Circling the sanctuary and holding the Torah close to our hearts reminds us that bringing its goodness into our own lives and into the world is up to us. Extra kisses from the Torah on this day remind us of this task.

Find a congregation near you and get in touch to inquire about services for Simchat Torah.