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How Jewish Reverence for the Physical Torah Scrolls can Inspire Sacred Expectation
"Traveling with Our Words Sewn in Our Clothes"
An elaborate and meticulous process is involved in the creation and caring for the physical Torah scrolls in the Jewish tradition. As God's greatest gift to humanity, each letter of the Torah is seen as live and dripping with divine wisdom.
Historically this veneration of the Torah occurred after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the structure where God's presence previously resided. Now wherever the Jewish people journeyed, God went with them, and one provided evidence became his manifest presence in the Torah scrolls. Rabbi Evan Moffic cites a poet who claimed that the Torah "is the portable homeland of the Jewish people", going on to mention that "some Holocaust survivors had scraps of Torah scrolls with them. They brought them as a source of comfort, strength, and hope."
A few mentions of procedures by the Jewish community implemented in the creation of Torah scrolls even today:
A group of scribes writes the sacred text over the course of 12-18 months, working together to check each other's work and count each letter (the Hebrew word for scribe literally means "count"). These systems are often mystified, beautifully clothed in meaning by sages in history. For example, one Rabbi in the 18th century taught that each letter of the Torah is significant to the story in the same way that each human being is significant in God's story... "If one is missing, the story is incomplete".
When writing the scrolls, a distinct type of quill is made of turkey feathers. To emphasise God's name as highly sacred, a completely separate quill is used when writing his name.
Parchment paper must be constituted from a kosher animal (Kosher is seen as the most humane way to kill an animal, causing the least pain).
No metal is used in the entire process "because metal is used to make instruments of war, whereas Torah's ultimate value is shalom, peace."
Furthermore, wooden rollers are used for the base of the scroll from a tree that has naturally fallen down, not cut down by man.
Rabbi Moffic summarises by saying, "God is in the details, human actions serve a divine purpose". Each technique inspires reverence as it's baked with meaning and consistency around who God is, the ultimate intentions of the Torah, and the purpose of man.
Why This Matters: Sacred Expectation
May this Jewish attentiveness and esteem for the biblical text colour our own interactions and fill them with more awe.
Each reading is a privilege and a gift, to read God's precious words to his people, scrupulously preserved over the centuries as an act of love for people of the book.
Let my posture hold fear and anticipation. May I take time to prepare before entering into a holy moment with the Creator, the Logos.
Finally, a poem by Marge Piercy called "Meditation Before Reading the Torah" that I'll now be returning to regularly preceding my reading.
We are the people of the word
and the breath of the word fills our minds with light
We are the people of the word
and the breath of life sings through us
playing on the pipes of our bones
and the strings of our sinews
an ancient song carved in the Laurentian granite
and new as a spring azure butterfly just drying her wings
in a moment's splash of sun.
We must life the word and make it real.
We are the people of the book
and the letters march busy as ants
carrying the work of the ages through our minds.
We are the people of the book.
Through fire and mud and dust we have borne
our scrolls tenderly as a baby swaddled in a blanket,
traveling with our words sewn in our clothes
and carried on our backs.
Let us take up the scroll of Torah
and dance with it and touch it
and read it out, for the mind
touches the word and makes it light.
So does light enter us, and we shine.
*Quotations and the material summarised here is from Reading the Old Testament Through Jewish Eyes by Rabbi Evans Moffic
Poem from The Art of Blessing the Day by Marge Piercy
Drinking in all the oddities and beauties around me.
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