This week’s Torah portion contains the very last of the 613 commandments: “write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel: put it in their mouths in order that this poem might be My witness against the people of Israel” (Deut. 31:19). In its most literal sense, this verse is commanding Moses and Joshua to write down the words of the poem God is about to utter and to hold it as evidence of the connection between God and the people of Israel. But over the years, the oral law interpreted this ruling as a commandment not just to Moses and Joshua but to all of Israel to write their own Torah scroll. The command is expanded from merely writing the poem which comes in next week’s Torah portion, to writing an entire scroll of Torah. Every one of us, according to this understanding, is to write our own Torah scroll.
This is an onerous commandment and not something many of us are likely to achieve in our lifetime, so the rabbis said that if a person commissions the writing of a scroll or if a person writes even one letter in a Torah scroll, then they have fulfilled their obligation. We, at CBTBI, have been incredibly privileged during the past few years, to have been given the opportunity to participate in the writing of three Torah scrolls for our congregation. We were given the chance to commission the writing of a letter in the scroll and others were given a beautiful gift of a letter. To watch the scribe write a letter just for you is incredibly powerful and creates a special connection with the text and the Torah.
The Jewish people have always had a strong link to the Torah scroll. I often think about how incredible it is that we still make the scrolls just as they did in ancient times. We write on parchment, we use ink which is derived from plant materials in a quill and we write the text by hand. There are a number of rituals connected with writing a Torah scroll and they have been handed down from one generation to the next. Despite the fact that it would be cheaper and more convenient to just print the Torah or these days, to download it and read it from an iPad, we don’t do that. We read the handwritten scroll just as our ancestors did before us. There is great power in that link and bond to our past. To imagine that Moses himself wrote the Torah as commanded in this week’s portion, in the same fashion that we do today, is something sacred and to be treasured.
This Shabbat as we look ahead to Yom Kippur, we think of the generations that have come before us. We think of those who are no longer with us this Yom Kippur, and the journey we have all travelled to reach this moment. Just like Moses in our portion, we reflect upon the days which have passed and we look ahead to the future. We reflect and contemplate; we think of ways we might change and improve in the year ahead. And through the Torah scroll we connect this process with our ancestors. It is our ancient link with the past. Just as they read from the Torah, learned and studied the laws and were inspired to live their lives, so too do we. And as it called to them it calls to us, especially at this time, to join hands across the ages, to find meaning and beauty in the ancient texts and traditions, and to live lives true to the values of Torah. If we do that, we can each become the Torah scoll, we embody its teachings and wisdom through the way we live our lives, then whether we write a letter or a scroll, we can fulfill the commandment by becoming the Torah for ourselves and for others.
I wish everyone a shana tova and well over the fast.