It's not a holiday, but the sanctuary is filled with hundreds of people: adults sitting in chairs along the back perimeter, children and parents on the floor, and a steady of hum of conversation that's focused on a raised platform right in the middle. The rabbis come up front, and the cantor begins to sing: "Odekha ki anitani..." "I will give you thanks, for You have answered me... " We rise and face the Ark as, one by one, a procession of men and women remove each of twelve Torot and begin to walk around the sanctuary and among the sitting, standing, anticipating crowd. Some of the scrolls are undressed, unrolled, and held open. Others--those worn and passul, not suitable for reading--observe without comment, embraced tightly in their holders' arms like elderly, honored members of the family.
A girl standing at the first open scroll begins to read the beginning of the first book: "Bereshit barah Elohim..." The rabbi says a few words of welcome, and we sing the exclamation of Jacob in Genesis 28:17: "How awesome is this place!" The rabbi walks over to the second open scroll, and a teenage boy reads the last verse in the book. Then he hands me the yad, and I chant the first line of the next one: "V'eleh, shemot b'nai Yisrael...", "These are the names of the children of Israel..." "Ozi vezimrat Yah," we sing, from Exodus 15:2, "God is my strength and song." The rabbi speaks once again, and we move on to the third scroll and the last verse of Exodus. And so on around the room, until we've read and sung words from all five books. "Hazak, hazak!" we proclaim, after the final syllable of the very last line.
Our attention shifts to a large screen at the right of the Ark. A man with a video camera hovers above the platform, his camera trained on long sheet of parchment. We watch the screen as he tries to focus, and suddenly the outline of a word appears through the blur: Bereshit. "In the beginning." I gasp--we all gasp. Creation is being enacted right before our eyes. The very first letters of the Torah, written on a scroll that will rest in our Ark, on parchment to be underlined, one day, by a yad I might hold, waits for a sofer, a ritual scribe, to pour the flesh and breath of life into its letters.