A year ago, I spent my first Shabbat with the congregation Tikvat Yisrael in Richmond on Simchat Torah, the most joyful day of the Jewish liturgical calendar, and now my favorite Jewish holiday. I arrived a few minutes late to the 10 o'clock service (pretty early for a college-girl) and was a bit bewildered by the scene unfolding around me. It only took a moment, however, for me to be utterly captivated.
Simchat Torah comes on the heals of Sukkot, the festival in which Jews remember God's provision for them in the desert (see previous post). Of course, the pinnacle of their time in the desert was the meeting at Mt. Sinai, where God imparted His covenant and His Word. The tradition surrounding Simchat Torah, or "the Joy of the Torah," gives voice to a topic I've written about a lot recently: God's revelation. For Jews, and especially for our Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ, the revelation of God is always cause for celebration and joy.
As I took everything in, one of the ushers approached me to explain that this celebration was part of the centuries old tradition of thanking God for the gift of His Word. He went on to say that because the Greek word Logos from John 1:1 can be translated Torah in Hebrew, the holiday takes on a special significance for Jews who embrace Jesus as Messiah. And then he said something I'll never forget. With a joy that penetrated to the depths of my heart, this dear man exclaimed, "Yeshua has become our Torah! The Torah dwells among us!"
As the Torah scrolls danced by my pew, those around me lovingly touched the scrolls and then kissed their hands (a practice that is not reserved solely for this holiday, but that occurs every Shabbat). I followed suit, completely swept up in the worship of the God who speaks powerfully to His people, the God who would lower Himself to dwell among us. As they danced we sang:
Hineh ha Torah!
Hineh ha Torah!
Hineh Hu ba!
translation: "Behold the Torah! Behold Jesus! Behold the Torah! Behold He comes!"
In non-Messianic synagogues, the words that are sung obviously do not revel in the provision of Jesus. Rather, the worshipers pray Ana Adonai, hoshia na, which translates "Oh Lord, save us." What's interesting about this prayer relates again to the Hebrew: the volative verb hoshia stems from the root yeshua, meaning "salvation." This is the Jewish name for Jesus. So even as they celebrate God's gift of the Torah removed from the One who has fullfilled it, non-Messianic Jews affirm their need for God's saving grace.
This year, Tikvat celebrated Simchat Torah on Wednesday, the actual day that culminates Sukkot. Needless to say, I was disappointed when I arrived at Tikvat this past Saturday morning, expecting to sing Hineh ha Torah. I had been thrilled to find that Homecoming weekend coincided with the day I thought my Messianic friends would celebrate the holiday that marks my first anniversary of worshiping with them. Nevertheless, my time with them was sweet as the scrolls were taken from the ark and danced around the room, and as we praised the God who has become our Torah.
John 1:1, 14