Dear TEE community,

This Friday we will be observing Simchat Torah (“rejoicing in the Torah”), the closing celebration of our autumn holiday season. Traditionally, it is a time when we read the final passages of Deuteronomy and then the opening chapters of Genesis as we begin a new cycle of Torah readings. Like many American congregations, Temple Emanu-El has also observed the contemporary custom of opening the entire Torah scroll so that we can see its length and beauty.

This year, because we will not be together in person, we will have the unique experience of a Simchat Torah observance without Torah scrolls. Instead, we will focus on Torah in the larger sense of our people’s sacred wisdom. In rabbinic teaching, Torah is the blueprint of creation. A midrash on the opening lines of Genesis relates that “as an architect has scrolls and books in order to know how to make rooms and doorways, so, too, the Holy One looked into the Torah to create the world (Genesis Rabbah 1:1).” We, too, are supposed to look into the Torah for the values and visions with which to create and recreate our lives.

While many of us find meaning in the study of traditional Jewish texts, Jewish feminists and others have pointed out that they do not reflect the full range or diversity of Jewish experience. We have come to understand the need to expand the canon to include not only the written texts of women and other marginalized Jews but also an oral tradition of telling our Jewish stories to one another.

I hope you will join us on Friday for a Simchat Torah observance meant to engage us with Torah in both traditional and contemporary ways. In addition to our Shabbat blessings and songs, we will explore some texts about our relationship to Torah and discuss the “Torah of our lives” with one another. I hope it will be a memorable Simchat Torah for all of us.

mo’adim l’simchah, wishing you a joyous holiday,

Rabbi Drorah Setel