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  • Writer's pictureAaron Torop

Turn it and Turn it Again: Simchat Torah

Each year, we return to the same stories, time after time. While the Torah remains the same, we are constantly changing, which allows us to approach a familiar text with unfamiliar eyes.

Anyone who is a parent, or who watched a young child grow up, can surely identify the one book or movie that they constantly requested. It didn’t matter how many times they had read “Brown Bear” or watched “Frozen,” it was all they wanted to do. While it became boring for the parents very quickly, the child squealed in delight each time they experienced it.

As Jews, we too are delighted when we return to the same stories, time after time. Each year at Simchat Torah, we finish reading the end of the Torah and begin reading it anew from Bereshit. For over a thousand years we have been reading the same book over and over. And yet, it never fails to delight, challenge, and inspire us, as if we are reading it for the very first time.

Psychologists offer a variety of explanations as to why children request the same thing hundreds of times, and I noticed that it is very similar to why we read the Torah again and again. Some studies indicate that children need to experience something it multiple times to fully understand the vocabulary or plot: the multiple viewings help them gain deeper meaning. As we return to the same stories, we might notice details previously missed, learn new words in Hebrew, or gain a deeper understanding of a certain character or story.

Another reason that children like reading the same book or watching the same movie is that it is reassuring; they feel safe knowing the characters and what will happen at the end of the story. Reading Torah is also soothing. It reminds us of our history and communal identity. We can enjoy the story because at the end we know we made it. We survived. Three thousand years later Jews are still around to tell the tale.

However, when we return to the Torah each year, we are not the same people we were when we read the story last. Over the course of the past year, we have evolved and grown. We experienced new things and witnessed different events. Our life situations have changed, and this helps us bring new eyes to the Torah. The text is the same, but we are different.

Encountering the same story, then, helps us discover what is new about us this time. The familiar canvas of the Torah allows us to learn new things about ourselves and identify how we are bringing new eyes to the world.

This opportunity to return to the familiar with unfamiliar eyes exists for our community too. After 18 months of largely virtual gatherings, we have returned to in-person worship, learning, and community. We have new faces who have joined us in the past months and years, and others who are no longer with us. We have old leaders and new ones, traditions and innovations, similar challenges and different opportunities.

So, as we settle in from the High Holy Days into the ho-hum of the year, we being to reacquaint ourselves with the familiar and notice what has changed. As we return to the similar canvas of our Torah and our community, I hope we recognize what we have to offer that is new. May this year be a year that we bring our new selves to Torah and the community, contributing and participating in the thousands-year-old life of our people.

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