Touching Torah by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

How many of us grew up terrified of ever touching the Torah scroll? How many of us really everweb-simchat-torah-rs-1-10-2016 had a chance to see the Torah up close?  The Torah is our most sacred object and as I was growing up the Torah became something beyond my reach. Something so revered that being in close proximity to the Torah filled me with anxiety. What if I got it dirty? What if I dropped it? As a young girl, I grew up in a congregation that wouldn’t allow me to have an aliyah and say the blessings over the Torah. At my Bat Mitzvah in 1967, my father chanted the Torah blessings in my place. I was allowed to chant the Haftarah and lead the congregation in prayer but the Torah was off-limits. Thankfully, times changed and twenty five years later, I repeated my Bat Mitzvah so that I could finally stand at the Torah and recite the blessings on my own behalf.  My father was so proud!

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Standing at the Torah is such a common practice for me now that I don’t really think much about how things have changed. I love to chant Torah.  I am filled with a sense of awe when I stand at the pulpit and see the beauty of the words unfurl in front of me. I feel connected to the stories, lessons and laws in a totally different way.  They are my words and are a part of everything that I believe in.

This past Sunday night was Simchat Torah, the festival that celebrates the completion of the Torah reading cycle and the beginning of the next cycle. This service is also the time when Temple Beth El celebrates the newest students entering religious school. Our kindergarten and new first graders walk into the service proudly carrying their own small Torahs to recite Shema and to be blessed by the clergy. There they stand in front of the open ark filled with our Torahs and sing.  I love that they will never grow up feeling that the Torah doesn’t belong to them because that very morning, each one of them had the opportunity to hold the unrolled Torah in their laps to see the beauty for themselves. And even more meaningful, they had the chance to sit in the middle of the Levine Social Hall to witness their parents, families and friends unroll the entire Torah and surround them with it.  Rabbi Knight moved around the circle and shared the essence of the stories it contains.  I am always moved by this ritual.  It never fails that I hear congregants say, “I have never seen the inside of a Torah before and I have certainly never touched it”.

This Shabbat we will begin reading the first chapter of Genesis, Parashat B’reishit. We will read the story of Creation from a Torah scroll that belongs to all of us.  A Torah scroll that we have touched and has touched us.