Simchat Torah

After Yom Kippur, Jewish people celebrate a seven-day festival and holiday that is called Sukkot. Sukkot is a time of great rejoicing in which people build outside dwellings called “sukkahs,” which they festively decorate and eat meals in. After Sukkot, there is a two day festival. In Israel, this two-day festival is called Shemini Atzeret. Some Jews, however, divide the two days of this final festival into two separate holidays. In this article, you will learn about the second day of this two-day festival and how it enhances the deep spiritual significance of Yom Kippur. This holiday is called Simchat Torah, and it is translated from the Hebrew to mean “Rejoicing of the Torah.”

On the first day after Sukkot, people continue to eat in their outdoor dwellings, sukkahs, but they do not have to bless the meals they eat there, as they did during Sukkot. On Simchat Torah, however, it is time for people to move back into their homes. If Sukkot was a harvest festival of great rejoicing, then this second day after the festival is a continuation of the celebration. It is not viewed as the end of the festival. Instead, it is viewed at the true beginning of a new year. As a matter of fact, the yearly cycle of reading of the Torah is started anew on this day.

On Simchat Torah there is a procession called hakafot. Hakafot takes place in the synagogue. Followers dance and sing around a reading table. They will often incorporate their Torah scrolls in the dances they perform. The dance and procession are all to celebrate the Torah and the beginning of the new Torah reading cycle. Some Jews will say that it is not only the people who want to dance, but the Torah wants to dance as well. Since the Torah can’t dance, the people must dance for it.

The two-day Shemini Atzeret festival, including Simchat Torah, is about starting the year anew. Since the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about washing away the sins of the past year and starting over, this two-day festival is about remembering the spiritual lessons, especially those lessons of Yom Kippur. The festival is a way to show spiritual rejuvenation, and to show that lessons learned during the holiday period are not lost once the holiday season is over. On the contrary, the Jewish people rejoice because they will carry those lessons with them throughout the new year.

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