Friday, December 4, 2015

Hanukah and a New Torah

 Over a year ago my synagogue, Congregation Beth-El Zedeck began a journey to celebrate our centennial with the writing of a new Torah.  Members of the staff and dozens of volunteers worked to create solicit donations, set up educational opportunities with our Sofer, and do letter fill ins.  From the youngest children to our oldest members I saw people engage this project with energy and emotion unmatched by most things that take place in today's liberal synagogues.  The sheer connection of the modern world we live in with the ancient words on the page brought so much out of people when they could hold the quill and were guided to finish a single letter on a page of a Torah that will be read for generations in our community.  It is finished and on this Sunday, the day that will end as we begin the holiday of Hanukah, we will dedicate the Torah and place it in the Aron to become part of the next 100 years and more of this synagogue.  While there is poetry to having this Torah in place as we begin the holiday there was another event in the life of our shul that happened one year ago this weekend.  Last year on Parsha Vayeshev a small fire broke out in our Aron and destroyed the inside.  While the Toratot were saved by quick action of the Rabbi and staff, the covers were completely unusable.  So while we were already in the process of creating a new Torah, we needed to refurbish the ones that we already had.  Maybe it was serendipity, but don't tell our Executive Director as it just added on to the work load she had.  But here we are at Parsha Vayeshev, and Hanukah on the horizon and the new Torah will find a home in a newly redone Aron with all the Toratot in fully new clothes.  It is a wonder to see and truly is moving for so many people.  I know on Sunday, when we finally finish the last word, when we sing V'sot HaTorah, people will feel the power of the history of the past and hope of the future.  All centered around a book, a scroll, while new in form, ancient in content.

What it is about the Torah?  Why does it bring out such strong emotion, even among those who have little time for God and religion?  Why does it bring out emotion in me?  Someone who approaches its content more often seeking a form of academic understanding than spiritual enlightenment?  I think because it has for a long time been about what is means to the reader less than the actual words on the page in their stiff and often wrong translation.  The Torah is a concept poem that is a guideline for our lives and our interactions with others.  It is a song, that when we sing it our personal emotions rewrite the story to match what we need in that time.  (Think Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, etc.)  It gives us a concrete platform to leap off into the water of our own confused lives knowing we can reach up and grab it to pull us out.  Torah is start to understanding the mystery of life and it a gift from our ancestors and to our children and it will be what keeps the Jewish people Jewish, regardless of the wondrous incarnations of Judaism moving forward.

So on Sunday, when the ink of Yisrael is dry, the Torah is rolled, dressed and lifted into its place of honor.  As we think about the last 100 years and imagine the next 100 years there will be many who will fully feel moved by a text we wrestle with and sometimes ignore.  But know it is important to our very being.   The Torah is less without us and we are less without Torah.  I am proud, honored and humbled to see it celebrated on Sunday with my fellow congregants.  I look forward to the song continuing.