The Sofer (Torah scribe) left our congregation on Sunday after a wonderful weekend. The question is; what did he leave behind him? It was a weekend that many in our congregation will never forget. Neil Yerman the scribe is a spiritual man and devoted to his calling. He is neither a Hasidic Jew nor Orthodox. He is a modern person with a passion for the scribal arts. He is a former professional musician (clarinet) worked for Lehman brothers and surprised the audience when he reminisced that he had been to Woodstock music festival. So this is a person who did not fit the mold or the preconceived notion of a scribe like we see in paintings with scribes looking down at the text of a Torah.
I could never have anticipated the reactions and emotions that I witnessed in the hearts and souls of people who interacted with Sofer Neil Yerman. People watched as he stretched out the new torah on top of several tables in the middle of the sanctuary. On Saturday night Sofer Yerman led us in a workshop where all the participants tried their hand at Hebrew calligraphy. Finally it was truly inspiring on Sunday morning when Sofer Neil Yerman taught the children in the religious school. The kids today have an attention span that is a like a blink of an eye. Yet the kids stood over the Torah scroll and listened to Neil guide them and instruct them on Hebrew letters and the traditions of writing a Torah scroll. They stood there totally entranced in the text and in the lessons of the sofer. Kids will surprise you every time!
Right now I am thinking about the meaning of the word kasher or kosher which we often think about in regard to dietary laws. Kosher means something which is fit or permissible. The term also means authentic or genuine. And that word kasher may be the key because seeing the Torah made people feel they were in the presence of something authentic or truly holy.
Words are holy. Prayers are holy. People are holy. A text created on the parchment of lambskin is holy and takes us to a completely different level of spirituality and emotion. As I have said we have a real tension between access to information in a digital world and touching something tangible that has texture. Life must have texture. Skype is great but it will never substitute for sitting across the table with another human being. The same idea could apply to music, performing arts visual arts and so forth.
People want to feel something and touch and see the nuance of life. The Torah scroll is one more example of a world that cries out for authentic religious experiences.