The Joy of Torah!

The Joy of Torah!


So, I say with a heavy sigh, let’s talk about work.

Simhat TorahOn a college campus, it’s one of the most common conversation topics – how much we have, how long it takes, which major has the most. The discussion and complaints are endless.

In recent weeks, I think the most frequently voiced frustration is something along the lines of this: “I literally spent hours in the library today working, but I still feel like I’ve gotten absolutely nothing done.”

We’ve all experienced such aggravation.

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We start the day or the week with some sort of objective: do some paper work, maybe read a chapter in our textbook chapter. But we underestimate the amount of time it takes to do whatever it is we wanted to do; then, before we know it, our time is up and our task is left unfinished.

It’s extremely disappointing because at the end of the day, even if you feel like you’ve given it your all, you’ve got nothing to show for it – absolutely nothing.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never felt this way. It’s something I deal with on an almost-daily basis. Or rather, something I dealt with on a daily basis because now, after a great deal of thought, I’ve decided to change my way of thinking.

This week, we celebrate Simchat Torah, “The Joy of the Torah.”

Simchat Torah is the holiday we celebrate as we finish reading the Torah. We sing and dance hafakot (literally meaning “circles”) at both evening and morning services; we cease from all work; and we read the final verses in the book of Deuteronomy that praises Moses, “whom the Lord knew face to face”.

But to say that Simchat Torah is just a celebration of the end would be wrong as it is also a celebration of the beginning.

Immediately after reading the final verse in Deuteronomy, we start the process of reading the Torah again with the first verse of Genesis. It’s a fluid motion from end to beginning.

In fact, I remember very clearly the Simchat Torah celebration from elementary school: we would congregate in the gym for Kabbalat Shabbat just as we would on any given Friday, but when it came time to remove the Torah from the Ark, the adults were all asked to help with its unraveling.

Rabbi Ballaban would hand one of the scroll’s wooden rods to a teacher, and walk a lap around the gym, surrounding the sea of students with the words of the Torah until he finally found his way back to that first teacher. It was then that he would read aloud the final verses of Deuteronomy and the beginning words of Genesis.

I remember the year he told us about the lev that comes from reading the Torah in this way; lev, the Hebrew word for heart is spelled לב. The last word of Deuteronomy is Yisrael and the first of Genesis is Bereshit, so when the Torah comes together, end to beginning, we get lev because the Hebrew letter ב that starts Bereshit can be pronounced as either a b or a v.

When we recognize the lev, we are recognizing the unbroken nature of the Torah, that it truly is a cycle. This is the same reason we dance in circles and the same reason Rabbi Balliban encompassed his students in a physical circle. It’s because we don’t ever stop, we don’t ever finish.

This same idea is in the text itself. In the final verses of Deuteronomy, we read:

“And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, as manifested by all the signs and wonders, which the Lord had sent him to preform in the land of Egypt… and to all his land, and all the strong hand, and all the great awes, which Moses performed before the eyes of Israel.” Deuteronomy 34:10-12

It’s said in the Talmud that the phrase “before the eyes of all Israel,” is actually a reference to the story of the Golden Calf, in which Moses smashes the Ten Commandments, destroying them out of fury.

The allusion isn’t meant to remind us of destruction, though. Rather, it’s a reminder of the subsequent rebuilding of the tablets, and of our ability to destroy and remake things in such a cyclical nature.

It’s this idea that changed the way I see my work.

I read a textbook to learn and I do problem sets to practice. I may finish chapter one or problem set No. 1, but there will always be something else to do afterwards because learning is continuous.

Sure, we break it into bits and pieces in order to make it less overwhelming, but the truth is that we’ll be learning and studying and practicing for the rest of our lives.

In truth, we rarely finish anything: bills, paperwork, homework, projects, anything else you’ve ever started. Have these things not always led you to start something else?

There’s no need to get frustrated over an “incomplete” task because even upon completion, or at least what you may see as completion, there’s still plenty to do and to learn and to experience.

And that’s something we should embrace. We should recognize the lev, and the continuity in our lives.

About the writer

Rachel LaVictoire ( is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. She was recently named to the board of St. Louis Hillel.


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