Towards the end of Moses life, the LORD revealed to him in the tabernacle of meeting that after his departure, the children of Israel would once again stray away to serve other gods. Thus is Deuteronomy 31:19, the children of Israel were commanded to write down their own personal Torah. “Now, therefore, write down this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me a witness for the children of Israel.” Throughout history, the Jews have often been known as Am-HaSefer (עם הספר) ‘the people of the book’. Since the written Torah is a way of communication between God and man, the traditions rely heavily on passing down the words of God through generations. Writing a sifrei Torah scroll (books of Torah) is the obligation for every Jews and also one of the 613th mitzvah (מִצְוָה, commandments) for each of us to keep. Thought the process of writing a Torah scroll is an artistic work that requires a lot of dedication, time, skills and patience to write.
Task Of A Sofer
From the tradition, a Kosher Torah must be written by hand. Often this would be done by a Sofer (scribe) who had dedicated their lifetime in the art of Torah scribing. Sofer comes from the Hebrew root safar (סָפַר) “to count”. According to the Talmud, these Sofer would count every single letter in the Torah. In this age and day, the Sofer STaM (or the modern scribe) was often commission by synagogues and communities to write the Torah Scroll. The process of making the scroll is often bound to strict specifications regarding lettering, size and only a trained and certified scribe can reach for the task. There is also a different style of scripts such as AriZaI (for Chassidic communities), Beit Yosef (for Ashkenazi communities) and Vellish (for Sephardic communities).
Other specifications include the selection of parchment made from a kosher animal skin or Shill Parchment also known as natural parchment. The special ink is also used to prepare for the writing together with a quill, usually taken from a turkey feather. No steel or iron material should be used since they are often being associated with the crafting of war instrument. All were to be of natural material.
The Scribe would first use a reed instrument to score invisible horizontal lines on parchment in preparation for the writing. In order to ensure that the Torah is exactly the same Torah that was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, the Scribe would need to make sure that not a single letter should be missed. Considering that there are 304,805 letters in it. A missing letter would regard the whole Torah to be un-kosher. As in Deuteronomy 4:2 “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you”. Once the writing had been completed, these pieces of parchment would then be sewn together as a scroll and attached to wooden rollers.
Aside from being commissioned to write the Torah scroll, a Scribe’s task also include restoring used scrolls. Often, smaller communities would prefer to rent available scrolls. Therefore it is common to hand in the scroll every 5 years for the Scribe to restore and to ensure that it is still in a Kosher condition. In receiving the Torah Scroll, the scribe would always look to determine the overall condition to see if it is still holding strong and free from any tears, cracks and faded letters. The Shofer is also well regarded with his ability to accurately determine the date of a historical scroll. Some of the scrolls had been known to date back 500 years and even 730 years old!
Writing Our Own Personal Torah Scroll
Here are the next questions, how about to the non-Jews and gentiles? How about those who are not familiar with the Hebrew language? Should we write our own Torah then? Or one could also argue to join a community to commission a scribe to write the Torah. Yet we are each encouraged to be responsible for writing own personal Torah. Everyday, as we turn through the pages of the bible, seeing the very words of God written by the invisible finger of God, we are in fact writing His commandments upon our heart. “Through Moses, it was written on the tablet of stones. Later it was written with ink and parchment. But through the spirit of the living God, we now have the words written upon the tablet of our heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
When we study and read the Torah, His light causes us to ‘see’ the truth in Him.
As we ‘read’ His word aloud, we proclaim that He is the God of Israel, the Messiah and Eternal King to come.
When we ‘hear’ (Shema שְׁמַע) his Torah, we come to understand and commit to His ways. It was during the time of giving of the Ten Commandments, the LORD started by saying to the people of Israel; “Hear O Israel…. “
In seeing, reading and hearing, we come in agreement in our heart and believe that all word is God’s breath that proceeds from the mouth of Adonai. He is also the same God who delivered the children of Israel from Egypt. And as the LORD declared to the people; “you shall be my treasured possession, and kingdom of priest and a holy nation”, the people responded in unison; “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!”. As we write (like a scribe) His very words upon our heart today, may we respond with the like manner; “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” (Kol asher diber Adonai na’aseh v’nishma).
When we inscribe his Torah on our heart, His commandment ‘mitzvah’ (מִצְוָה) has now become my commandments ‘mitzvotai’ (מִצְוֹתַי). Where God says that Abraham has “obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes and my laws” (Gen. 26:5). It is of love for His truth that one chooses to walk in His instruction for the rest of our days. Just like the inscriptions “lover of the commandments” which sometimes written on Jewish tombs during the Second Temple period, may the testimony of our life portrays our love for His Torah to eternity. Shalom.
2. The Making Of A Torah Scroll, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/torah-scroll
3. Writing A Personal Torah Scroll, http://www.chabad.org