On a sweltering morning in the end of March, a few hundred people convened on a suburban neighborhood in Plano, Texas for what appeared to be a block party. Children, parents and grandparents of all ages arrived in droves, surveying the scene of a tent on someone’s front lawn, refreshments on decorated tables, and activities for the kids around back. Upon closer review, this was clearly not your typical community get-together. Under the tent sat a scribe, deeply engrossed in writing. Families posed with him one by one, excited to be living this unique moment of history. Suddenly, cries of “Mazel Tov!” rang out through the clear blue morning. Tears welling up in his eyes, a rabbi stood up on a chair to address the crowd. Upon the completion of his emotional remarks, a man hoisted what appeared to be a large scroll in the air, unraveling it as he lifted. As the scroll descended from its glorious ride, music began playing (quite loudly) from the back of a truck as hundreds of men, women and children began an unprecedented joyous march through the streets of Plano.
During my year studying in Jerusalem, I was privileged to attend numerous Torah dedication parades. After all, in a city with hundreds of synagogues, this type of event is not uncommon. Every so often, when I heard the familiar music off in the distance, I would wander through the neighborhood to find the procession and join the celebration. I would stand on the side and watch the proceedings like an amused onlooker watching a street performance. I enjoyed watching the little boys and girls bedecked in crowns and holding light sticks or torches being carried on their parents’ shoulders. Occasionally, I would even feel a faint emotional connection with the celebrants. Am Yisrael is one, and communal celebration of this nature is something that could and should be felt by all.
Never before, however, had I felt anything even remotely close to the strong emotions that surged through my heart this past Sunday. As I sat down with my family to write the third to last letter in the Torah, and later when I watched the Torah being displayed in all its beauty for all to see, a wave of powerful emotion overcame me. Never in my life did I dance like I did on Sunday down Parker Road. This celebration was special, different than any other experience prior. And it has everything to do with each one of you reading this.
Every viable Jewish community owns a Torah scroll. It is an indispensable part of Jewish communal life, a non-negotiable item on a synagogue’s shopping list. But the methods through which a community may obtain this item vary. Most often, a scribe is contracted by an individual or a family on behalf of the community. This sponsor will dedicate the Torah in memory of a loved one, or in honor of an occasion. He will allow others to ceremonially participate in the writing at the end, to fulfill the last directive offered in the Torah, that of preserving the everlasting word of G-d through writing Torah scrolls. Graciously, he will provide opportunities for his brethren to pose with the scribe under the bright lights of the camera, to record this opportunity for posterity.
But the Torah writing belongs to him. As the primary stakeholder in the writing, this scroll remains under his family’s name forever.
And then there are some very, very special communities, who do it differently. Communities like ours, who broach an idea together. An idea that is almost ridiculous. An idea that pulls against the screaming fiber of the communal comfort zone. An idea of Kedusha Mach’reves.
And against all odds, they transform their idea into a reality. Together. With each family contributing. As a community.
Rashi famously comments on the period of time during which we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, that the Jews during that time period displayed a unique sense of brotherhood, as a prerequisite for the receiving of the Torah. Many commentators remark that the segment of the Jewish calendar of Sefiras ha’Omer, the counting of the Omer, is markedly positioned before Shavuos, the holiday of the receiving of the Torah. During Sefiras ha’Omer, we focus on community-building and loving kindness. Only through banding together as a community and seeing the common denominators among all Jews can we rightfully accept the Torah.
There is no doubt in my mind that on that sunny morning less than a week ago, G-d was looking down on Parker Road and grinning from ear to ear. The nachas that He must have had from us is indescribable. Not only did we fulfill an infrequent and cherished mitzvah, but we did it together. We may be a small Jewish community on the maps, but if one looked on the map Upstairs this week, he would have seen Plano as a very, very significant community.
Ashreinu. How blessed we are to be part of such a community, such a family, who knows and appreciated the significance and power of Torah.