To me, Simchat Torah tastes like candied almonds. This holiday, which means "rejoicing in the Torah," is one of the most joyous celebrations in the Jewish tradition.
This is the evening when we read the last page of the Torah, and then start all over again at the beginning. It is the only time of the year when the Torah is read at night in the synagogue, during evening services. My earliest memory of attending synagogue is of sitting on my father's shoulders during the Simchat Torah service. We danced hakafot, or circuits, with the Torah around the synagogue seven times. The synagogue was filled by the voices of all the celebrants chanting traditional tunes. The Torahs were splendid in their velvet covers and silver crowns. Why seven hakafot? Seven is a very symbolic number in Judaism. Very appropriately, it is the Divine number of completion.
When the hakafot are concluded, a portion of the last part of Deuteronomy (33:1-34:12) is read from the first Torah scroll. It is the tradition that Deuteronomy is never read until the end in the evening service. This is immediately followed by Genesis (1:1-2:3), recited from the second scroll. Thus continues the never ending cycle of reading Torah.
Why do I associate Simchat Torah with almonds? Our neighbors always made them as a special treat. Almonds originated in the Middle East. The Book of Genesis 43:11 describes the almond as "among the best of fruits." In Numbers 17, almond flowers grow from the rod carried by Aaron. It is said that sweet almonds grew on one side of this rod, and bitter almonds on the other. If the Israelites were true to G-d, then the sweet almonds ripened. If the Israelites strayed, the bitter almonds flourished. It is customary among Sephardim to celebrate Simchat Torah with candied almonds. These almonds are served to symbolize the sweetness (sugar) of learning Torah, which offsets the bitterness (almonds) that life may bring. My Sephardic friends and neighbors always prepared candied or sugared almonds at home. Here is the recipe.
Almendras Garrapiñadas (Candied Almonds)
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
Place all the ingredients in a pan.
Stir over medium heat until the water evaporates and the sugar crystallizes.
Turn off the heat, and continue stirring the almonds until they are completely coated with sugar crystals.
The blessing that is said over candied almonds is:
ברוך אתה ה' א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי העץ.
Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech haolam borei pri ha etz
Blessed are you G-d, our Lord king of the world who creates the fruit of the trees.
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