Simchas Torah and the Figure Eight by Yaffa Palti
Hey there Chevra,
Let’s talk about figure skating. The figure eight in particular.
Not that I’m encouraging winter to come early, and not that I’m a major skating fan, but I’m kind of obsessed with the figure eight these days. Also known as the Infinity Loop, the figure eight is a lot more than just a number. The figure eight provides stunning insights into this moment of life, this moment in Torah.
When drawing it, the movement is easy, relaxed, smooth and continuous. Drawing the figure eight is also connected to improving clarity of vision. According to some energy practitioners, the “magic” figure eight also helps with the flow of relationships, and practicing this movement with your hands can actually help improve interaction by creating an energy of give and take. And most importantly, according to these practitioners, moving your body in the form of figure eight – whether through skating, walking, running or swimming – creates a healthy balance between mind and body.
The last day of the holiday of Sukkot, the eighth day, is called Shmini Atzeret. In many ways it is a separate holiday in itself following directly after the seven days of Sukkot.
According to Kaballah, every number has a deeper, metaphysical relationship with the physical, mundane world. The number seven signifies the normal, physical world. There are seven days of the week, seven notes on the musical scale, and seven “directions” (left, right, front, back, up, down and center). Seven, represented by the seven days of Sukkot, represents the world of nature.
Following the completion of nature is the development of the spiritual. Eight is that which is beyond nature. Just as Sukkot, seven days, embodies the physical world Shmini Atzeret embodies the number eight, that which is beyond.
Another aspect of Shmini Atzeret is Simchat Torah, the completion of one year-long cycle of reading the Torah and the immediate beginning of another. (In Israel, it’s all one big, busy day; outside Israel, Simchat Torah is a separate day.) We celebrate this special holiday by singing and dancing with our holy Torah and, since we’re Jewish, by eating special foods, of course.
While we do the Torah waltz on Simchat Torah, this isn’t the day that we actually received the Torah. That day is the holiday of Shavuot. Remember staying up all night eating cheesecake? Don’t answer that. I know you do. So what is the connection between receiving Torah and celebrating Torah? And why all this crazy eight talk?
The Torah is fundamentally spiritual, guiding us to understand that which is beyond us, so we exalt in it on the “eighth day” of Sukkot, which is Shmini Atzeret. But, its relevance to our every-day physical life is evident by the fact that it follows the seven days of Sukkot, which testify to Torah’s importance in the physical world.
The figure-eight loops reveal to us how this connection to Torah should manifest itself.
It’s no coincidence that the symbol for infinity is the figure eight. The Torah is the only part of the physical world that’s infinite. And just like when drawing the infinity loop, our relationship with the Torah should be easy, relaxed, smooth, and continuous.
The Torah provides us with a healthy balance between the physical and that which is beyond this world. A balance between mind and body, with clarity of vision, and creates an energy of give and take with our Creator. Now, isn’t that a reason to celebrate?
Yaffa Palti is a JWRP City Leader for Comunidad Sefardi in Mexico City, Mexico. Yaffa works as a spiritual educator and leader in Mexico City alongside her husband Rav Palti and their children.