This week I felt a little down, which is not in my nature. It’s ingrained in me that everything comes from G-d, Who is intrinsically good, so I’ve developed a thick skin when things don’t go as planned. No matter what life throws at me, I trust in His plan.
But with Simchat Torah on the horizon, I found myself struggling. Simchat Torah is one of the highlights of our year. A day of pure joy and one of our most-attended events. We have close to a thousand people each year to celebrate as we complete the annual Torah-reading cycle and immediately begin the next one.
We go all out, offering a lavish feast with steak, brisket, ribs, gourmet sushi, salad bar, burger bar, and most importantly—drinks galore! We have it all! Who wouldn’t come to that? We even have 50 students walk three hours from Brooklyn to dance and sing and celebrate with us.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are far more serious days, where we accomplish great things through prayer. But on Simchat Torah we can be just as effective through sheer joy and dancing.
This year, things are different. How can we dance with the Torah and still adhere to strict social distancing protocol? How can drink and say l’chaim while wearing masks? How can we pass the Torah around? How can do our famous somersaults? We have to drastically limit our attendance to fit with capacity guidelines, and even then, who will come with the fear of COVID hanging over us? In fact, many shuls across the world are completely closed, while others will have just a few minutes of hakafot.
With all this in mind, I seriously considered cancelling.
But then it dawned on me, that this year will be the most joyous Simchat Torah we have experienced to date!
We have every reason NOT to celebrate this year. We can all list so many reasons to be sad. The country is deeply divided, COVID-19 continues its rampage, so many are struggling financially and in other ways. Can we really celebrate Simchat Torah in this condition?
It all depends on how we define happiness. We tend to have a very narrow definition. A new car, a great vacation, a successful business deal. But true happiness does not come from external stimuli, it comes from deep inside our souls.
True happiness is a decision we make each and every morning. It’s about realizing we have a mission to accomplish in this world and G-d has given us the strength to do so. Regardless of what’s going on around us, we can choose to be happy.
So although we love our regular Simchat Torah celebration which includes all kinds of external trappings, sometimes all that sushi, socializing, and l’chaim can make us lose focus on the main thing.
But this year, G-d has sent us a reminder. When we strip away all the trappings, what is left?
This year, we have the opportunity to focus on what truly makes us happy. At home, alone, we can allow the joy of our souls to pour forth unrestrained. We can dance at home, even alone, tapping into the pure joy that is not dependent on good food, alcohol, shul, or other people.
Our sages tell us that joy breaks all barriers. True joy can pierce the heavens and surely bring an end to the COVID crisis.
So dance at home. Dance in a room by yourself. Be safe, but dance you must. Focus on your relationship with G-d and the Torah, and allow this to be the greatest Simchat Torah ever.
Have a joyous holiday!