Chapter 2

Part I – The Writing – Poland 1845

Chapter 2

ornamented On Sunday morning Rifka woke up at 6:30. The rooster next door had already crowed, but Shmuel was still sleeping and Rifka let him sleep a little longer. Shmuel was usually the first one up, even before the baby, but this morning he was deep in sleep. At least he got some rest, Rifka thought. He had been working such long hours –day and night– to finish the new scroll. He wanted it to be absolutely perfect. Rifka knew how tired he was so she was very happy to let him sleep a little longer. She put some wood on the stove and made some fresh oatmeal for breakfast. She filled the kettle with hot water for tea and cut up a ripe, rosy peach that she put on the table. Only then did she wake up Shmuel. It was already seven o’clock.

When Shmuel realized how late it was, he quickly washed and dressed himself, gulped down some tea and oatmeal and raced out of the house barely stopping long enough to give the baby a kiss goodbye. Morning services would have already started. His father would be wondering what happened to him. Each morning, except for Shabbos, Rabbi Shmuel usually woke up early and went to the mikveh – the ritual bath house. As a scribe, it was necessary for him to go to the mikveh every day so that he would be ritually cleansed before writing even one word of the sacred scroll. When he finally got to the shul that morning, they were all waiting for him. When they finished davening, Shmuel wished his friends and his father a good week and went to the study house in back of the shul. He hurried to the room at the end of the hallway that served as his studio and began working on the last book of the Scroll.

And so for the next five weeks, Rabbi Shmuel worked feverishly, day and night on his Scroll. On some days Rabbi Shmuel worked so late into the evening that he skipped going home for the evening meal and instead stayed in the study house working by the light of an oil lamp, checking to make sure there were no errors. It was important that each letter be absolutely perfect. If there were any ink smudges or if he left something out he might have to do an entire section over. When he finished a section of parchment, he put it aside to dry. The parchment was made of sheepskin of the finest quality, smooth and fine.

Torah ScrollEach section was copied exactly, letter by letter, word for word from the magnificent scroll that his father had written eighteen years earlier when Shmuel was a little boy just learning to read and write. When Shmuel was three years old, he would sit on a stool next to his father and watch him write every letter. With every letter and every word, Reb Shlomo would say the letter and the word and Shmuel would repeat the letter and the word after his father. When he was five, Reb Shlomo gave little Shmuel his own small quill and some paper so that he could start practicing to write the Hebrew letters himself. The scroll that Rabbi Shmuel used as a model to copy from was the very same Sefer Torah that his father had finished twenty-one years earlier when Shmuel was a little boy. It was from this very scroll that Shmuel had first learned the Aleph-Bet.

Rabbi Shmuel followed every letter and every word exactly — there could be no mistakes and no smudges, nothing left out and nothing added. His father would soon be coming to review his work and if he approved, it could then be sewn to the previous section. The entire scroll was to be held on both ends by beautiful hand-carved wooden rollers.

During the course of each year, right after the fall harvest festival of Sukkoth and Simchas Torah, every Jewish congregation begins reading from the beginning of the Torah Scroll, the first chapter and the first verse of Bereshit, Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…“.

On the Sabbath that week’s Torah portion was read to the entire congregation and after the Torah service, the Rabbis rolled the scroll to the next section. By the end of the year, the entire cycle would be complete. Everywhere in the world, wherever they lived, Jews had been doing this for thousands of years — everyone reading the same section, the same stories, each week no matter where they were. Rabbi Shmuel thought that this was amazing, almost miraculous. It was because of their Torah, their Tree of Life, that the Jewish people –no matter how dispersed they were in the world– were tied together as one people and to their common history. He felt honored, but also very humble that he was in perhaps a small way helping this process to continue — the reading and studying of the most holy ancient texts of his people. In a few weeks, God willing, his Uncle’s shul in a small village near Prague would have their new Torah.

It was Friday, August 16, — the first day of the Hebrew Month of Elul. Rabbi Shmuel put down his quill, sat back in his chair, heaved a big sigh and then he smiled broadly. He had just inscribed the word “Moses“, leaving the last few words of the sentence still unwritten. It was final verse of the last chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy and the last words would be completed later. As was the custom, the last lines of a new Sefer Torah were traditionally left blank so that the members of the community for whom it is destined can perform the mitzvah of writing in a word or two of the remaining text. The entire verse was:

  

No other prophet like Moses has arisen in Israel who knew God face to face. No one else could reproduce the signs and miracles that God let him display in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his land or any of the mighty acts or great sights that Moses displayed before the eyes of all Israel.”

Rabbi Shmuel got up from his chair, and at the top of his lungs began to recite the Shema      ”Shema, Yisrael, Adonoi, Elohenu, Adonoi Echad“. He was so loud that the students in the study hall came running in to see if he had gone crazy. Rabbi Shmuel was dancing around and singing and when they saw him they knew that the reason for his excitement was that the Sefer Torah was finished! And all the young students at the Cheder began to sing and dance with him. This was definitely going to be a very good Shabbos in their village. After Shabbas and for the rest of the entire month of Elul they would blow the Shofar.

On Sunday, Reb Shlomo, Rabbi Shmuel’s father, came to the studio to review the final chapters of the scroll. For a long time he pored over each word and each letter and then, finally, he nodded and smiled. The final chapter was perfect.

All the following week, Reb Shmuel would be getting ready for his journey. He would leave right after Shabbos on the 10th of Elul. He was going with his father to the village of Amschelberg in Bohemia to bring the people of the town their new Torah Scroll.

Copyright © 1998 Suzanne Sadowsky

 Chapter 3