Simchat Torah is a Jewish holiday which marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle. ‘Simchat’ is derived from the Hebrew word for joy, so Simchat Torah means “rejoicing with the Torah” or “celebration of the Law.”

Jews celebrate Simchat Torah on the last day of the festival of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) in the month of Tishrei (mid-September to early October on the Gregorian calendar).

According to the Talmud,[1] weekly Torah-reading goes back to earliest Jewish history,[2] when Moses established reading from the Torah on Shabbat, on the Festivals, on New Moons and other occasions.

The Jews, as they love to do, started with a tradition and added rules.

David Pinner in Israel National News tells us, “Originally, the rule was that on Shabbat, a minimum of seven men would be called up to the Torah, each of whom would read a minimum of three verses. Hence on any given Shabbat, any given synagogue would read a minimum of 21 verses from the Torah, but there was no maximum. Then the following Shabbat, they would continue reading from wherever they had left off the previous Shabbat. And whenever that individual synagogue would complete the Torah, they would celebrate their own Simchat Torah. Then, during the late Second Temple period, with the Land of Israel under increasingly vicious Roman persecution, the Sages standardised the Torah-readings.”

In the early Middle Ages a date was set for the celebration of Simchat Torah—the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. And the traditions continued to be piled on.

In the 9th century, a special reading from the Prophets was added. In the 14th century, a reading from Genesis followed the last verses in Deuteronomy. In northern European countries, those who had finished the reading of Deuteronomy made donations to the synagogue, after which the wealthier members of the community would give a dinner for friends and acquaintances. In southern European countries it became the custom to remove all the Torah scrolls from the ark and to sing a separate hymn for each one. In the 16th century, it became customary to take out the scrolls and file solemnly around the platform used for Torah readings.

Somewhere along the line, dancing was added to the celebration. One Jewish source said, “On Simchat Torah every Jew dances with the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll), though the Sefer Torah remains closed and bound. Indeed, the usual custom is that on the night of Simchat Torah, though we dance with the Sefer Torah, there is no Torah-reading at all.”[3]

For most of my life I had wondered about a verse in Revelation: “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together.”[4] The well known hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” puts it this way: “O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll.”

What is this phenomenon in the sky?

In the year 2000 I learned about the Jewish holiday called Simchat Torah. Could Simchat Torah be the key to understanding this verse?

The article published by Radio Bible Class read:[5]

                           Rejoicing in the Torah (Simchat Torah)

In Jewish communities all over the world, worshipers gather together in their synagogues and re-roll the Torah scroll. Unlike a book that can be turned to any page, a scroll is one continuous length of parchment. When one reaches the end of Deuteronomy—as is true on the day of Simchat Torah—the scroll must be re-rolled all the way back to Genesis. The Jewish community gathers together to hear the final words of Deuteronomy read…

Great celebration, music, and dancing ensues as the scroll is wound back to “the beginning,” when they listen to the first declarations of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).

At first glance, a non-Jewish world might look at this rabbinic holiday as having little relevance or importance. Yet, in the first century, one of Jesus’ titles was the “Living Torah”—Living Word of the Most High. In the gospel of John we read:

            In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (1:1-2).

 

When I learned that Simchat Torah began in the first century AD, I wondered, “Did Simchat Torah originate with the Jewish Christian community? The apostle Paul commended the Bereans for searching the Scriptures daily. The indwelling Holy Spirit gave believers insight into the Scriptures, teaching them to delight in it and meditate in it day and night. They probably read through the Torah several times in a year. They may have gone back to the original concept of celebrating their individual Simchat Torah upon completing the reading of their Scriptures.

Furthermore, the Christian sources from whom I learned about Simchat Torah call it “rejoicing in the Torah,” not simply rejoicing with the Torah. There is a big difference between rejoicing with the closed Torah in your arms without reading it and rejoicing in the Torah, the living Word of God.

 

In the end times the sky will recede like a scroll rolling up. Will this sign in the sky remind Jews of Simchat Torah? Will it compel Jews to open up the Word of God and search it for answers? If they do so, it will tell them that Jesus is their Messiah. It will call them to follow Jesus. It will also tell them what to expect during the last days.

Will this sign in the sky be what turns the 144,000 Jews into evangelists for the end times? In those last days the only way to survive will be to live by the Word of God.

I pray that all of us will rejoice in the living Word of God no matter what the date.

[1] The Talmud is a collection writings which has become a central text of Rabbinic Judaism. It is a body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend which exists in two versions. The Mishnah, or Jerusalem Talmud from the 2nd century AD, is a commentary on Judaism’s Oral Torah (the first five books of the Bible). The Gemara, or Babylonian Talmud from the 5th century AD, elucidates the Mishnah and expounds broadly on the Hebrew Bible and other subjects.

[2] Daniel Pinner, “The Origins of Simchat Torah,” Israel National News, 06/10/2012.

[3] Daniel Pinner, ibid.

[4] Revelation 6:14, KJV

[5] Martin R. De Haan II, “The Holidays of God: Fall Feasts,” RBC Ministries, p. 29-30, © 2000.

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