Obviously, they realized that the sacred scroll was too high on the table and so two men carefully moved the Torah scroll to the very edge of the table so that the man in the wheelchair, with his hand wrapped in his prayer shawl, could reach out and kiss it before reciting the blessing.
“Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, who chose us from all the peoples and gave His Torah. Blessed are You God, the giver of the Torah.” His voice was so clear, so loud, so strong, it was hard to believe he was sitting in a wheelchair.
When he finished, another man read out the final section until the final word of the Torah – Israel. And then the older man spoke again, “Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, who has given us the Torah of truth, of eternal life implanted within us. Blessed are You, Hashem, the giver of the Torah.” And when he’d finished, everyone sang, candy was thrown around and slowly the man was lowered back to the floor.
A few minutes later, again a special prayer calling up another man – this one is called the Hatan Bereshit – and he is the one given the honor of saying the blessing for the first section of the Torah that would now be read. Again there was singing; again six men came to escort him under the canopy of a prayer shawl. There was an interesting contrast. The elderly man was probably in his 70s; this man is likely in his 40s. This time, the man was very tall, taller than the men who escorted him and so he lifted his hands up to push the prayer shawl/canopy even higher as he made his way to say the blessing that would begin the Torah reading.
The images are there in my mind – of the old man, bent over and walking slowly carrying the Torah that he and his family had saved from the Nazis; of the elderly man whose body was frail enough that he needed to be in a wheelchair with a voice strong enough to be heard throughout the synagogue; of the tall, younger man who welcomed in the new cycle of reading the Torah.
Images of hundreds of men dancing – fast enough to show the joy and the energy with arms and legs moving quickly…and yet careful enough never to hurt a child or bump into the older men. Images of the children hoisted onto their fathers’ shoulders. And the sounds of singing and joy that drifted up to the balconies where we watched – there are those who find the balconies demeaning…I love them. I love the view and I love the sounds. I can imagine God looking down and watching us – and I believe He was smiling on us. And to be there in the balcony is to be closer to God as the sounds from below mix with the singing above to celebrate all that was, all that is, and all that will be in the coming year.
To close your eyes and listen is to see beyond all vision; to open your heart to the glory of a people so much in love with their God, their Torah, their land – is to understand that so long as we have days like this, so long as we have our Torah – all else is vanity, all else is nonsense.
Iran? Syria? Problems in the Sinai? North Korea? Obama? Hatred of the Swedes and their foolish flotilla? Swastikas on graveyards throughout Europe?
It is nothing compared to the power of what happened in synagogue after synagogue this week. Nothing compared with everything. All who stood in the past are gone – the Romans, the Greeks, the Ancient Egyptians (and the modern ones), the Philistines, the Amalekites, the Persians (old ones and new ones), the Ottomans, the British, the Russians…Haman, Hitler, Amalek, they fall to nothing as the Torah circles and we sing and dance.
It was Simchat Torah – the joy of our Torah. I hope you can see it in your minds, feel it in your hearts. It is all about the most powerful thing in the universe – love.