Some congregations never write a Torah scroll. In less than half a decade, Chabad Jewish Center of Monroeville will have written two.
Ironically, it was because of the first that the second is being written.
Monroeville resident Mindy Norman attended the ceremony celebrating the completion of the Chabad center’s new Torah scroll in August 2021. She had started to attend outdoor services at the center during COVID-19 to say Kaddish for her husband, who died of unrelated causes.
The services, she said, brought her back to her childhood in upstate New York.
“I was bat mitzvahed 66 years ago. I grew up with a love of Judaism,” she said.
So moved by the community and the joy at the Torah completion ceremony, Norman began contemplating sponsoring the writing of another new Torah scroll for the Chabad center.
More than one Torah
Rabbi Mendy Schapiro, the spiritual leader of Chabad of Monroeville, recalled a conversation with Norman at the ceremony during which she noted that the center now had one Torah, but often there was a need for a second, especially during the High Holidays.
“A shul should have more than one Torah,” he said.
When the rabbi stopped by her house several weeks later to drop off a challah before Shabbat, Norman told him she was donating a Torah in honor of her late husband.
“He was just speechless and said, ‘We’ll talk after Shabbat,’” she recalled.
Schapiro said Norman’s act of sponsoring a new Torah recalls the words of Pirkei Avot: “One mitzvah brings on the next mitzvah.”
“She was inspired by the last Torah writing, and that brought on the next mitzvah, literally,” he said.
From beginning to end
Typically, when a congregation commissions a new Torah scroll, Schapiro explained, they work with a scribe who has several scrolls partially finished. The process allows for a community to receive it relatively quickly.
That was the process used by the Chabad center with its last scroll. This time, its leaders decided on a different approach.
“We said, ‘Let’s do the whole project from beginning to end,’” Schapiro said.
In December, the center reached out to a scribe who runs a network of scribes, including those in both America and Israel, and asked for samples of their work.
Schapiro said the approach allowed the community to be selective about the scroll, noting they received many beautiful samples.
Norman was one of those who examined the various selections.
“The rabbi showed me all the different scripts,” she said. “I was a part of the planning.”
After a little back and forth deciding which writing to use and the size of the actual scroll, they settled on a sofer, or scribe.
“He writes beautifully,” Schapiro said. “It’s a work of art — every one of them.”
As luck would have it, the scribe they selected was finishing a scroll for another community and was up for starting a new one in the middle of the month of Elul, which began Aug. 28.
On Sept. 16, the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroeville community gathered to commence writing the new scroll.
The Israeli scribe sent the first section of the new scroll to the center with an outline of the first lines from Bereshit.
“It was probably about two-and-a-half verses,” Schapiro said. “He did an outline and rolled it up and shipped it to us. We requested the services of a local scribe, Rabbi David Lipschitz, who came to assist, because no one wants to make a mess in such a beautiful Torah. He came here; we had a ceremony. The next day, we rolled it up and sent it back to the scribe.”
The scribe will now write the rest of the scroll, the rabbi explained, leaving letters at the end for the community to complete at another ceremony, Schapiro said.
Torah by design
The scroll will take approximately 10 months to complete, Schapiro said. The center expects to receive it by Tammuz or Av next year and use it during the High Holidays, 5784.
The new Sefer Torah will be slightly smaller than the one created last year — that was by design, Schapiro said.
“It will allow more people to lift the Torah,” he said. “Our community is made up of all different ages, from young to old. It’s really a beautiful honor for people to hold the Torah with pride and for someone who’s elderly or a bar mitzvah boy, for them to feel like they can comfortably hold the Torah and feel that connection; that was one of the deciding factors going a little smaller.”
Torah by the numbers
Even the faithful, it seems, cannot escape inflation.
A new Torah scroll now costs upward of $60,000. But for Schapiro, other figures are more relevant to the Torah.
“A Torah scroll has 226 columns, 5,852 verses, 304,805 letters,” he said.
All are contributing factors to both the cost and beauty of a Torah scroll, Schapiro noted.
Norman said that by dedicating the new scroll she’s paying respect both to the joy she found in Judaism as a child and to her husband.
“Chabad brought me back to my childhood,” Norman said. “The joy and positivity. It’s very positive, the whole Chasidic movement. My husband grew up Orthodox. I felt that much of his integrity and humility was shaped by his Orthodox home and his Hebrew schooling.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.