II have always felt particularly connected to safrut, the uniquely beautiful calligraphy of the Torah scrolls. As the softer, the scribe, dip his quill in his black inkwell, with the beautiful letters emerging transforming the cream velum into a sacred Torah scroll, I think of the to do. A “labelÂ»Is the crown which adorns the top of certain letters of the alphabet of the scribes. The Hebrew word ‘tag’ consists of only two letters: tav and gimmel – my initials! Hence my affinity with this special word.
“LabelâIs a special word not only for its aesthetic qualities but also conceptually. According to Rabbi Akiva, the crowns above the letters hold the mysterious secrets of the Torah. The idea being that in addition to the explicit decoding of letters and words, crowns hold their own unique mysteries of wisdom that are not manifested.
It is such a beautiful symbolic picture – the mysteries of Jewish wisdom and tradition encapsulated in the delicate crowns above the actual letters of the Torah.
BPutting all of this aside, every child knows that a Torah scroll is sacred. From childhood, we internalize that we behave differently around a Torah scroll. Extreme deference is given to this foundation of our tradition.
As we get older we begin to understand the different layers of sacredness attributed to the Torah, to the point that an accidentally fallen Torah scroll justifies a fast by the community in whose presence it occurs. Fasting should trigger an account, an inventory, by the community, an act of reflection on the spiritual reparations the community needs.
Throughout our history, the Torah scroll has become a symbol of the power of continuity and commitment of the Jewish people. The Torah is the anchor that keeps the Jewish people anchored to the port of our identity and our faith.
Sadly, over the millennia, the symbolism of the Torah scroll has deepened through the anguish of persecution.
How many images of burning Torah scrolls pierced Jewish history? The Holocaust was particularly powerful and painful in this regard.
When our sacred scrolls are abused or burned, it never ends with the desecration of inanimate objects, which no matter how sacred it is, that is ultimately what a Torah scroll is. Even at Tisha be Av, when we mourn the destruction of our holy temples, our rabbinical tradition puts it in this context: wood and stone – buildings – have been destroyed, against human life.
BBut, as I said, the Jewish people know that when our sacred Torah scroll is continued, it never ends there. As symbolic as the destruction of our sacred text is, it signals the danger that enemies intentionally destroy human life, Jewish life.
The experiences and images that we never thought we would see or experience in America have multiplied. The Shuls have been attacked. Jewish blood was shed just for the “sin” of being a Jew. Here on these shores.
Last week, a Torah scroll was vandalized. Here in the nation’s capital, on the George Washington University campus.
It is a difficult image, horrifying and very difficult to internalize.
As we contextualize on Tisha b’Av, fortunately it was not a human being who was attacked, but rather, as the rabbis teach, a form of wood and stones i.e. an inanimate object, against human life.
But make no mistake, attacking a Torah scroll, aside from its inherent sanctity absorbing abuse, is a wake-up call. This is a warning not only to the localized world of college campuses. It’s a crucial form of canary in the mine, a wake-up call for all of us.