Today is Simchat Torah, the last day of the 3-weeks of holidays that begin the Jewish spiritual year. (The Jewish calendar year starts in spring in the Northern Hemisphere).
Throughout the year, each week one chapter from the five mosaic books of the Torah is read during the Sabbath service. On Simchat Torah we complete the final chapter and immediately begin again from the beginning.
Every ending is also a beginning.
Life moves in a spiral. It is cyclical, not linear. Even though it seems like we’re starting again from the beginning, we’re not starting from the same place as last time.
We start again with the knowledge and wisdom we gained through the last cycle.
This may seem obvious, but what does it really mean?
Today I want to share some thoughts that came to me about this. This one takes the scenic route, so stick with me here. I promise it all comes together at the end.
Multiple Trips to the Same Seminar
Have you ever attended the same course or seminar multiple times?
I’ve been to Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within seminar a dozen times; after participating once, I have continually returned to volunteer. He holds UPW three times a year in the United States, and I go to at least one a year. Many people ask me why I go to UPW so often. Don’t I hear the same things repeatedly?
First, it’s not always the same content. Tony has made some changes over the years. But even if it were exactly the same, it is impossible to absorb it all the first time. It’s impossible even to hear it the first time.
Each time, I learn something new. I may hear the same thing repeatedly, but it resonates differently because I’m a different person each time I return.
I don’t mean this in an abstract sense. Rather, this is very literal. We hear different things at different times because we are physically different. That’s what happens when we grow.
Creating the Environment for Sound to Resonate
If you play a piano in a concert hall it sounds different than it does if you play it in your living room versus in the subway versus outside in the park. The same notes will sound different, because the environment is different. The container is different.
What is sound? Sound is just waves traveling through the air. Depending on what’s around, the waves travel and land differently.
Now substitute the piano with some other form of sound. For example, prayer. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes that prayer is not about asking for things. The function of prayer is that it creates in us the vessel to receive God’s blessings.
Sounds, including words, travel in waves that create vibrations. Those vibrations travel through our physical body. That’s how sound healing works. But this applies to all sounds, including words spoken to us. Including words we speak to ourselves. Including words we read — because the part of your brain that processes written words is the same as the part that processes sound.
So sound travels through the container of our physical bodies. And just as a musical instrument sounds different in different physical environments, sound and words resonate within us differently at different times depending on our container.
The more we pray, the more prayer shapes us.
Meditation, too, has this effect. Also physical activity, such as yoga and other exercise.
All of these activities impact the energy that flows through our bodies: our cells and bones and fluids.
And as we change our inner environment, external stimuli — the words and other sounds we hear — travel through us differently. The sounds resonate within our container differently.
You may hear something many times before that one time when you really notice it. It resonates within you. And you may even think it’s the first time you heard it. It isn’t. It’s just the first time it resonated in your vessel.
What Does This Have to Do With Simchat Torah?
Back to Simchat Torah. (I didn’t forget, and thanks for sticking with me.)
This is also true of the Torah.
We end, and then we begin again. We are not merely “starting over” from square one. We are starting again.
I’ve often wondered why we don’t end the cycle of the Torah just before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Wouldn’t that make more sense, to start the new cycle with the new year?
But then I realized why we end and begin the cycle now.
We end and begin the cycle of the Torah at the conclusion of three weeks of intense prayer and reflection and introspection, a journey that may be fairly considered the most intense immersion experience that exists in the world of personal development.
We are starting again with a new container, a new vessel in which the messages and wisdom will resonate differently. We are not the same as we were three weeks ago, when we ushered in Rosh Hashana.
Change vs Transformation
It is said that
a man never crosses the same river twice, for he is not the same man and the river is not the same river.
Simchat Torah is the holiday on which we put this into action.
The river is constantly changing. New water flows through, the banks shift based on the weather.
We are always changing. Every minute, we have new blood, every day, we shed old cells and grow new cells. Every part of our body sheds layers and creates new growth, without our even having to think about it.
And whether you set out to learn or not, by virtue of being alive you are learning because you are having new experiences.
People get so caught up in their fears of change without realizing they’re changing anyway.
As students on the path of spiritual growth what we seek is not change, but transformation.
Change is inevitable. Transformation is intentional.
Simchat Torah is the encore performance at the conclusion of three weeks of intentionally change. Through prayer, reflection, introspection, and rest, we have transformed who we are.
This is the graduation party. We celebrate all we have become through this journey and the space we have created within our physical bodies for new sounds to resonate.
As we end the reading of the Torah, we eagerly return to the beginning to start again, filling the space within us with words and sounds that are familiar, yet hearing the sounds as if for the first time.
Whatever your belief systems or religion, you can embark on a similar transformational journey simply by slowing down and venturing to go within.
May your journey within help you create space in your vessel so that you may hear new messages in familiar words, the calling of your truth, and the wisdom of the divine source that resides within you.