We’re into the happy days of the holiday period and none is more of a celebration then Simchat Torah. In my home town of Sydney the youth are out in force, not for a pub crawl, instead we go shul hopping. From shul to shul drinking through the Rabbis sneaky whiskey draws and dancing like lunatics with an ancient scroll over our shoulders. All of this for the restart of the Torah cycle. It’s probably one of the more enjoyable recent memories in my Jewish life.
I’ve been reading the weekly parshot for just over a year now and presenting my thoughts either at the secular service I used to run out of the habo house or on this blog as of late.
The Torah has always been an interesting point of debate for me, is it a relevant code of ethics in the modern world? I still grapple with certain portions as an absolute contradiction to my moral compass. I supposed the way one perceives the Torah is ultimately a matter of faith, if one believes in Hashem then the words of the book are obvious and binding. The secular people are left with a book of rules given by who knows who telling us to stone our gay cousin.
It made me wonder what the role of the Torah was in a secular Jewish life. Is it just the heavy scroll that I read out of for my Bar mitzvah (this parsha 8 years ago) or can it be more?
When I think of the Torah I think of the narrative and creation of a people, filled with metaphoric imagery and timeless analogies. A friend once asked me why when I spoke of justice I referred to the book of Noah rather than Martin Luther King or Ghandi. The lessons of Justice are not mutually exclusive and can be explored through many sources, I like to go to the book of Noah and look at the concept of justice as a timeless ethical struggle of right and wrong. I choose to look at the Torah symbolically for inspiration in an idea and then it is outsourced to more modern thinkers and ideas. Just like my roots are embedded in the soil of the Jewish people, there is nicety in trying to make my thoughts the same.
I like to use the Torah as a Symbol of Jewish heritage and people hood, a tool to inspire and challenge others that care to listen. It does not need to be taken literally and if met with the right balance of critical analysis and dreamful romanticism it can be a source of Jewish life and lessons.
To me my lack of faith in a higher being does play a part in my perception of the Torah, I will never take it as pure fact or use it as a practical guideline to life. However I do not believe that the words of the book that have defined a people for thousands of years solely belong to the religious demographic.
As we roll another scroll and delve into the words of Bereshit this week, let’s all take a moment to think about why there is a whole festival dedicated to the new portion cycle and what role the Torah plays in our lives as Jewish people of the world.
I think Terry Prachett said it best when he said, “people that stories are shaped by people, when really it is the other way around…”