Today is the holiday of Simchat Torah — Rejoicing with the Torah — which marks the end of the cycle of weekly readings of the Torah and the beginning of a new cycle.
In a way, it provides a coda to the sprint of inner work and spiritual renewal that marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, a reinforcement of all we’ve done, as well as a reminder about what we must do going forward.
The Catalyst: A 3-Week Sprint
The Jewish New Year is a intense period of time in which we disrupt our normal routine to reflect, repent, and restore. It’s like a 3-week personal development course that guides us through:
- reflecting on the past and revisiting our values and vision;
- facing our past errors, and seeking and offering forgiveness; and
- navigating uncertainty.
The sprint is intense.
In part because of their intensity, sprints are not sustainable. Typically a sprint leaves us fatigued and worn down. It might be an effective way to get a short term result, but it’s not an effective or sustainable way to create over a long arc of time.
The sprint is a catalyst for the bigger outcome.
Transformation: A Marathon
This is where Simchat Torah steps in. The cycle of weekly Torah readings is a marathon: a slow and steady approach to embodying the wisdom and values of the tradition.
The Simchat Torah celebration reminds us that what matters most is not what we do for three weeks out of the year, but how we live our lives day-to-day.
Consistency over the long term is what creates transformation. Our efforts and actions must be sustainable if we want to create long-term impact.
The sustainable path is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a long road, paved with daily and weekly rituals designed to keep us immersed in the teachings.
Discarding the Duality
Of course, this isn’t about choosing between a marathon or a sprint. The duality is an illusion.
We need both.
Understanding the high holidays as a personal development seminar is helpful here. Both create space for us to step out of our day to day routines so we can look at our lives without being in our lives. They offer a burst of motivation and inspiration to kick us into gear. They are catalysts for breakthroughs and new awareness. But a breakthrough is not a transformation.
The ending of the catalyst event is just the beginning of the real work to create lasting change. As we leave the event venue and head forward into our real lives, we must begin again with the work of the marathon.
The marathon is the province of rituals: daily, weekly, and monthly activities, done with specific intention, that we can sustain over the long arc of time.