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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
Deuteronomy Scroll • Episode 12
Simkhat Torah: Celebrating a Year of Reading
76m • December 19, 2022

When a Jewish synagogue finishes reading through the Torah together, they celebrate Simkhat Torah. What is Simkhat Torah? Find out on today’s episode as Jon and Tim reflect on our year-long journey through the Torah and look ahead to the rest of the TaNaK.

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QUOTE

This person, the Joshua-like figure, becomes like the tree of life planted by the river, bearing leaves and fruit. And in doing so, they become the thing the woman wanted when she grabbed from the tree of good and bad—they become wise. Whoever wrote Psalm 1 wrote it asa synthesis of the beginning and ending of the Torah and the beginning and ending of the Prophets.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • After reading through the entire Torah, Jewish communities celebrate a holiday called Simkhat Torah, which means “joy of Torah.” Festivities typically involve the entire congregation singing and dancing with the Torah scroll. The tradition stems from Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy 31:10-11 to read the Torah aloud every seven years.
  • In the Hebrew Bible/TaNaK, the transitions between the Torah and the Prophets and the Prophets and the Writings are called “seams.”
  • The organizers of the Hebrew Scriptures arranged the texts in such a way that the seams of the TaNaK repeat the same major themes. When we learn to pay attention to those deliberate choices, we will begin to experience and understand the grander story.

Simkhat Torah

In part one (00:00-09:30), Tim and Jon reflect on the last year of podcast content. In 2022, we (our team at BibleProject in partnership with you, our audience) read and meditated our way through the entire Torah.

Jewish synagogues read the Torah aloud as a community according to a one-year or three-year cycle. At the end of that time, when they’ve read through the entire Torah, Jewish communities celebrate a holiday called Simkhat Torah, which means “joy of Torah.” Festivities typically involve the entire congregation singing and dancing with the Torah scroll. The tradition stems from Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy 31:10-11 to read the Torah aloud every seven years.

The Seams of the TaNaK

In part two (09:30-31:00), Tim and Jon talk about how we can use the techniques we employed this year in reading the Torah to read to understand the rest of the TaNaK.

On the BibleProject podcast, our journey through the Bible movement by movement pauses here at the end of the Torah. We’ll be covering some theme studies and other topics in the coming weeks that we’re excited about! But just because we’re not reading through the rest of the TaNaK on the podcast doesn’t mean you can’t. The skills and tools we’ve utilized this year—reading according to movements, identifying hyperlinks and patterns—can (and should) be employed in the rest of the TaNaK.

In this episode, we’ll look at a few key ways the themes of the Torah carry into the rest of the TaNaK, focusing on the transitions between the Torah and the Prophets and the Prophets and the Writings (called the “seams” of the TaNaK).

When the Torah opens, humans are in a garden with God and a command about which trees they could eat from. When the humans fail to trust God’s word, they are exiled from the garden. At the end of the Torah (the conclusion of Deuteronomy) God’s people wait in the wilderness on the edge of the garden land, receiving the law.

Threaded through the TaNaK is the hope of the coming seed of the woman who will crush the snake, promised in Genesis 3:15. As the Torah ends, we are meant to wonder, “Is Joshua the snake crusher?” After all, he’s the one who will lead Israel back into the garden land.

While the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament contain all the same scrolls, they are arranged in a different order. However, the Torah is ordered the same in both and is followed by the scroll of Joshua. In the Hebrew Bible, the Torah is followed by the Nevi’im (Prophets) and then by the Ketuvim (Writings). The prophets are split into two categories: the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Scroll of the 12).

In the Former Prophets, we read the accounts of Israel’s continued forfeiting of God’s covenant (and blessing) and their ultimate exile from the Eden land, all told from the perspective of the prophets. The Latter Prophets are all written during the nation’s exile. They reflect on Israel’s failure and future hope.

The Prophets

In part three (31:00-57:45), Tim and Jon explore the seams of the Prophets—the beginning and ending of the prophetic scrolls.

When the scroll of Joshua opens, Yahweh gives Joshua commandments he must keep as Moses’ successor. One of Joshua’s most important responsibilities is to become a student of the Torah.

Joshua 1:8

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night ….

This instruction is specific to Joshua and integral to the metanarrative of the Hebrew Bible—the ideal posture of God’s people who are still awaiting entry to the garden land (including followers of Jesus) is to be strong and courageous and read/follow the Torah.

Fast forward about 800 years to the conclusion of the Prophets, where Malachi observes Israel’s worship practices, which he believes are totally offensive to Yahweh. He predicts that even the Babylonian exile was not as bad as the coming Day of the Lord will be. However, within the nation of Israel, there’s a remnant of true Israelites who fear God and meditate on the law.

Malachi 3:16-17

Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for those who fear the LORD and esteem [meditate on] his name. “And they will be mine,” says the LORD of armies, “on the day that I prepare my own [treasured] possession, and I will have compassion for them just as a man has compassion for his own son who serves him.”

While Israel as a whole has been unfaithful to Yahweh, the Prophets conclude with a promise from God. He will keep the covenant forged at Sinai with those who remain faithful to the law. Malachi goes on to forecast the Day of the Lord, when Yahweh will “trample” the wicked (i.e., crush the snake), and the righteous and wicked will both be revealed for who they are.

Malachi 4:4-5

Remember the law of Moses my servant, the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible Day of the LORD.

In the conclusion of the Prophets, Malachi mentions Moses (the key figure of the Torah) and Elijah (who becomes the archetypal figure of the Prophets). The Torah and the Prophets, represented by these two key leaders, both conclude by anticipating a coming leader who would be greater than any other leader of Israel.

In the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 1 immediately follows Malachi, kicking off the section of Scripture called the Writings that riffs on all the same themes.

The Writings

In part four (57:45-01:15:47), the guys turn their attention to major themes in the Writings, starting with Psalm 1.

Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.

The Writings open with a description of a person who sounds just like the kind of person Joshua was commanded to be at the end of the Torah—the kind of people faithful Israelites were instructed to be. The blessed person in Psalm 1 does the opposite of what Adam and Eve did—meditate on God’s words and choose to trust his wisdom over their own. That person becomes like the tree of life and flourishes like the garden of Eden.

The writer of Psalm 1 weaves together themes from the beginning and ending of the Torah and the beginning and ending of the Prophets. It’s normal for the Hebrew Bible to feel confusing, especially when we read it piecemeal instead of as a continuous story. However, the organizers of the Hebrew Scriptures arranged the texts in such a way that the seams of the TaNaK repeat the same major themes. When we learn to pay attention to those deliberate choices, we will begin to experience and understand the grander story being told. These major themes act like guideposts for us as we read. If you choose to keep reading through the Hebrew Bible, remember that each individual narrative fits into this larger narrative.

Referenced Resources

  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS

Show produced by Cooper Peltz with Associate Producer Lindsey Ponder. Edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by Hannah Woo.

Deuteronomy E1  –  1hr 3m
What’s the Point of Deuteronomy?
1hr 3m
Deuteronomy E2  –  1hr 6m
The Way to True Life
1hr 6m
Deuteronomy E3  –  1hr 13m
Giants and Justice
1hr 13m
Deuteronomy E4  –  1hr 14m
The Law … Again
1hr 14m
Deuteronomy E5  –  54m
How Do We Use the Law Today?
54m
Deuteronomy E6  –  1hr 10m
Jesus, Marriage, and the Law
1hr 10m
Deuteronomy E7  –  59m
Covenant Curses
59m
Deuteronomy E8  –  1hr 27m
Can Anyone Live a Blessed Life?
1hr 27m
Deuteronomy E9  –  1hr 20m
Moses’ Final Words
1hr 20m
Deuteronomy Scroll Q+R  –  59m
Which Laws Still Apply?
59m
Torah Q+R  –  1hr 4m
When Do Words Become a Blessing?
1hr 4m
Deuteronomy E12  –  1hr 16m
Simkhat Torah: Celebrating a Year of Reading
1hr 16m
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