Simchat Torah: A Fidget Spinner Called Torah

SPIN PAINTING 33 by  Marc Chadwick

SPIN PAINTING 33 by Marc Chadwick


Cantor Jeff Klepper, an influential figure within in world of Jewish music has a song called: Rabbi Ben Bag Bag. As a religious school teacher I would hear it often during the Simchat Torah time of the year…

Oh Rabbi Ben Bag Bag had a double name name 
Cause his last name was the same same but I never heard him brag….

“Turn it, turn it, turn it again”, turn it around your mind 
“Turn it, turn it, turn it again”, you’ll never know what secrets you might find 

For Rabbi Ben Bag Bag there was always more to learn learn 
Words of Torah he would turn turn all the night and all the day… 

The song, as cute and catchy as it is, comes from a relevant piece of Jewish literature:

Ben Bag-Bag said Turn it [ the Torah] over and over. For everything is in it. Reflect on it, grow old and gray in it, and do not stir from it. For there is no better portion for you than this.
— Pirkei Avot 5:22

As we move through each year, growing into new levels of maturity, development, and self-knowledge, we may feel that we have grown beyond who we were. “I’m an adult,” I often catch myself saying out loud. Which, in its own right, is an amazing feeling of accomplishment. Having made it this far. And yet, I’m not done. There’s still more more leaves to turn over. A new adventure that awaits me. But keeping that mindset is not always easy.

For me, it was the strange sensation of entering my former primary school classrooms and remembering how large and spacious the room felt. But now “I’m all grown up” – that phrase your preschool teacher’s say to you as they try to merge/grasp the personalities of the curious, mischievous little person who has now become a (semi) mature adult (let’s not get carried away here). As I walked through the hallways, the spaces that once felt like never-ending adventurous landscapes, overwhelming structures that seemed to go on infinitely – they suddenly appeared more cramped, more narrow than I remember. The playground outside no longer resembled an endless sea of playful opportunities; but instead a simple rusted swing set; a faded hopscotch blacktop; dull patches of dirt where countless games of kickball were played.

And then I remember that nothing had changed – except me. I had become jaded – numbed to optimism – no longer in touch with the plentiful senses of joyousness, mystery, excitement, and wonder that once filled my head. The fluttering in my brain that I would wake me up at the crack of dawn was drowned out with my know-it-all attitude. My perspective had changed. And that’s when I realized I had stoped learning. I had mistaken adulthood with knowledge; age with wisdom; as if the years on my tree were symbols of completion. Of finalization.

On Simchat Torah, a “Day during which we celebrate the completion of the annual reading of the Torah,” our communities revel in having reached the end of the Book of Deuteronomy. However, we also learn a lesson in humility. On this holiday we are reminded that there is still so much to learn. We are reminded to continue turning, turning, turning. It’s what a professor of mine Rabbi Tali Zelkowicz meant when she spoke about the durability and exploration of Judaism as a jungle gym, not a china shop.

When we stop turning, spinning Torah over and over in our brains like a fidget spinner in the hands of rambunctious child, we become lost in the security of what we think we know. The twirling of a flower girl in a puffy dress is the whimsical innocence we should bring to Torah. After all, the Earth didn’t stop turning after the creation story - reflecting naively about how marvelous it had become when God adorned her with beauty. No, Genesis was just the beginning. The evolution of life continued (it also still continues). Every minute of every day. Turning. Rotating. Spinning. As Rabbi Bag Bag says: “Turn it [ the torah] over and over For everything is in it. Reflect on it, grow old and gray in it.” As Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld explains:

“[The] primary point is that Torah study is not a topic that can be relegated to a single time or age. We must study the Torah constantly throughout our lives, returning to it and reexamining it as we progress through the stages of life. One of the most fascinating aspects of Torah study is that it is a subject we never “complete” but return to our entire lives. As I’ve heard R. Berel Wein observe, in secular studies a student will typically complete a course of study and progress to the next level. Once a student passes Calculus I, he puts it behind him (presumably having gained something in the process) and moves on to Calc. II. Not so with the Torah. Year after year we study the same Scripture — the same stories of Creation, Noah, Abraham, the Exodus — The Torah is infinite. No one fully fathoms it, yet neither is anyone entirely removed from it. We must approach it with the same sense of freshness and challenge as we grow and mature…”

Aaron Sataloff