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Sukkot: Simchat Torah and Social Justice

Simchat Torah (“Celebration of the Torah”) celebrates the conclusion of our cycle of Torah reading, completing the final verses of Deuteronomy and immediately beginning the first book, Genesis. The cycle of our Torah readings reminds us of the cycles of nature – as we roll the scrolls, the seasons change, and we with them.

Environmental Concerns

"After creating the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at My works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake, I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.’” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)

Simchat Torah is a perfect time to couple our love for Torah with our concerns for the environment. As we begin anew the readings of Genesis, we are reminded of our obligations as caretakers of God’s creation. From this point in the Jewish calendar year, we begin to recite the blessing for rain during our prayer service, reflecting the agricultural seasons of the Land of Israel and our reliance on the natural world for our sustenance and well-being. Together with Sukkot, Simchat Torah serves as a reminder of our connection to, and reliance upon, the natural world around us. 


The cycle of Torah readings, moving from end to beginning, mirrors the cycle of life. We read the last lines of Torah with sadness as we learn that Moses’ life is coming to an end. We imagine the feelings he must have experienced, knowing that he would never reach the Promised Land, reflecting on his lifetime of struggle and regrets as well as achievements. Today’s seniors face physical challenges and limitations, confronting discrimination and prejudice just at the time they should be venerated for their wisdom and accomplishments. Our elders require our sensitivity and support, and advocacy on public policy matters that could help improve their lives.

And yet, despite the bittersweet conclusion of one part of the journey, without pause, the cycle is renewed and we start the process all over again. We march and dance with the Torah scrolls around and around, celebrating our community’s ongoing commitment to study and love of the Torah. Turning our thoughts to our youngest students during Consecration ceremonies, we witness with joy the birth of Jewish learning. We know our precious children have needs and concerns that we must address to make sure they remain safe and hopeful. The teachings contained within the Torah have lessons for us at all stages of the lifecycle.