Writing a New Torah – Writing in the Book of Our Lives

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, September 30, 2023

Excerpted from Rabbi Pollack’s Yom Kippur Morning sermon, September 25, 2023

I love the idea of the Torah as a metaphorical mirror. We look into it, and we are better able to see ourselves. Engaging with Torah offers us a window into our souls. In Torah we find the deep well of our connection to God, Israel, and community, and a deep appreciation for our Solel family. This is the power of Torah that has sustained the Jewish community over the centuries – it is no less than the lens through which we see the world.

One of the joys of learning with our Bet Sefer students here at Solel includes gathering here in our sanctuary for tefillah on Sunday mornings, and we learn about what you see in a synagogue, the bima, menorah, the ner tamid, and in our sanctuary our special tapestry lovingly made by Marta Hauer that tells the story of our beginnings as a congregation, depicting the footprint of our building here on Folkway Drive, the streets and the stream of the Credit River, and most of all, the children of Solel dressed in small pieces of the actual clothing that belonged to many of our early students.

When we engage in the study of Torah, we learn more than facts and stories, Torah is a teacher, a gateway to a divine doorway that opens. When we study it, we see ourselves; in the stories but also in the spaces between the stories where we can each find ways that the words of Torah, written so long ago, can be instructive for our modern lives.

Just as metaphysical Torah lies at the center of Creation, we place our physical Torah scroll in the center of the synagogue, in the Holy Ark, modeled after the Holy of Holies. A Torah scroll is the most sacred item in Judaism. Which is why the 613th mitzvah is a particularly meaningful one.

Mitzvah number 613 is: You shall write a Torah. Maimonides explains the mitzvah clearly. He teaches “It is a positive commandment for each and every Jewish person to write a Torah scroll for themself…” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah and the Torah Scroll, 7:1)

As I hope most if not all of you are aware by now, we are in the process of writing a new Sefer Torah, a new Torah scroll in honour of our 50th year as a congregation. Together we have been writing our congregation’s story for 50 years, and as we mark this milestone anniversary, during this year we will be dedicating our new Sefer Torah, opening the next chapter in the book of our congregation’s life story.

It will be the first time in Solel’s history that a new Torah scroll, written especially for our community, will be placed in this ark. We are grateful to Gerry and Nancy Willis, may their memories be for blessing, for providing a large gift to make this a possibility for us. One of Gerry’s proudest moments was to chant Torah on Shabbat morning and then lead the discussion. He also gave of his time and talents to take care of our scrolls, making a new wooden roller for our Czech Torah scroll, inlaid with Hebrew letters. The opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah to hand down the legacy of Torah to our children and to future generations of Solel was of utmost importance to him and is his legacy to Solel.

Now clearly, it is no longer possible for the vast majority of us to fulfill the 613th mitzvah by ourselves – most of us don’t have the skills or the time or the finances. But collectively this is a mitzvah that we can fulfill together.

Our Torah is being written by our soferet, Rabbi Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli. She has been working diligently to complete the writing of our scroll in time for us to dedicate our new Torah at the conclusion of our Solel at 50 celebratory year.

Since this is a likely a once in a lifetime opportunity for us, we want as many people as possible to be a part of our new Torah. Every contribution is meaningful and makes each of us a partner in the writing of this very special Torah. The ideal is that we will do so together – that ideally each one of the members of this community will have contributed in some small way to the writing of our new Sefer Torah. We are one Solel family, and together we are part of the Solel story. So too with Torah. Which is the most important letter in the Torah? Is it the first? the last? The verses of the Shema or the Ten Commandments? Every letter and verse is essential and necessary. Each one of us is a vital part of the Solel Torah. We are all one, interdependent and equally important.

Many of you have already made a generous contribution to our Living Torah project and we are very grateful for your commitment. And, while some of us are able to make a large contribution, I want to stress that we want everyone to be a part of this Torah, no matter what you can contribute. For those who have not yet participated, and for those who want to do more, as we kickoff our Solel @50 celebrations there are wonderful opportunities still remaining to sponsor part of our Torah: from an entire book of Torah to a single letter to everything in between – special passages, a favourite or meaningful parasha or verse, phrase, or name, a word. We are designing a special commemoration board that will recognize all those that have contributed to the writing of our new Torah.

When you look into the mirror of our new Torah, what will you see? What will you write in the new year? What is your letter, your word, your verse, your parasha (Torah portion), your book? How will you adorn the cover? As you write in the Book of Solel how will Solel be written in your book of life for yourself and for the generations to come ?

This year, we are going to put a new Torah in the heart of our synagogue.

May it fill our hearts with love and pride.

Shanah Tovah Tikatevu v’Tchateimu. This year, our 50th year as a congregation. may we write and seal in the book of our lives together.

Shanah Tovah Umetukah. May we have a sweet new year.

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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