A man with a grey beard walks over to the platform. He talks about Amalek, the biblical enemy of the Israelites who preyed upon their weak and elderly. The Torah commands us to "blot out the name of Amalek" and sofrim do so, literally, before writing holy words. Amalek may be long gone, he explains, but his curse remains--we all have places of negativity within our hearts. Now, in these next moments, we can expunge them. We watch on the large screen as he dips a quill into a bottle of ink and then, slowly, stroke by measured stroke, writes letters... aleph, mem, lamed... I'm fascinated by the graceful rhythm with which he creates each mark, as if playing a tune with the quill. He finishes the word and, almost before we can read it, obscures it with a large "x". A few thousand years of Jewish history have been compressed into less than a minute. I realize that I'm shaking, and feel tears running down my face.
He dips the quill again, surrounded by people and Torot, and we stand on our toes and move closer to the platform. He says a few words of prayer, leans over the parchment, and begins to fill in the curves and bars, the twists and angles, of "Bereshit." We watch in silence as the word becomes solid and alive. He puts down the quill and faces the crowd; I feel like he's looking directly into my eyes. "Mazel tov!" he exclaims. We applaud and embrace, and link arms to sing the Sheheheyanu blessing: "Blessed are You, our God, Creator of time and space, who has supported us, protected us, and brought us to this moment." Then we dance, for a very long time, around the table upon which rests a single piece of parchment inscribed with one word, the beginnings our new Torah, which in about a year will return to this spot filled with all the words that tell our story.
I want to dance, but keep leaving the circle to look at the word. It appears strong but lonely. It will, over decades, witness tears, joy, grief, laughter, and the lives of people not yet born. In the empty spaces surrounding the word I see the freedom of a blank page, the infinite unknowns and possibilities still to come in my life. I wonder what person I will be once the Torah has been written and rests in its home in our Ark.
Note: This happened yesterday, and is the first time in our very long institutional memory that my synagogue has commissioned the writing of a Torah. It's an amazing thing.