I wrote a good post last year on the Last Great Day. See Last Great Day 2007. It looks at biblical, Armstrongite, Jewish, and Christian interpretations of the festival. I actually learned from it when I read it this year. So it’s not a good post because I wrote it. It’s good because it brings together a variety of sources, and it hopefully offers readers some interesting things to think about.
I’m going to see W today, since I can see it at a lower cost on Tuesdays. I slept in way too long this morning, but I’m trying not to beat myself up on that, for I’ll have to get up early the next three days.
I want to share a Last Great Day memory. When I was at Harvard, I attended the Harvard Hillel for a little while. As many of you know, Hillel is the campus group for Jewish students. I went to the Reform one because it had more English. For many Jews, the Last Great Day is when they finish Deuteronomy in their annual Torah cycle and begin the Book of Genesis. And it’s also a time to celebrate the Torah. Jews call this celebration Simchat Torah.
I really enjoyed the Simchat Torah celebration during my first year at Harvard. The rabbi said that it’s a time to anticipate a whole new year of stories and lessons. That’s the way I see my Bible reading: I can read the same biblical book more than once, but I’ll get something new out of it each time. I somewhat wish that I kept going to the Harvard Hillel, for this rabbi gave great sermons, which brought together historical-critical insights, traditional Jewish commentaries, and practical lessons on spirituality. But not all of the people were friendly, I wanted to do my weekly quiet time on Friday nights, and I felt awkward about feeling close to God at a Jewish service. That didn’t make sense to me within my conservative evangelical mindset. So I stopped going.
I enjoyed clapping my hands as people danced around the Torah. I love Debbie Friedman music! The Harvard Reform Hillel reminded me of what I enjoyed about Intervarsity Christian Fellowship–only it lacked the Jesus part of the equation.
Years later, I briefly attended a Messianic Jewish group. Several of the people there enjoyed going to a non-Messianic synagogue on the Last Great Day, since it had an especially festive Simchat Torah service. But it embraced homosexuality, so the Messianic rabbi discouraged his congregants from going to it.
I remember the Messianic rabbi saying on Yom Kippur that orthodox Jews dancing with the Torah is like felons celebrating the state’s penal code. He was assuming the traditional Christian conception of the law: that the law condemns us because we do not keep it. This view coincides especially with Paul’s writings (Romans, Galatians, II Corinthians 3). I have questions about it, for example, would the law be impossible to keep if Jesus hadn’t upped the requirements in the Sermon on the Mount?
But, overall, I think that celebration of the Torah is a good thing, since it has lessons, stories, and insights that can assist, inspire, and entertain us in our spiritual lives.