From the Desk - Simchat Torah
The traditional greeting for the middle days of Sukkot is Moadim LeSimcha, recognizing that Sukkot is a time of happiness. I know that for many of us this is also a time of challenge and anxiety and I bless everyone with strength as we seek out the simcha in the current moment.
There is so much to reflect on as we approach the end of what has been a most unusual holiday season! Along with rabbis across the world, I was devastated and horrified today to witness the appalling behaviour of supposedly religious Jews in Israel and New York who resorted to vandalism and violence in opposition to lockdown restrictions. In our small way, each of our communities needs to model genuine Judaism, combining concern for civility and safety with our love for Jewish ritual and communal life.
At Beth Ora, we have succeeded in holding services for several months, and throughout the holiday period. We have taken the pandemic as seriously as our prayers: abridging the services, and insisting on masks and social distancing.
Of course, we respect the decisions of all those who did not feel comfortable attending: offering “Holiday at Home Guides,” delivering Rosh Hashanah packs for children, holding a “Bring the Shul to Your Home” Pre-Rosh Hashanah zoom event, arranging a young families “Lunch, Shofar and Tashlich” in the park, bringing together 200 people to an outdoor shofar blowing, holding a Pre-Yom Kippur online Kol Nidrei and Yizkor service, livestreaming the Post-Yom Kippur Havdalah and shofar blowing, and arranging this week’s edible Sukkah contest!
But with all these great initiatives, I’m still gratified that we were able to keep our services going throughout this period. More recently, we have restarted weekday morning services and we are very grateful to Rabbi Nataf and Petah Tikva Synagogue for helping us to make this happen.
The truth is that the services over the holidays have been quite beautiful. At least one member told me and Heshy that this year’s High Holiday services were the best ever! But my sense is that the real takeaway from this year’s services will not be the congregational singing or the rabbi’s sermon. It will rather come from the knowledge that our faith and our faith in community are so important that we knew we all had to put in the work to allow them to continue. For many, staying at home is currently the right option. But let’s continue to remember how wonderful it is for the community to come together in prayer and celebration. And let’s pray and look forward to the time when we can do so once again.
For many months already, we had anticipated that Simchat Torah would be the most challenging holiday in the current pandemic. This special day is typically celebrated by spirited dancing with the Torah, which is something that seems impossible to replicate this year while maintaining proper safeguards.
Nevertheless, Beth Ora will be holding morning (Shacharit and Mussaf) services over both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. We will be observing the appropriate social distancing and will be celebrating without vigorous singing and dancing.
Please find below this letter detailed guidance for the observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
We all join in prayer that our communities and our country be spared any further suffering, and that we merit to experience the upcoming festival as zman simchateinu, a true season of joy.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Anthony Knopf
The blessing on candle lighting should conclude “lehadlik ner shel Shabbat veshel Yom Tov."
An abrdiged Kaballat Shabbat service is recited that begins with Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbat. Bameh Madlikin is omitted.
The Maariv Amidah is the one for Yom Tov, with proper insertions for Shabbat and Shmini Atzeret.
Vayechulu is recited after the Amidah. If you are praying alone, you omit the “Magen Avot” blessing.
If you have a Sukkah at home (and it is not raining), the main practice in the diaspora is to eat the evening meal in the Sukkah. The blessing Leishev BaSukkah is not said.
The Kiddush this Friday night is the one for Yom Tov, with insertions for Shabbat and Shmini Atzeret. Kiddush begins with “Yom Hashishi." At the end of Kiddush, Shehechiyanu is recited.
The Shacharit Amidah is the one for Yom Tov, with insertions for Shabbat and Shmini Atzeret.
Full Hallel is recited after the Amidah.
Yizkor is said on Shmini Atzeret. Please note that Yizkor can be recited without a minyan. One should make sure to pledge money to tzedakah before reciting Yizkor.
During Mussaf on Shmini Atzeret, we begin reciting “mashiv haruach umorid hageshem.” The switch to include this line does not take effect until the congregation recites the prayer for rain in the public reading of the Amidah. Therefore, an individual praying at home should wait to recite Mussaf until the community reaches Mussaf in synagogue, which is approximately 10:45 AM.
The Mussaf Amidah is the one for Yom Tov, with insertions for Shabbat and Shmini Atzeret. The same is true of the Mincha Amidah.
Preparations for the second day may not begin until nightfall (7:06 PM). Candle lighting must be done after this time.
Maariv on Saturday evening is the one for Yom Tov with insertions for Shemini Atzeret. It includes the “Vetodiyeinu” paragraph for Saturday evenings.
We do not eat in the Sukkah on Simchat Torah.
The Kiddush is for Yom Tov and includes extra blessings for Saturday evening – the blessing on the fire and the Havdalah blessing. Shehechiyanu is also said.
Shacharit is for Yom Tov with insertions for Shemini Atzeret.
After the Amidah, full Hallel is recited.
The Mussaf and Mincha Amidahs are for Yom Tov with insertions for Shemini Atzeret.
Havdalah after Yom Tov consists of two blessings: Hagafen and hamavdil. Spices and fire are not used.