The third in a series of posts on the forthcoming visit of our torah scribe
Tomorrow our torah scribe (Sofer) Neil Yerman arrives. He will speak about why he is a scribe on Friday night. Saturday morning we will study together the Jewish laws and traditions for writing a Torah. Saturday evening he will lead us in a workshop for how we can all better understand the art and sacred act of writing in Hebrew the text of Torah. Sunday morning he will do the same for the kids in the Sunday school. I think it should be a great weekend.
There is definitely a deeper message calling to us from this experience. Jewish laws abound on writing a Torah and about the procedures for what to do when an error is made or how to repair a damaged scroll. Tradition proscribes how to prepare the lambskin parchment. There are instructions for the scribe (sofer) to prepare himself (now a few women have become scribes) before actually writing.
While I have never actually written a Torah myself, I have been reading directly from Torahs for over 25 years as a congregational rabbi. Each Torah is different. Yes, it is the same text but the writing and style of the unknown scribe makes reading every Torah a different experience. Why is it special? I never complained or minded preparing during the week to read the Torah during the Sabbath services. To me reading the Torah is a privilege. When my eyes gaze down upon the letters, I am reading through the eyes of the unknown sage who wrote this Torah sometimes hundreds of years ago. I am seeing the words through their eyes, in fact, I encounter god in that parchment. I feel the act of reading Torah transports me to the continuum of sacred history all the way back to Moses and Sinai.
I only wish we could succeed in inspiring every boy and girl to experience that revelation when they read the Torah for their b’nai mitzvah. Yet, maybe I am selling our kids short. Maybe at some level they do get it and grasp on an emotional level how they become a link in the chain of learning the sacred Scriptures.
I am hoping that our weekend will enable our people in Hilton Head to open their eyes to the way a Torah can come to life. Will the letters enter their hearts and will our people enter inside the spirit of the letters?
We live in a world of consuming things rapidly. We text. We email. We watch TV. Everything we do leads us to developing a short attention span. What happened to the culture that taught us to savor a word or a sentence? We study scripture on our computers, I Phones and Droids. That is just the way we are going. Yet, there are still some tastes of the ancient world that exist despite the digital world. If we leave the comfort of our computer space and join a community when we read the Torah at communal prayer, we can actually absorb that ancient aura, embrace the heart and minds of our ancient forbearers who bequeathed us that history and realize that God’s outstretched hand and ours too are forever bound together.
We talk about Judaism too often as only an ethnic identity. Jewish survival are sacred phrases in our faith tradition. Do not forget that the scribe gives us a Torah that is the ultimate core of who we are. It is a facsimile of the first written word, regardless of how we interpret Scripture, from our encounter with God.
I can read a biblical text in a book or in a digital format. Intellectually I know it is sacred. But none of those contexts can move my soul spiritually like when I read it from the original parchment. That is the gift of reading every Torah, beholding the tapestry of the past, present and future becoming one in the mind and the soul.