Friday, June 02, 2006

330. Water


Until last week when we welcomed our new Torah, I hadn't thought about this moment at the Holocaust Museum for years. At every service, festive as well as mournful, we recall the exodus of our ancestors from Egypt; we never rejoice without acknowledging, in some small way, those whose suffering made our own lives possible. Maybe this is why I couldn't dance and sing that afternoon without remembering the broken, paralyzed scroll that was no longer able to hear our chanting. I think I was celebrating in its honor, hoping our joy was great enough to reach all the way to Washington, D.C. and ease its pain.

Is it crazy to imagine that a Torah scroll has feelings? No more so than waiting for your heart to swell with love as you look at a photo, or watch a ring as it's placed on your finger. A Torah scroll bears our feelings, reflected in our understanding of her words. If we are passionate beings, if we can be tender, yearn, hate, so can a Sefer Torah. As a friend wrote beautifully on Beliefnet:

"The Torah is in love with us," my rabbi said. "The Torah wants us to read and study her, because when she is seen, she comes alive."

Last night at the Tikkun leil Shavuot we compared Torah to water; like a river, like the blood in our veins, it stagnates when unable to flow and change. Somewhere around 3AM, we studied the lines said at each Torah service just as the scroll is removed from the Ark:

When the Ark went forth, Moses said, "Arise, O God, and scatter your enemies! Let your foes flee before you!!" When it came to rest, he said, "Return, O God, [to] the myriads of Israel's thousands.
--Numbers 10:35-36

The ancient rabbis determined that this passage, set off in the written scroll by two little letter nuns's above and below, was "out of place"--Numbers 10 was only a temporary destination. Just as the tabernacle itself wandered in the desert, these lines about coming and going are equally unsettled. Maybe, suggests the Talmud, they're really another book of the Torah itself, one as yet mis-filed? Those surrounding nun's even look a little like 'Atzei Hayyim, Trees of Life, the wooden dowels upon which the scroll is rolled. Perhaps the passage represents a kind of knowledge which must always move and be reinterpreted to stay alive--the new Torah, waiting on a blanket of words to return our embrace, that we welcomed today at dawn after a night of dancing with its words.

(To be continued.)

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