Love, Marriage, and Hakafot


Men don’t usually sit over coffee talking about their marriages. That’s why a particular conversation I once had with two other men really sticks out in my mind. 


The three of us were sitting and discussing the joys of wedded life. “I love my wife,” Benny said. “That’s why I do everything she asks me to do. She says, ‘Benny, please take out the garbage,’ and right away, I take out the garbage.” We all agreed that Benny loves his wife.  


Not to be outdone, I said, “I also do everything my wife asks me to do. In fact, she doesn’t even have to spell out what she wants. It’s enough that she says, ‘Whew! That garbage bag is sure smelling up the kitchen!’ for me to understand that she wants me to take out the garbage. Which I do, of course.” We all agreed that I love my wife even more than Benny loves his.  


But in the end, it turned out that Steven’s marriage was the most loving of all. Steven’s wife doesn’t have to ask him to do things for her. She doesn’t even have to drop hints. “I wake up in the morning,” Steven explained, “and I just know that she wants me to take out the garbage. Or buy her a gift like a piece of jewelry. She doesn’t have to crinkle her nose or mention the ring her cousin Sarah got for her birthday. I just know what she wants me to do for her, and I do it.” 


Showing Love for Gd – “Steven Style” 


The month of Tishre is replete with mitzvot, full of opportunities for carrying out Gd’s will. For more than three weeks, our days are filled with praying, repenting, fasting, feasting, dancing, building a sukkah, acquiring a set of a lulav and an etrog, or a bundle of hoshaanot, and dozens of other mitzvot, customs, and observances.   


The observances of Tishre fall under three general categories. There are Biblical precepts that are explicitly commanded in the Torah, such as sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, fasting on Yom Kippur, and eating in the sukkah on Sukkot. There are also a number of rabbinical mitzvot – observances instituted by the prophets and the sages by the authority vested in them by the Torah. For example, the five prayer services held on Yom Kippur and the taking of the arba’ah minim (four species) on all but the first day of Sukkot are rabbinical institutions.  


Finally, the month of Tishre has many minhagim, customs that are not formally required by the Torah or by the sages. These include eating an apple dipped in honey on the first night of Rosh Hashanah and conducting the kaparot ritual in the wee hours of the morning on the day before Yom Kippur. The minhagim are not mandated by Biblical or rabbinical law, but by force of custom. These are practices that we Jews have initiated ourselves as ways to enhance our service of our Creator. 


Most amazingly, the climax of the month of Tishre – the point at which our celebration of our bond with Gd reaches the greatest heights of joy – is during the hakafot on Simhat Torah, when we take the Torah scrolls in our arms and dance with them around the reading table in the synagogue – a practice that is neither a Biblical nor a rabbinical precept, but merely a custom.  


For it is specifically through our observance of the minhagim that we express the depth of our love for Gd. The Biblical commandments might be compared to the explicitly expressed desires between two people bound in marriage. The rabbinical mitzvot, which Gd did not directly command but nevertheless constitute expressions of the Divine will, resemble the implied requests between spouses. But the minhagim represent those areas in which we intuitively sense how we might bring Gd pleasure, and in these lies our greatest joy. 


Yanki Tauber is an editor and an accomplished author.