Weekly Torah Portions: Nitzavim / Vayailech
23 Elul 5777 – September 14, 2017
Selichos prayers begin Saturday night
At the very end of our leader Moshe’s life, G-d commanded him to write “The song of Torah,” and to teach it to the children of Israel.
Our Sages tell us that Moshe wrote 13 Torah scrolls, presenting one scroll to each of the 12 tribes with one to be kept in the Ark of Testimony in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. In fact, Moshe is remembered as the “Great Scribe,” due to his great contribution of disseminating and perpetuating Torah through the Torahs that he scribed.
Any Torah written subsequently must be copied word for word from a verified copy; a method that prevents mistakes from occurring in the text, and which has proven effective for over 3300 years.
The Torah is called a Shira – a song. This means that just as one retains and recalls the tune and the words to the song, so too, the Torah should be as dear, cherished and remembered as a song. In addition, just as listening to a melody is pleasant and sweet, so too, one’s approach toward Torah, its study and the fulfillment of Mitzvos should be with sweetness, delight and joy.
The custom is that when a new Torah scroll is written, the letters of the last few lines of the scroll are only outlined. This allows participants in the celebration, with the assistance of a Sofer, to fill in the letters with ink from a quill. Thus they have a share in fulfilling the Mitzva of writing a Sefer Torah.
After the Torah is completed, the Torah scroll is lifted so that everyone can see the writing, and they proclaim the verse, “This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Jewish people by the directives of G-d through Moshe.”
The Torah is then wrapped and adorned with a silver crown / breastplate and is escorted with lively singing and dancing to the synagogue where it will be housed. During the procession it is held dearly under a Chupa – wedding canopy, by the participants. After the ceremony a festive meal is served.
Needless to say, a Torah dedication is a precious, beautiful and moving sight to behold.
A question was once sent to the great sage, Rabbi Akiva Eiger o.b.m. A Torah Scroll was discovered and there was some doubt if the Torah was written properly by a G-d fearing Jew or if it was merely someone’s artistic work.
Rabbi Eiger responded that he did not know how to determine who wrote the Torah, but he instructed them to check the final column of the Torah. If it looked like it was written by amateurs this would indicate that it was completed in the customary fashion and we could assume it was written by a reliable scribe. However if it was perfectly written, then he would advise them not to use the Torah.
I remember being really touched a few years ago when I read the following story:
Around 250 years ago, there lived a young Talmudic scholar by the name of Rav Aryeh Leib Hakohain Heller. Rabbi Heller had authored, Ketzos Hachoshen, a masterpiece on the section of the Shulchan Oruch – code of Jewish law – which deals with the complex and intricate laws of the judicial processes concerning monetary disputes, interest, damages etc.
After its completion, Rabbi Aryeh Leib, who was only 40 years old at the time, traveled to the sage Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Boshka to receive approbation in support of his work.
The Rabbi was at first a bit skeptical that this young Rabbi could add anything novel to the famous works of the greatest of sages. He therefore asked him to leave the manuscript with him for a few days and then he would have an answer for him.
A few days later, while Rabbi Aryeh Leib was in his lodging, he heard sounds of a celebration approaching. He looked out and saw there was a Torah dedication underway. Wanting to be part of the festivities and hoping to have a chance to carry the newly written Torah, Rabbi Aryeh headed towards the celebration.
As he came closer, the Rabbi of town who was holding the Torah lifted it out of its cover, and lo and behold, it was not an actual Torah scroll but it was the manuscript that Rav Aryeh Leib had given the Rabbi a few days before!
The Rabbi had felt that this contribution to Torah scholarship was so noteworthy that it was worth parading it in the streets as if a newly Torah was being dedicated!
Indeed, the Ketzos and other monumental and penetrating books that Rabbi Aryeh Leib authored continue to be studied today by scholars
in Yeshivas and study halls throughout the world.
Mr. Dan Kurlancheek o.b.m., who originated from the City of Kovna, related to me that he recalled Simchas Torah dancing in the famous Slabotka Yeshiva – where aside from dancing with the Torah scrolls, they lifted its dean, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein upon a chair and all the students danced in honor of the scholarship of Torah that he absorbed and taught.
When Simchas Torah arrived in one of the ghettos during the Holocaust, the people were depressed because they had no Torah to dance with. However, their mood changed to joy when a young child entered. They lifted him and began singing and dancing with him for they felt that he possessed the future survival of Torah and the Jewish people.
Moshe, in the Parsha, tells us that the Mitzvah of Torah study is not beyond any of us to absorb and fulfill, for we are all endowed and invested with the tools and ability to do it! Knowing this, is good enough reason to make us dance!
Wishing you a most amazing, enjoyable
and uplifting Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks