A Taste of Torah in
honor of Shabbat
from Rabbi Avi Weiss
Parshat Ve-Zot HaBerakhah
A Simchat Torah Reflection
In honor of Dr. Elli Kranzler, Sweet Singer of Israel
October 12-13, 23 Tishrei 5759
The last portion of the Torah reverberates with the image of circles. After all,
immediately after its reading, we start the Torah from the beginning again. We have
indeed, come full circle.
Not coincidentally we read this portion on Simchat Torah, the holiday when we dance in
circles. lovingly embracing the Torah as we joyously celebrate the cycle of public Torah
Circles are full of meaning. First of all they symbolize love.
We encircle those we deeply care for through embrace. In the words of Rav Shlomo
Carlebach: "When you love someone very much, you embrace them. Isn't that
To put your hands on their back? I would say put your hands on their face. On
their back? But you know what that means? It means I love you so much I won't
let you fall.
Whenever you're downhearted, whenever you think you have no strength any more, whenever
you're falling you can rely on me. I'll hold you up."
Rav Soloveitchik offers another understanding of circles. He notes that the word
teshuvah--repentance, is associated with the turning of the cycle of the year (2 Samuel
2:1) As one moves further from Rosh Hashanah, one in fact is closer to the next Rosh
Hashanah. Similarly, no matter how estranged one may be from God, there is the
belief that one is aproaching the Divine. The same applies to God's revelation, the
Torah. Even if alienated from Torah study, one possesses the inner calling to
reconnect with Torah learning.
Another thought comes to mind. In a circle everyone is equal, as all participants
are equi-distant from the center. Whatever one's level of knowledge, we are all the
same, reaching out, clasping the hand of the other, with whom we dance and sing.
Unlike Shavuot which emphasizes pure learning and inevitably separates people into
categories of the more and less knowledgeable, Simchat Torah is the great equalizer.
No wonder, our portion--which accentuates the circular power of Torah--begins with the
word ve-zot. (Deuteronomy 33:1) The first ve-zot in the Torah--and all firsts set
the standard--speaks of the blessing Ya'akov (Jacob) gave his
sons. There, ve-zot refers to the cycle of life--as Ya'akov implores his sons to
follow in his footsteps, and he asks that he be returned to be buried with his ancestors.
And when the Torah, wrapped around its circular wooden poles is lifted, we declare--ve-zot
ha-Torah--representative of its circular nature. The point is accentuated on Simchat
Torah. For it is then that the lifter of the Torah inverts his hands, manifesting
the language of circularity of love, of return, of equality.
May we on this Simchat Torah embrace the Torah--lovingly, deeply, endlessly.
Chag Sameach &
As this ends our second cycle of the Shabbat Forshpeis, I
thank you for your help and input.
I apologize for any technical errors in the transmission of this project.
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Shana Tova U'metuka
Rabbi Avi Weiss
Taste of Torah
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Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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