From the Rabbi - October 2009 Print
Dear Friends,
 
On the Shabbat that straddles October 16 and 17, we shall again begin the reading of the Torah.  I suppose that there is no other book that has had more influence on the history of the world than this one, and, when we start the annual cycle of reading, I find myself captivated by a number of majestic thoughts.  Let me share a few of them with you.

The practice of public reading of Torah is at least 2500 years old.  In the eighth chapter of the biblical book of Nehemiah, he who was the governor appointed by the Persians to oversee the restoration of Judean sovereignty over the land of Canaan in about 538 BCE, we discover how the reading was then performed.  I hope you’ll look up the details, but, take my word for it, in all major respects what we do in our sanctuary (and what is done in every synagogue around the globe) is virtually identical with what Nehemiah’s contemporaries did.  Whenever I read from the Torah, I have a powerful, almost mystical sense of participating in an unbroken historical tradition.  I am doing what Jews have done in every place and time where they have lived since the days of Nehemiah.  That’s a remarkable chain of tradition to which we link ourselves.

Nehemiah and his priest, Ezra, did something more than read the Torah.  They arranged to translate it; the Bible says they read it so everyone could understand.  They had to translate it because the Torah is written in Hebrew, while the common language of the people at that time was Aramaic.  I try to translate the text into English for the same reason.  They – and we – understand that these words are not simply words, but the key to our entire identity.  They contain important values and ideas and practices.  We structure our lives, consciously or otherwise, by what the Torah teaches, so it is important to us not only that we read the words, but that we understand the mandates that are contained in them.

I look at this scroll and think of the many times in our history that we carried it away from places of hatred and oppression, preserving for ourselves a higher set of ideals and principles.  The Torah that is in the display case on the east side of our Sanctuary– a survivor of the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia – symbolizes to me the remarkable endurance of this scroll and of what
Jews in less-favorable times than ours did to assure that Torah persisted.  This history calls out to us with a
demand: live up to the dedication they showed to Torah by making Torah a significant part of your own life.

The Torah is a holy document, and so, too, are people holy.  When I ask God’s blessing on someone in the presence of the Torah – you may have noticed – it is my custom to place one hand on the person and one on the Torah.  I know I am not the source of the blessing.  I am but a conduit between a holy book and a holy person, praying that this holy quality flows from one hand to the other, from a scroll to a soul and that the person who receives this infusion of holiness may be changed and elevated from that point on.

There is so much more to write and to say about being in proximity to the Torah.  Enough for now.  Suffice it to say, I hope some of the feelings that I have haltingly tried to convey can imbue you with the mystical urge of Torah that I have the privilege of experiencing every week.

        Shalom,
        Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi