Mar 10, 2014

Torah Scroll Disaster

From time to time I relate the following true story to my Hebrew students, along with the accompanying moral.

In the late 90’s, while a seminary student with a burgeoning interest in Hebrew and Jewish background studies, I began attending Shabbat services at a large synagogue in Encino, Ca.—Valley Beth Shalom.  I was careful to be as respectful as possible in a sincere effort to learn all I could.  I also began visiting local Judaica shops where I enjoyed browsing, haggling with the merchants, and attempting to engage them in Hebrew.  One day, I entered a shop and to my delight, I discovered a Torah scroll permanently housed in a plexiglas stand where it was displayed and accessible for reading.  The rollers extended from the stand allowing one to view the text through the glass while turning the rollers.  
Torah Scroll in Plexiglas
This magnificent find was more than I could resist, so I immediately approached it and began reading the text aloud with great enthusiasm, of course being careful in my reading so as to be as respectful as possible.  However, as I rolled through the scroll, I came to a place where the scroll was stuck.  Apparently, excess glue from a seam had fixed the seam to the page underneath.  Naturally, I assumed it was only slightly stuck, and that if I turned gently the seam would detach from the page underneath—and detach it did. Suddenly, I heard a pop, and the scroll came apart with 1/3 of the scroll coiling up on the right roller, and 2/3s on the left.  In horror, I instantly realized that I was a gentile who had just inadvertently destroyed a Torah scroll.  I ran.  I never returned. I moved away. I don't believe I've touched a scroll since.  

Moral: Don’t let your curiosity result in the careless deconstruction of the text.  

  לֹ֣א תֹסִ֗פוּ עַל־הַדָּבָר֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אָנֹכִי֙ מְצַוֶּ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א תִגְרְע֖וּ מִמֶּ֑נּוּ לִשְׁמֹ֗ר אֶת־מִצְוֹת֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָנֹכִ֖י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶֽם׃ 
 (Deut 4:2)

Note: I don't recall how large the scroll was, but I do recall that I did not need a magnifying glass to read it.  The one pictured here is in a desk stand and only 9" tall.  The problem was no doubt due to a flaw in a cheap commercial product, but the incident is burned indelibly into my brain.