The name means “Joy of the Torah”, the Torah is the Hebrew Bible which we call the Old Testament in particular the first 5 books, the 5 books attributed to Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy but in this sense I think it can mean the entire Old Testament.
Many of us as Christians follow a daily Bible Reading Plan, some of these take you through the Bible in a Year (that’s quite a large reading every day). Others stretch it out over a longer 3 year period. Still more follow set liturgical readings from whichever denomination they follow. We here try to keep it brief and follow the set liturgical readings for the Saint’s feast days and are very slowly working our way through the Bible on non-saints days. So it should really not be such a surprise to learn that those who practise Judaism have a Bible reading plan that they follow and today is the end of their liturgical reading cycle and the day that they start back at Genesis.
They will celebrate the written word of God today, mostly in synagogues. They take out the Torah scrolls and parade them around the synagogues in seven hakafot [Torah processions.] They sing about the Torah, and may dance with the Torah scrolls. Children carry special “Simchat Torah flags” and may also receive candy. After the dancing, Torah readers read from the end of the scroll, and then from the beginning of the scroll.
The point being that the Jews call themselves “the people of the book” they have protected and worshipped the written word of God for thousands of years and consider it their most precious possession. They love God’s written word, and many spend their lives, studying it, arguing about it and struggling to obey it.
The celebration is that once again they have reached the end of the scroll and are beginning fresh again. Apart from the forbidden Chapter in Isaiah they don’t read. (See Matins).
We should value the word just as greatly, we are blessed to have more understanding available via the New Testament, in the teaching of God’s Son and the presence of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth to guide us and give us the wisdom to understand what we are reading, at a far deeper level.