Wednesday, October 11, 2017

For the Love of Torah? Or the Love of One’s Self!

Simchas Torah is a joyous time. In Israel it combines with Shemini Atzres. So that all the dancing takes place on that day. There is not second day in Israel - unless you are a visitor from outside the country. As I am.

I’m not much of a dancer. To say the least. The phrase ‘two left feet’ could have been coined because of me. Fortunately, Simchas Torah does not require one to be any kind of talented  dancer. That’s because what passes for dancing is really not dancing. It is stomping your feet as you go around in circles with a Sefer Torah. Which for me just isn’t all that exiting, again – to say the least.  This may sound sacrilegious. But it really isn’t. Dancing the way it has evolved on this day is a relatively new phenomenon.

SimchasTorah celebrates the competition of the annual Torah reading cycle… and the commencement of the new one. Why should that be a cause for dancing your heart out? I don’t really think that this is what all that extended dancing is really all about.

The basic custom is to do Hakafos.  And even that is a relatively recent custom dating back at most about 500 years or so. We take out the Sefrei Torah and walk around in a circle 7 times with a Chazan leading it while chanting a series of 7 prayers related to one of the themes of this particular Yom Tov – Hoshanos.

Today, that ‘foot stomping’ has evolved into a huge ‘dance’ marathon that can go on for hours before it ends. What was once at most a 20 minute custom now seems to take forever to conclude. So if this was not part of the original custom, why is it so strongy observed now? As noted above – none of the dancers are thinking ‘Wow!’ We just finished the annual Torah reading cycle. 

For the truly Ehrlich, they are celebrating the Torah itself. This is the only time of year where they can dance while holding and hugging Sifre Torah. It is quite inspiring to see that, even if I can’t dance that way myself. But there are some  - mostly young Yeshiva students - that take this too far and insist on violating protocol by continuing to pound their feet and sing at the top of their lungs – overpowering the Gabbai who asked them to stop! And when they succeed they smile as though they pulled off a fast one.

Those that insist on doing that might want to think of themselves as zealous Bnei Torah showing their devotion to God by wanting to dance and hug the Torah for as long as possible. That may be true in some cases. But I think there are a fair amount of them that are just self centered and want to have fun at everyone else’s expense. Most older people do not like the prolonging. They are tired, want to go home and have their Yom Tov Seudah (meal) But they often stick it out and just sit out the later Hakafos. 

They continue waiting while others continue to stomp their feet endlessly to the same song. Most of those sitting are good sports, though. So they just let it happen. Thinking, ‘How could they possibly complain about these young people that so exuberantly celebrate the Torah?’ But some of them eventually leave early because it just becomes too boring for them.

What does it say about the values of those that are doing the prolonging? ...even against the wishes of the Shul Gabboim that invited them in the first place? When the Gabboim say ‘Stop’ - these young people ought to stop. What kind of values are reflected by those that consider prolonged ‘dancing’ to supersede everyone else’s desire to end it at a reasonable time and go home?

I am one of those that just leaves early. I take my two left feet and go home. But I also take with me the knowledge that there are just too many young Yeshiva students that are way too self centered. What is a great and joyous time of Simcha for some is not so enjoyable for others. Especially those a bit more elderly then them. That is not the feeling that should be left with at the end of Yom Tov. And because I am in Israel, I get to experience it twice.

Chag Sameach