Rejoice in the Promise!
Simchat Torah, Joshua 1:1–18
Barri Cae Seif, Sar Shalom, Arlington, TX
I love this time of year! We see the changing of the seasons from summer to fall, as though there has been a cool breeze coming through, in our attitudes and overall well-being. Sukkot ushers in a wonderful feeling of joy and thanksgiving. Those of us who live in America might look at Sukkot as a precursor to the Thanksgiving holiday.
Growing up, I experienced Sukkot as a wonderful celebration in both the Reform temple and in the Orthodox shul. When I was a young girl, I remember going into a sukkah with all of the hanging fruit. I thought that it was just such a special holiday, and almost anytime I see a cornucopia, I think of Sukkot.
Right before my early teens, my parents left the Reform temple and joined an Orthodox synagogue. Although I do not remember seeing any sukkah, I do remember receiving a miniature Torah, given to us children on Simchat Torah—the holiday that concludes the Sukkot season (October 1-2 this year). In my possession is my father's little miniature Torah that he also received on Simchat Torah.
When I was growing up, I had little knowledge of Hebrew and did not realize that Simchat Torah meant “rejoicing of the law.” Yet I saw the demonstration of this rejoicing in both the synagogue and in the Temple sanctuary. Dancing and rejoicing with abandon were the norm for this holiday celebration. One of the highest honors on Simchat Torah is to be given the final Aliyah, the final Torah reading. The Chatan Torah (Groom of the Torah) gets to read the final passage from Deuteronomy.
One action on this day specially intrigues me. When is the Torah rolled back to the beginning of Bereisheet, Genesis? Now that would be fun to do! At the end of the secular new year, on New Year's Eve, I think back to the year that God has given. With a little bit of anticipation and concern, I wonder what life events will come forth. If I ever had a chance to witness the unrolling of the Torah scroll, would those same thoughts cross my mind?
Parallel to the Torah reading is the Haftarah selection, Joshua 1:1–18. Rabbi Hertz in his Pentateuch commentary (Soncino, 1960) notes, “In the matter of study, it is the Jewish custom to make a fresh beginning immediately after a conclusion has been reached.” We mark the conclusion of the Five books of Moses, and yet a beginning with Genesis 1; we also note the beginning of Joshua. He faces a new horizon with entry into the Promised Land.
As a new believer in Yeshua, learning to daily trust God’s promises was my school of faith. Years ago, I attended a Sunday school class led by the author Zig Ziglar. He always focused on good news, whether it was the Gospel of Yeshua, or improving economic news. One thing he emphasized was to always realize that you are making a promise every time you sign your name. That simple concept has directed my steps throughout my life.
Every place God has signed his name, that is our assurance, our promise that he will be with us. What must Joshua have thought when God said to him, “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, to you I have given it, as I spoke to Moses” (Josh 1:3). God assures Joshua as God assured Moses in Deuteronomy 11:24. Natan is the Hebrew word for “give” and not only does it mean give, but it also means appoint, ascribe, assign, avenge, lay charge to, occupy, ordain, and restore. When God makes a promise, he keeps it.
Joshua 1:8 will always be one of my favorite Bible verses. It truly is the key to success.
Yes, keep this book of the Torah on your lips, and meditate on it day and night, so that you will take care to act according to everything written in it. Then your undertakings will prosper, and you will succeed. (Complete Jewish Bible)
Who better to give us this advice than Joshua? God gives the Promised Land to Joshua and yet God provides directives that Joshua still must follow. Promises are given and yet we still need to lay hold of the promises—by faith. God’s instructions to Joshua meant that the Torah should be in his mouth and in his heart continually.
Meditate on the word of the Lord. Ponder God’s word. Not only are we to think about God’s word; we are to talk about God’s word, study it, and speak it. Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the word of God (Heb 10:17). As we speak the word of God, we hear it; our faith is stirred up and becomes electric, alive, and active. Then our undertakings will prosper and we will succeed!