The High Holidays are drawing to a close now. This evening the final bit of celebration concluded with the end at sundown of Simchat Torah, Rejoicing in the Law. From Rosh Hashanah, a time of mixed emotions - celebration of creation, the birthday of the world, and the day when we are judged for who and what we have been in the prior year and what will become of us int he coming year - through the ten Yamim Noara'im (Days of Awe) that lead us inexoroably from the intiial moment of judgement to the awesome day of atonement, the day of Yom Kippur, on which we picture G-d as having judged us, now sealing the ledger in which our fate int he year to come is recorded. And yet, Yom Kippur is also seen as one of the most joyous days in all the calendar. After all, it is reasoned, G-d is a merciful god, compassionate and forgiving to all who sincerely repent. And when we reach the end of the day of Yom Kippur, the closing of the gates of prayer and the sealing of the ledgers, we know that we have done what we can to invoke the mercy of G-d, and G-d will temper justice with mercy. So there is a giddy sense of acceptance, a fresh page in our book, a renewed start in our relationship with G-d.
Then we enter the Holiday of Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). We dwell (or at least sit and eat meals in) the flimsy temporary structures, celebrating the harvest and G-d's bounty in creation, the whole of nature spread before us and above us, and the vast majesty of the sky above us. We are exposed to all of nature and all dangers, but we are protected by the unseen hand of G-d. An exercise in trust and acceptance, the Sukkah, and a way to review what it is that is really important in our life. Throughout this holiday, we have the Torah, and we take joy in it, in learning, in studying, in sharing, in discussing and arguing, in fully engaging in the words of the Torah in a never ending conversation with each other, and with G-d.
The holiday culminates in Simchat Torah, when we express our joy and pleasure in the Torah, and in the relationship with G-d that it opens for us and to us. We sing and dance with the Torah, and we lovingly read the last words and the first all together, so that there is no end, no cessation to our engagment with and focus on the Torah. We read in a continuous circle, like a wedding ring - unbroken, without beginning or end, perfect.
So this is the season of our joy - a joy in creation, in Torah, and in G-d. What a wonderful way to start the year.
May it be a good year, a sweet year, a year of blessing for us all, and may it be a year of peace for all the world.
Rabbi Joe Blair