Last year, Temple De Hirsch Sinai undertook a precious task. For the first time in our congregation’s history, we wrote a brand new Torah. This was a significant undertaking, and we opted to make it an educational opportunity for our community: Rather than have a sofer complete the scroll in some office hidden from public view, we invited all to join the scribe in inking the letters that would make up our Torah.
Since all had a hand in the Torah’s composition, we wanted to make sure that, upon its completion, this new scroll was utilized by all. So we made a commitment that each Bar or Bat Mitzvah would have an opportunity to read from this sefer Torah. There’s just one challenge to this: Because of our dual-campus design, it means a lot of time is spent schlepping the Torah from Seattle to Bellevue and back again. We’ve got a special case for carrying the scroll, though, and in the past year, have refined the transport somewhat.
And so it was that one evening, a few weeks back, the Torah came home with me. A Bar Mitzvah rehearsal had taken place in Seattle that afternoon, but the Torah was needed in Bellevue for Shabbat morning. I did not have time to drive to the Bellevue building that evening, so I brought the Torah to our house.
The various members of my family responded differently. My then-3-month-old daughter Orli was largely unfazed. My wife Jody, while herself a rabbi and a lover of Torah, wasn’t thrilled to find it sitting in our living room. But our son Gabe, who is 3-and-a-half, was thrilled to see the Torah. He hugged it goodnight, read it a bedtime story, and offered it breakfast in the morning (yogurt and cereal, if you’re wondering).
Each of us has a special relationship with the Torah. Each of us lives with Torah — figuratively, if not literally. We may not be as imaginative about our interactions with the scroll (and the stories, laws, and mysteries contained therein) as Gabe was, but we each have the opportunity to forge our own connections to our sacred text.
Some readers, I suspect, might feel discomfited by the manner in which we at TDHS have turned a holy task into a seemingly mundane one. I suppose that in service of the ideal “asu siyag laTorah — make a fence around the Torah,” we could devise a more sanctified means of getting the scroll from point A to point B. But as I watched the pleasure with which my son welcomed the Torah into our home — and as I have watched, over the course of the year, the pride of our B’nai Mitzvah families as they celebrate their simcha with a scroll that they helped bring to fruition — I find myself thinking of the exhortation from Leviticus 18:5. It states that one should keep the laws and precepts of Torah, “v’chai bahem—and live through them.”
What better way to live through the Torah than to live with the Torah? We “wrestle with” and worship an invisible, intangible, and somewhat unknowable God. We shy away from iconography. The Torah is therefore one of the few concrete symbols Jews have that can evoke a sense of awe and kedushah, or holiness. We know that in the Northwest, many Jews, whether by choice or by apathy, fail to make a formal connection with a synagogue or any other Jewish institution. Those who do often long for a spiritual “hook” on which to hang their hat. The Torah can fill this void.
It is not economically feasible for every family to own its own Torah; indeed, that’s one of the reasons institutions such as synagogues exist. But if we make Torah come alive in our minds and in the minds and hearts of our children — if, for instance, we find one element of the weekly parsha that relates to contemporary life — then we begin to establish a framework for living with the Torah.
I write these words as I sit at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Kalsman, a beautiful gathering place for Jewish youth in Arlington. The campers who pass through these gates will spend the summer in shiurim learning about God and their relationship with the Divine. But they will also forge invaluable friendships and discover many heretofore unknown nuances of their faith and culture. They will create their own Midrashim to describe their spiritual quests. They will bring closer the vision of Jeremiah: “I will put my Torah into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts” (Jer. 31:33). This will be their Torah. What will yours be?