Is there any real benefit to the prolonged singing and dancing that takes place on simchas torah (aside from saying the basic hakfos pesukim of ana hashem…)? I feel like it’s a waste of the time that could be more productively spent in my gemara.
There is tremendous benefit from dancing hakafos, however as you are asking and feeling, in needs a bit of an appreciation in order to derive the proper benefit from them.
The seforim say that Succos is like a wedding between H-shem and Klal Yisroel, when Klal Yisroel goes into the Succah and staying under the sechach it is similar to going under the chuppah, which is also a canopy. The idea of chuppah is that it is like the kallah entering the home of her new husband, and he is taking her into his home. Similarly when we stay in the Succah for seven days, we are staying in the home of H-shem. Additionally the Midrash says, that on Shemini Atzeres, H-shem says to Klal Yisroel, during the days of Succos, korbanos were brought for all of the nations, now that Succos is over H-shem says to Klal Yisroel, “I want to spend one day in private with you, and make me a small party, (Yom Tov). The seforim say that Shemini Atzeres is compared to the Yichud room which comes after the chuppah. The time that the chosson and kallah are secluded just by themselves, and they can then express themselves to each other. How does Klal Yisroel express its love for H-shem? The way that we do it is in a very unique way, something that we don’t do all year round. During the year when the Aron Hakodesh is opened we all stand up in respect and awe, that we can now see the sefer torah. The seforim say that when the Aron Hakodesh is opened it is a special es ratzon to daven, (that is why we say the tefillah of brich shemay, which contain powerful tefillos). When we daven neila the Aron Hakodesh stays open, because then it is an es ratzon. On Simchas Torah we can come so close to H-shem, and gain love such a love for H-shem, that not only do we open the Aron Hakodesh, but we take the sefer torah out, we dance with it , we kiss it , we hold it tight, and we sign songs of praise and love for H-shem. It is a time that we can express our love for H-shem in a form that in an unprecedented and unique way that we just can’t during the rest of the year.
For a person to skip the hakafos and say, I will gain more by learning, would be similar to a chosson telling his new wife right after they close the door to the yichud room, “I want to do something for you that you will really appreciate, and then he runs out of the room, down the block to a store and he comes back with a really fancy ice cream! What would his new wife’s reaction be? “I don’t need the ice cream or anything else right now, what I need is that you should spend time with me. We can eat a lot of ice cream later, but for now I want to spend this super quality time just in your company”. This is what H-shem wants during hakafos- that we should build up our love for Him and his Torah, and after that is established renewed, there will be plenty of time to learn the rest of the year.