Sunday, March 14, 2010

Placing My Bet

Today, my community dedicated our newly-repaired Torah scrolls. This included filling in the opening line of Genesis, which for some unknown reason was never properly consecrated when it was written close to a century ago.

We did this with the help of Sofer Neil Yerman, a dedicated, wise and creative scribe, who is also a real mensch. As members of the congregation came up to complete the letters in the scroll, he guided everyone's hands with great compassion, kindness, and expertise.

He told us all a story about repairing a Holocaust Torah scroll from Prague. He had to remove and replace an entire section, in which one of the names of God was damaged beyond repair. With great care, he re-wrote this whole page of parchment, meticulously emulating the style, font, size and script of the original scroll. Yet when he sewed his new section to the adjoining original sections, he says:

The old letters began to kvetch and complain to me about their new neighbors: "Who are these newcomers? Where did our old friends go? These interlopers don't belong here." I heard them, and I could empathize. Imagine losing your oldest friends, your family, the loved ones you have lived with for nearly three centuries, and having them replaced by new kids on the block. But I told the ancient letters that in time they would come to love their new companions. The elders responded by asking me, "Who are these strange young letters?" And I answered, "They are your great grandchildren."

Sofer Yerman called my daughter Rosa and me to the bimah to complete the scroll by filling in its very first letter, the "bet" that begins the opening word of Torah, b'reishit, "in the beginning."
We approached slowly, entering under a beautiful chuppah, made by my congregant and friend, Shira Kronenberg, which we had set up to celebrate this renewal of vows, this wedding between the Holy One of Blessing and the people of Israel. The covenant is, after all, a kind of marriage, a relationship bound and defined by love, and Torah is the ketubah. I draped my blue silk tallit, with its images of night and water and the Tree of Life, over my shoulders and Rosa's, and I held her close to me. Then, with my left hand, I gripped the quill and, with Sofer Yerman guiding me, I filled in the outlined letter bet. But we were not done until Rosa got the last word, topping that magnificent letter with a four-fold crown, the only one of its sort in the entire Torah scroll. Then, together with the entire congregation, we sang "Sh'hechiyanu" and "Siman Tov u-Mazel Tov," giving thanks for the opportunity to celebrate this remarkable occasion together.

My eyes were filled with tears the entire time. Even as I wrote, I thought so much of my father, Rabbi Arnold Fink, z"l, of his love of Torah. Filling out that first letter of that first word, I felt my inestimable debt to the man who taught me so much Torah, who opened the scroll for me and gave me the heart and mind to find my own place in it, just as he had done over the course of his lifetime. I felt his undying optimism, his enormous passion for life, his undiminished and even child-like curiosity, and his constant love. And even as I felt all of this, I also felt the love and creativity of my own children, and their commitment to growing and finding their own way in the scroll. It was a miraculous moment, one of those rare instances in a lifetime when past and present and future are one and the same, a time of laughter and tears and love and loss and renewal and grace and blessing, the brachah shleimah, the gift of what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls "full catastrophe living."

I'd like to end with a lovely passage by Rabbi Zoe Klein, which was part of our service today and which captures the extraordinary power of the moment. The Rambam, Rabbi Moses Maimonides, teaches that every Jew should write at least a small piece of a Torah scroll in his or her lifetime. I am grateful beyond words for having had the opportunity to fulfill that mitzvah today.

When the potion wore off the children of Israel looked around them. Once again they were in the desert, long dragged-out footsteps stretching behind them. And they said to one another, "Love is in this place and we did not know it. What have we been doing all of this time? Where have we been? Is this the desert, or is it Gan Eden? Are we lost and alone, or are we this moment caught up in a fierce union with God? Are we wandering with sandals filled with dust, or are we soaring on eagle's wings?

This thing between God and Israel, it is not that we are in covenant. It is that we are in love. Every day a voice comes forth from Sinai and begs your answer, "Would you be willing to spend your life with Me?"



Karen said...

Dan and Rosa,

What a beautiful message to wake up to this morning. I am proud to be a part of allowing this experience to happen.

Love, Mom/Grandma

Lynn said...

Janet allowed us to share your beautiful message .

thank you.