Updated: Oct 5
“I’m doing this for mom/dad” is a common phrase that people use when doing an activity they know their late parent would have loved. Whether it’s a trip, a good meal, an act of kindness, or going to synagogue, engaging in something you know would make your late parent happy often helps one cope with the loss and not being able to actually spend time with them.
The truth is, though, you aren’t really doing it for your mom or dad, you are doing it for yourself as a tool to keep you connected to them even after their passing. While nothing can compare to being with them physically, it brings us a measure of comfort to keep our parents in mind and “include” them as we continue making the most of life and doing things we enjoy.
Sometimes, more than just comfort, including our departed parents in our lives can lead to actual joy. Knowing that although we can no longer physically see them we can still be with them, can be a most joyous occasion since we know that they live on through us and thus are truly with us at all times.
In Judaism this is exemplified in the observance of the annual yahrtzeit, and in general by doing mitzvahs to honor a departed loved one. In addition to these observances being a commemoration of their soul, these activities are meant to bring us joy. Unlike shiva and the year-long mourning, as our lives go on, we celebrate in the knowledge that we can include our parents in all that we do today. True, there is a deep pit in our stomachs due to the loss, but ultimately we can rise above it and celebrate.
In fact, perhaps because of the deep sense of loss that we feel, we are driven to celebrate the life of our departed loved ones even more. When things are going well, we may forget to cherish what we have; it’s only after a loss that the deepest connection may come to fore.
This concept is particularly evident in the Simchat Torah celebrations, when we dance and celebrate with the Torah just as we read the final lines in the Torah describing the passing of Moses and the Jewish nation mourning his loss. Rather than the occasion being marked with sadness, Jewish tradition calls for a party. And not just any party, the most exhilarating celebration of the year.
That’s because we know that Moses’s entire life was all about Torah. He brought us the Torah from G-d, he taught it to us over a period of 40 years, and he ensured that even after his passing, Torah will continue being the heart of the Jewish people. The Torah we study today is the same Torah taught by Moses, and every time a Jew studies Torah Moses is right there with them.
While Moses was alive, there wasn’t as much of a need to celebrate. But once he passed and his loss was deeply felt by every Jew, that’s when the need for an active connection became all the more necessary.
So of course, when we read the description of his passing, we party! Although every holiday during this month is important, they all build up to this ultimate celebration. We celebrate the life of Moses and all that he represented, we celebrate the continuity of the Jewish people that was established the day Moses passed away and transferred leadership to Joshua, and we celebrate the fact that today, more than 3,300 years later, we are still doing the same thing.
Every Jew can celebrate Simchat Torah, since the Torah as delivered to us by Moses belongs to every single Jew equally. You don’t need to be a scholar or a rabbi to experience the joy of this holiday, all you need to do is recognize that you are part of this generations-long tradition of Torah.
We are all part of this long chain of Jewish continuity, and that is something worth celebrating!