Monday, September 30, 2013

Wisdom From A Scribe

Yitzchak the computer programmer and sacred scribe had this to say about some Torah repair work he was doing:

The maftir readings for all Jewish holidays occur in Parshat Pinchas. Most established congregations have at least two Torah scrolls, one for the regular reading and one for the special readings when a second scroll is required. Naturally this second scroll is constantly being rolled to Pinchas and then moved around within the parasha. This leads to the section where Pinchas occurs wearing out a lot faster than the rest of the scroll. This week over sukkot, I noticed several damaged letters and even some whole words rubbed out in or around the maftir reading. Apparently this is very common in scrolls only ever used for maftir. In fact, the original yeriot of that section were replaced years ago and this is the second round of fading.

What's this all mean?

Imagine you have a sacred text, hand written on special parchment. And imagine this text is written without vowels or punctuation, so that when you unroll the scroll, you see blocks and blocks of consonants. Now, imagine, you need to turn a special point in the scroll a few times a year to read from a specific portion of the text. If you've got more than one Torah, it's awfully tempting to just set it in the right spot and leave it alone. That way, you don't have to worry about navigating your way around the scroll, and you won't accidentally damage it in the process.

But, as Yitzchak explains, this good intention actually does harm. You end up wearing out that one part of scroll at a faster rate.

In other words: even something as sacred and seemingly fragile as the Torah, Use It or Lose It.

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