Thanks go to April of AgruArts for submitting this great, informative article!
Shabbat services in Judaism are usually repetitive in their nature from week to week. We follow the same sequence of prayers, perform the same ritualistic actions, and mostly use the same melodies during our annual cycle. Sure, once in a while we add a few words to the prayers in honor of certain holidays. But the one constantly changing aspect of the service is the Parshat (Torah portion or chapters) we read each week. In fact, most congregations read through the entire Torah (the first five books of our Bible) over the course of a year.
Simchat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah) is the holiday where we finish the entire cycle and begin anew.
As with all Jewish holidays, the celebrations begin the night before. But the REAL party is the day of the festival which, incidentally, might not begin on a Saturday. It is the finality of the celebration of Sukkot and the cycle of holidays that began with Rosh Hashanah (New Year). On Simchat Torah, all the Torahs are taken out of the congregation's Ark. The final part of Deuteronomy (the final book in the Torah) is read, immediately followed by the first chapter of Genesis. The readings are divided up into sections, with members of the congregations coming up between each section to say a prayer blessing the end of one mini-section and the beginning of the next. These blessings are called aliyot (ascents).
After the readings and aliyot are done, songs are sung and the Torahs are danced with, being passed from person to person, since dancing with the word of G-d is a mitzvah (commandment). Children are generally given candy to show them the word of G-d is sweet. Adults continue to dance, drink, and celebrate our covenant with G-d.
Great ideas to help YOU celebrate from EtsyChai shops:
Part II will appear tomorrow: “What Does Simchat Torah Mean to You?” where EtsyChai members share some holiday experiences.