Simchas Torah can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
For the kids, Simchas Torah is magical, as the shul’s usual solemnity is replaced by heartfelt joy, and they have the opportunity to fill their pockets with more candy than any human being should consume in a single week, let alone in just one day. Simchas Torah is a high energy time for the men and boys who sing and dance for hours until everyone is hoarse and desperately in need of a good, hot shower. Over on the women’s side, I am told that the festive Simchas Torah vibe has everyone enjoying the finale of both the yom tov season and theweekslong cooking marathon that would have any Food Network celebrity chef tasked with the same menu running out of the kitchen in tears and vowing never to return.
But the one thing Simchas Torah should not mean to anyone? An excuse to get drunk.
No, I am not advocating for the world at large to start making Simchas Torah kiddush on grape juice. And no, I am not going to stand on a soapbox and start lecturing everyone that their joy du jour should be coming from a love of Torah and not an affinity for alcohol. But I am going to issue my annual reminder about what it means to drink responsibly, because I have seen way too many times how lives can be destroyed when people throw caution to the wind and do exactly the opposite.
If you are a parent, there are two incredibly important things that you need to be doing on Simchas Torah. The first is to know where your children are at all times, who they are with and what they are doing. Given the more relaxed atmosphere in shul on Simchas Torah, kids get the feeling that the normal rules are suspended for the day and nothing could be farther than the truth. From unsavory people wandering into your shul looking for innocent victims, people handing out candy laced with dangerous substances, to unsupervised alcohol, the list of potential hazards in what you would think would be the safest place in the world is terrifying.
The second thing you need to know as a parent is that you are a role model to your kids and acting accordingly. If you want to have a l’chaim, go right ahead, but drink in moderation. And by all means, don’t stand around the kiddush table ooohing and ahhhing over a pricey bottle. Your kids are watching you far more often than you might think and when you treat a bottle of bourbon, tequila, or whatever with such reverence, you are teaching them by example that you hold liquor in high esteem. I would also recommend that you speak to your kids before Simchas Torah about drinking, an age-appropriate conversation that you should continue with them throughout the year to prevent them from unwittingly getting involved in what could become a lifelong problem.
And whether you have kids or not, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to respect other people’s boundaries. If you offer to pour someone a drink and they decline, don’t try to talk them into it with “come on, you’ve gotta taste this one” or “you won’t believe how smooth this goes down” or anything else. Whether you are 15 or 50, peer pressure is real and you have no idea who is struggling with alcohol addiction and how just one drink can set them back months or even years in the recovery process.
As you prepare for Simchas Torah, whether it is with colorful flags and Torah-shaped candies for the kiddies, or picking up cured fish boards or stuffed cabbage for the adults, take a moment to think about what you can do to make sure that alcohol abuse isn’t going to be part of your yom tov. Trust me, it is an investment of a few minutes that can save you years of heartache.
Rabbi Zvi Gluck is the CEO of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering with addiction within the Jewish community and has been heavily involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 23years. Click here to learn more about talking to your kids about addiction or visit us online at www.amudim.org.