Tuesday, May 23, 2006

324. Completion

We held our collective breaths as right above, projected on a screen at the front of the synagogue, the sofer poured flesh into skeletons with black ink and a quill and filled in the outlines of the final twelve words of the Torah. With one last stroke, he connected the backbone of the lamed of "Yisrael" to its curved leg, creating a character worthy of supporting the previous 300,000.

Seven months ago, I felt like I had witnessed creation as "Bereshit" took shape within a fog of tohu vavohu on that same screen. This time was different, more like a graduation, the words on the scroll now solid and strong enough to witness my life and the many to follow. The final lamed drew its first breath--the rabbi cried "Hazak, hazak!" "Strength, strength!"--and the sanctuary filled with the exclamations of a dozen shofarot. We linked arms and sang the Shehecheyanu, blessing each other for reaching this season, and then dressed the scroll in a silver crown and breastplate that shone so brightly I imagined they were smiling back at us. Then, under a huppah, a wedding canopy woven from squares of our own design, we danced with the Sefer Torah around the block and briefly into the world about which it would teach us. My Torah chanting teacher had the honor of reading from the new, clean parchment and providing its first voice:

Now write for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites. Make them memorize it, so that this song will be a witness for the Israelites.
--Deuteronomy 31:19

In the middle of all this swirling joy, I wiped away tears and thought about another scroll that also made me cry, years ago. Long before I cared about being Jewish, I found myself in on vacation in Washington D.C. on the weekend of the opening of the Holocaust Museum.

(To be continued.)

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