The leaves have finally turned color and are slowly dropping on to my lawn as I sit and type this week’s column. Three important holy days, Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, are being celebrated by the Jewish people before both people and celebrations settle in for the long span of time before the festival cycle starts again in the Spring. The Holy Days will end on a high note in the celebration of Simchah Torah (Rejoicing in the Law). It occurs on the last day of Sukkot, which is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, and it is a time to rejoice, just as its name states.
The Torah, or Law, is defined as the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Torah means to “direct, teach, instruct, guide or show”. The Torah is divided into yearly readings and read every Saturday morning at Torah Service. It is customary to complete the cycle of reading on Simchah Torah. There is an old Jewish adage which says, “Turn the Torah, and turn it over again, for everything may be found in it.” So to affirm the truth that one must never stop studying God’s Word, it has become customary to turn at once to the beginning of the Torah and start again when the cycle is completed.
The Torah is highly treasured. The scroll is usually 2 1/2 feet high and is printed by hand with only a genuine quill pen on kosher animal skin. A typical scroll is 20 to 30 skins long and weighs 15 to 20 pounds. The skins are sewn together so intricately that it is virtually impossible to see the seams. They are then wound around the “Trees of Life” or Torah holders. The coverings are exquisitely decorated in beautiful brocades or satin with appliqué and sometimes even semi-precious stones. The Torah scroll itself is never touched by hand. It is carefully placed on a special reading table, and the reader uses a special pointer, called a yad, to keep his place.
The Torah is an important part of religious life to devout Jews. They are mindful of many scriptures which encourage and command them to take its words seriously such as Joshua 1:8 and Proverbs 7:2. On Simchah Torah the scroll is removed from its special cabinet in the synagogue and paraded about the sanctuary. The people follow behind with music, singing, and the blowing of shofars. There is candy for the children (because God’s Word is sweet like honey) and they are called to the platform to say a blessing over the Torah reading. This is the only time children are allowed to do this. When a synagogue is vandalized or burned and the Torah is destroyed it is a tremendous loss to the congregation, economically, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
In light of this, how we should view the Scriptures? The Bible is the most amazing book the world has ever seen or read. It has been translated into thousands of languages, printed in every shape and style; maligned, discredited, upheld, misunderstood and underestimated in its strength and power. Churches today revere it, ignore it and even re-word it. Yet it has endured and maintained its integrity for centuries.
How precious is the Bible to us? Think of all the Bibles that have been smuggled into Communist and Muslim countries at the risk of life and freedom. Think of all those who have traveled to remote places to learn languages only a few speak so that the Word can be communicated to them. This Book allows us to truly understand the heart and mind of God. Life was breathed into it by the Holy Spirit and it brings life to us. Yet, many times we toss it aside just as carelessly as we would a paperback novel. I wonder what our brothers and sisters in persecuted countries would think about that. How would they react if they learned many of us ignore the Bible because our schedule is demanding and we are tired? What would our brothers and sisters in Haiti, China and the Sudan do if they could hold and read one single page of God's Word when we have more than one copy sitting on a dusty shelf? Perhaps in the business of our lives, we have placed the Bible in a low spot on the list of our priorities, but is that where it belongs? Shouldn't we treat it with reverence and rejoice when we come together as God's people to learn from and study it? If we can proudly display the paraphernalia of our favorite sports team, why don't we do the same for the Bible? Perhaps we could learn something from our Jewish friends!
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
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