A great catastrophe has happened in my local community. A Jewish man, his mind split into pieces, believed our Synagogue was on fire in the night when it was not. In addition to a lot of damage he did trying to put out the flames that were only in his own mind, he also took almost every sacred object and threw it into our mikvah in a very misguided attempt to “save” these objects. The most painful is that he threw all 3 of our shul’s Sefer Torahs into the mikvah and all three will need to be buried today, completely destroyed.
This is a loss that cuts right into the heart of every Jew in our community.
A Sefer Torah is the large Torah scroll that is read from in the Synagogue. Most Synagogues have a few, but each is hand written by a trained sofer (scribe). It takes about a year to write an entire Torah and it’s something generally done by an entire community together even though it is the scribe that inks the letters painstakingly. People give money to dedicate a portion to a loved one or in honor of an important date just so that they can take part in the mitzvah of writing a Torah. Once completed, the Torah is treated like a new bride and a party is held to escort her into the Synagogue, with dancing and music and prayer. From then on, the Torah is handled carefully and lovingly, kissed and carefully carried like a newborn. It is the most precious treasure of a Jewish community and if it is dropped, the community must fast.
Our Torahs were more than dropped and now that it has been determined that they cannot be saved, they must be buried next to a Torah scholar, someone who loved them, their family. We mourn their loss deeply. Children in our community and even adults have cried over this loss. It’s a wound much more serious than the other damage that was done to our shul.
And yet, in this too, there is mercy and healing.
Tonight, we will begin again to write a new Torah, a scribe coming to our shul to begin the first letters. Our Synagogue will be repaired and made whole. Out of this mourning, a new beginning will come. The man who did this also is in the hospital now, his broken mind being healed.
It reminds me quite a bit of so many aspects of Judaism. Out of great pain often comes great consolation and healing. In our own family, we are facing my husband having to have his open heart surgery the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Usually, Rosh Hashanah is a very happy holiday, the beginning of a new year full of possibility. He and I will spend that holiday this year in the hospital going through great pain, but I have come to peace with the timing. Every birth comes with great pain and it’s only natural that this new beginning also will have to begin with pain. By nightfall and the beginning of the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we will begin to have the consolation of his healing.
It’s so very fitting that this all happens in Elul, a time for teshuva and a time that is mixed with painful regret and sweet opportunity for return. May we all merit to have a new beginning this year, to remember what is most important in our lives, and to be written and sealed in the book of life for a sweet new year!