Saturday, October 17, 2009

The faces of Simcha pt. 1

To properly describe the last four weeks would be an exercise in futility. The Jewish nation passed through the month of Tishrei which contains some of the heaviest hitting holidays: Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. The pious Jew undergoes a whirlwind of emotional states as s/he declares G-d king, begs atonement, seeks the eternal and rejoices in the yearly completion of G-d's Torah.

Most Yeshivas take a temporary and necessary pause to properly absorb these holidays. In my time off I was privileged to see and participate in several extraordinary exhibitions of Jewish simcha (happiness).

In previous generations, consumate writers would likely harken to the challenge of describing their experiences and feelings relying solely on their writ. Living in the age of digital cameras I can and do lay most of this burden upon the many videos I took while providing simple explanatory captions. Having just finished On Writing Well by William Zinsser, I am a little dissapointed with myself. It's a perfect opportunity to hone my abilities and dodge the pitfalls and platitudes which hound bad writing. But with the start of zman (lit.: time, fig.:session) breathing down my back, I think I will just share some of the less shaky videos.


Last Wednesday my good friend, Rabbi, Mashgiach Ruchani (fig. Spiritual guide) Reuven Billowitz called me over to Ezrat HaTorah, a chassidic neighborhood in Jerusalem. Reuven was in Israel for Sukkot and his brother-in-law funded the writing of a Sefer Torah for their community. He called to invite me to the Hachnosas Sefer Torah (fig. the completion of the Sefer Torah). I hopped in a cab and arrived just in time for the final letters of the Torah.

The Torah was completed in the Rebbe's home. There is a Mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah so the last few letters are divided amongst as many people as possible.

And when completed it is hoisted for all to see. Everyone in the room proclaims: V'zos ha-Torah asher Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael al pi Hashem b'yad Moshe (lit. This is the Torah that Moses placed before theChildren of Israel, according to G-d through Moses' hand).

The Sefer Torah is then taken outside and escorted by a large procession. Charedim both lead and follow the Torah dancing to the Shul that will be it's home. Children with torches walk in front lighting the way.

Once at the Shul the real dancing begins as the men encircle the many Sifrei Torah of the Shul and each other.

The Rebbe gives the new Sefer Torah a proper entrance.

The dancing can be exhausting for some. (Pictured: Reuven's youngest son Tzvi, 3 year competitor for cutest kid ever)

We finished with a fine banquet in honor of the occasion. I was very lucky to get such an intimate glance at one of the most important aspects of our continued tradition. The Torah has been preserved immaculately for thousands of years; every letter is cherished. The wisdom and meaning held within it would immediately vanish if we ever neglected its sanctity. Watching the birth of a Sefer Torah is not unlike the torches the children use to escort it to its new home. It provides light for the coming generation of Jews in a age of encroaching darkness.

Honestly, I was happiest to spend some time with my friend Reuven, a person who lives in constant fulfillment of the deepest and dearest principles and Laws that the Torah teaches.


In other news I finished the second of my pair of shoes which I started in late March.

The first shoe was taken from the original cover of the Catcher in the Rye. This second one was inspired by Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I read a lot of his work throughout college. He's known for writing incredibly dense books which prevent challenges on many fronts for their diction, obscurity, structure and themes, not to mention discerning the basic plot.

For a long time I was uncertain of just what I wanted to do for the second shoe. But I'm pleased overall with the effort. I'm still developing sensitivity to the canvas medium and fine-tuning my skill with a sharpie, but the progress is palpable. I think I'll be ready to start professionally within a few months.

Note: I haven't edited this post since I need to go to sleep. If you read it in this unpolished state and find some distasteful errors, my humblest apologies.

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