From the Rabbi - May 2014 Print

Dear Friends:

    Let’s talk about Torah.  We all know that the text of the Torah contains 613 mitzvot, some positive (248) and the rest negative (365).  About half of these laws relate to the priesthood and the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.  When the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Romans, it became impossible to implement these laws.  There is a group in Jerusalem today called “The Temple Faithful” who anticipate that the Temple will be restored in the time of the messiah and that all those ancient practices will be reinstated.  Liberal Jews have a different point of view.  We deliberately call our houses of worship “temple” because we do not look backward toward that biblical shrine.  Instead, we believe that a temple can be wherever Jews congregate for prayer and study and fellowship.

    But the Torah contains more than laws.  It includes historical narratives, ethics and morality, geography and underlying all of this, a religious philosophy and theology.  It’s a rich repository of the most basic ideas and practices that have guided our people for nearly three thousand years.  But much more than what it says, the Torah elicits emotional responses from us, and it is those feelings that I want to share with you.

    The first set of feelings is about linkages.  When I look at or touch or read or study the Torah, I am acutely aware that Jews all over the world are doing exactly the same thing with the same words at the same time.  Whether one is a Jew in Japan or South Africa or Russia or Brazil or Corpus Christi, on any particular Shabbat morning, the parasha is the same everywhere.  Unrolled, the Torah is like a long belt, encircling the Jewish globe and connecting every Jew with every other Jew.  It does not matter if one is Reform or Orthodox or Conservative – we’re all on the same page.  And that sense of Jewish unity and togetherness is a rather remarkable phenomenon.  Beyond that, however, the Torah as we have it today is at least 2500 years old.  That means that it also links us with Jews who opened it in different eras of history and in the different places of our past.  When I stand in the presence of the scroll, I can be with Rabbi Yehuda Nasi as he and his colleagues wrote the Mishnah in the Galilee in about 200 C.E.  I can be with Moses Maimonides as he and his family fled Moslem Spain in the twelfth century and resettled in North Africa.  I can be with Moses Mendelssohn in Berlin as he decided to translate the Bible into German so his fellow-Jews could better understand the words.  And I can even imagine myself with the inmates of Auschwitz and Dachau as they gathered on Rosh HaShanah and, even though they did not have a physical scroll, recalled and recited as best they could the sacred words of Torah.  I can do all this because the Torah spans the contemporary world’s geography, even as it connects us with Jews of every historical time and place.

    Beyond these connections, however, is a mystical linkage that emanates from the Torah that is displayed in the niche on the south wall of our Sanctuary.  It came from a little town, Domaslice, just inside the Czech border from Germany.  In 1939 or 1940, all the Jews of this town were deported and eventually murdered.  Their religious items, including this Torah, were taken to a warehouse near Prague and catalogued.  No one knows why the Germans were averse to destroying the 1564 Torahs saved in this building.  Perhaps they were superstitious about ravaging a holy item – although they were not so reluctant to massacre holy human beings.  When the Torah came to Corpus Christi at the end of January 1984, I am convinced that wrapped into the scroll were the souls of the martyrs of its original home.  I cannot look at that Torah without thinking of those Jews, Jews who did not have the opportunity to complete their lives.  And so it seems to me that the Torah challenges us to live our Jewish lives in such a way as also to complete their lives.   In a sense, we live for two – for ourselves and each of us for one of them.  To me, this is a highly-charged emotional mandate.  I dare to hope that you might see the same.
                    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi