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SKINNY Up! We’re on the home stretch with two more “S” alliteration holidays coming up after S1: Sukkot (see last week’s SKINNY), which ends at sunset on Sunday, October 4. Sukkot is immediately followed by S2: Shimini Atzeret on Monday, October 5 and S3: Simchat Torah on Tuesday, October 6.

If you missed the run-down last week, here’s a refresher:
S1: Sukkot

Sukkot (Sue – like your friend - coat – like your coat)
S2: Shimini Atzeret
Shimini (Shh-meanie - like the bitchy girl in 8th grade)
Atzeret (Ah-ts-err-et - we couldn’t think of anything funny here, it’s just like it sounds)
S3: Simchat Torah
Simchat (Sim – like the card in your cell phone - ch - scratchy throat sound - aht)
Torah (We hope by now you know how to pronounce this bestseller)

Shimini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are often thought of as part of Sukkot, but that’s only a little bit true as they’re actually separate holidays. Shemini Atzeret means: The Assembly of the Eighth (Day). We’ve spent the past 7 days partying in our Sukkah with Mr. Big as our symbolic guest of honor. God’s having so much fun, totally appreciates our fabulous Sukkah décor, and doesn’t want it to end, so Shimini Atzeret is the gift of the 8th day of the holiday. It’s like a big fat bonus from your boss for a job well done. (Spend it wisely…)

Simchat Torah means Rejoicing in the Torah and marks the completion of the annual cycle of reading the Torah. The Torah is a really long book, so we divide up the sections into weekly installments, called portions in English or parshiot (par-she-oat) in Hebrew. We read these installments weekly, starting with chapter 1 from Beresheit (Beh-ray-sheet), which means: In the Beginning in Hebrew — Genesis in English. The Torah ends with chapter 34 of Devarim (Deh-var-eem), which means Words in Hebrew — Deuteronomy in English.  When we finally get to the end, we start reading it all over again from the Beginning - no spoiler alert with this book! On Simchat Torah, we read the last Torah portion from Devarim and then immediately turn to the first chapter of Beresheit, reminding us that the Torah is a circle, and life is a cycle, and the wheels on the bus go round and round.

Finishing the entire Torah is a big accomplishment and deserves a big celebration and Simchat Torah serves it up! Many people celebrate by dancing and singing around the neighborhood in a parade-like procession while carrying the Torah scrolls. And, drinking is not only okay – it’s encouraged… (For those who are of drinking age, and don’t drink and drive, and…and…and…)  In Temple, it’s an honor on Shabbat and particularly on Simchat Torah to have an Aliyah (ah-lee-ah), which means to Go Up. We Go Up to the Torah and recite blessings before and after reading each section. And, while we refer to the Torah as a book, it’s actually meticulously hand-calligraphed by a specially-trained scribe called a sofer (so-fair) on animal parchment that’s rolled around two-handles. In its scrolled-form, the Torah is referred to as Sefrei (see-frey) Torah, or the Books of the Torah, and is what’s used during services at synagogues. In some synagogues on Simchat Torah and other holidays, community members stand in two long lines facing each other with their palms turned up and the entire Torah is unrolled into their gentle hands for all to see. 

The Sefrei Torah is stored in an ark or cabinet called the Aron KodeshAron (ah-rone – bossy “e”) means ark and Kodesh (koe – bossy “e” – desh) means Holy. The Aron Kodesh is often decorated with artistic Jewish symbols and is placed facing Jerusalem, which is the direction Jews face when praying.  The Torah itself is wrapped in regal embellishments that are based on the garb of a high priest and includes a cloth mantle, a sash, a crown or finials, and a breastplate.

The text of the Torah is often reprinted in book form for use when studying. In this case, it’s known as a Chumash (choo – throat clear – mah-shh), which comes from the Hebrew word for 5 and refers to the Five Books of Moses. The Chumash also usually includes commentaries, interpretations, and translations so it’s a handy text to have in your library. If you’re more of an online/kindle reader, we recommend Sefaria. It’s one of our new favorite sites for all things Torah-related.

Since we’re on the topic of the cycle of the Torah reading, it’s a great time to explain Parsha HaShavuah. Parsha (par-shah) is singular for parshiot and means: Section or Portion, Ha means: The and Shavuah means: Week. Put it all together and Parsha HaShavuah refers to the Torah Portion of the Week.  And you know, SKINNIES, we don’t just divide up the Torah readings into weekly installments to pace ourselves on reading such a long book. The divisions are also created to serve as a spiritual guide to engender weekly reflection and contemplation.  The Torah portions have power and meaning and become a cornerstone to mark times in our lives.  Ask any post-bat/bar mitzvah adult Jew what the name of their Torah portion was and no matter how many years (okay, maybe even decades) it’s been, they most definitely will remember. “My parsha was (fill in the blank).”  We’ve even heard some pre-bat/bar mitzvah kids and/or – more likely – their parents bemoan that they got assigned a “bad” Torah portion for their bat/bar mitzvah. (Insert chuckle.) While we don’t think there are any “bad” Torah portions, we’ll admit they’re not all filled with juicy, plot turning stories with moral take-home messages. Some are a seemingly random and archaic list of lists. Others might even garner an X-Rating on Common Sense Media.  Worry not, SKINNIES. We’ll get to them all. In each SKINNY we promise to break down and decipher the Parsha HaShavuah and even offer some interpretative nuggets to keep us in balance and focused toward discovery and creating meaning in our app-filled lives.
1st Book Genesis  | Bereisheit (In the Beginning)
2nd Book Exodus | Shemot (The Names)
3rd Book Leviticus | Vayikra (And God called)
4th Book Numbers | Bamidbar (In the desert)
5th Book Deuteronomy | Devarim (The Words)


Here’s the SKINNY on deciphering the chapters and verses.
The chapters come first, then a colon, then the verses.
This week’s Torah portion: 1:1-6:8 = chapter 1, verse 1 through chapter 6, verse 8.

Beresheit is called In the Beginning, for many reasons. First, it’s the beginning of the Torah. Second, “In the Beginning” are the first words in the Torah. Third – and we think most interesting – this is where we Begin. The Jewish New Year has passed, we’ve atoned for our sins, we’ve gotten the kids settled in preschool, or the pooch back with the doggy walker, or we’re back on the correct time-zone after our whirlwind summer vacations. It’s all behind us. In the Beginning…this is how I’d like to live my life this year. In the Beginning… this is who I’m striving to become. In the Beginning… this is what I’m reaching for. The time is now.  We’re here. We’re now. We are In the Beginning…

Most of us know the story of creation from Beresheit.  In it, God famously says, “Let there be light…” and there was light, and God creates evening and morning, water and earth, animals, and humans.  But, have you ever paid close attention to the repetition and rhythm of the verses?

Try it: “In the Beginning…the earth was astonishingly empty and darkness was on the face of the deep and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that it was good, …And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters God called seas, and God saw that it was good.  …And the earth gave forth vegetation, seed yielding herbs...and trees producing fruit…and God saw that it was good. ...And God said, ‘Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens, to separate between the day and between the night, and they shall be for signs and for appointed seasons and for days and years. ...And God saw that it was good. And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that crawls, with which the waters swarmed…and every winged fowl…and God saw that it was good. And God made the beasts of the earth...and the cattle...and all the creeping things of the ground...and God saw that it was good. And God created humans in God’s image…God created male and female.  And God blessed them…  And God saw all that had been made, and behold it was very good…

A question for us all to ponder and reflect on this week: What would our lives be like if we started In the Beginning of each day taking a look at our lives – the lives we’ve Created for ourselves - and saw that it was good

Shavuah (sha-voo-ah) Tov (tove – bossy “e”) – Have a GOOD week!



  • Challenge: Wake up every morning for a month and say out loud (literally, out loud…) “This is good. I am good. My life is good.” Then share your story with us below, click the SKINNY CHAT! (Keep it's called the SKINNY after all!)
  • Keep a journal of one good thing that happens to you every day.
  • Read the SKINNY! We're on a journey together, reading all of the Torah parshiot