As many of you know, there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Many incorrectly believe that there are only ten. The Torah is filled with hundreds of rules that are meant to guide us through our lives. This week, right before we welcome the new year, the Torah teaches us the 613th commandment. “And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 31:19). From this verse, we are taught that the 613th commandment obligates each of us to write a Torah scroll.
Writing a Torah scroll is no simple task. It is an artform, requiring years of training, incredible patience and skill and great wisdom. Very few people have the knowledge needed to become a sofer – a Torah scribe. So without this knowledge, how do we fulfill this 613th commandment? Some would argue that you can do so by being part of a community that commissions a sofer to write a new Torah. A few of you have done just this and actually met with the sofer and wrote a letter in the Torah with his guidance. But, most of us have never had this opportunity.
If you take time to look at a list of the 613 commandments, you will see that many of them obligate us or forbid us to do things that are no longer a part of our lives. Because of this, many in the liberal Jewish world argue that the majority of the commandments no longer apply to our lives. I have no problem saying this about many of the commandments, but not the 613th.
We all must write our own Torah scroll.
The fact is, we do it each and every day. It does not require extensive training, a steady hand or a creative eye. It does not require putting ink to parchment. Every day, simply by waking up, we begin a new page in our personal Torah. Every moment of the day, the experiences of a month, the adventures of a year form our own unique Torah.
Torah is not simply the adventures of Abraham and Moses and the Israelites. “Torah” means teaching. We learn from the stories of our ancestors. At the same time, we learn from every day that we are blessed with.
As we pause to reflect upon our lives this Rosh HaShanah, please take time to reflect upon your own personal Torah that you have written in your heart and your mind. It is there, available to you year round, but often overlooked except for the Days of Awe. And it has much to teach you about yourself and the people who fill your life. Our own personal story can teach us and give us insight. It can also teach others. It is invaluable. It is, like the Torah scrolls that sit in the ark, holy.
This Rosh HaShanah, my wish for us all is that we take the time to “read” our own Torahs. Allow your life to inspire you. Some of the “pages” will be more difficult to read than others – but appreciate that every “page” is sacred. As we move forward into the new year, I hope that each of us appreciates that blank parchment that lies in front of us – Torah yet to be written. We have the power to fill this parchment with an incredible story. With Gd’s help and the strength of family, friends and our synagogue community we will! And in doing so, we will continue to fulfill the 613th commandment by creating Torahs that inspire both ourselves the those we share our lives with.
My family and I wish each of you a Shanah Tovah, a happy New Year filled with love, joy and learning.