I’ve learned how to be a proficient Torah roller. This is not generally acknowledged as an official job title, but it is in the realm of those things commonly called “a rabbi’s work.” There are many occasions when the Torah requires rolling. Every Shabbat, we move from one portion to the next. Sometimes, on holidays, there is a particular Torah assignment out of sequence with the weekly order. This necessitates moving from, let’s say, Exodus, all the way to Numbers, and then back again to the weekly sequence.
Preparing the Torah scrolls for the HHD is a big task unto itself. There are readings from Genesis, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, and the Torah scrolls must be rolled to the special chapters and verse designated for each sacred occasion.
Torah rolling is not an incredibly difficult job. One needs strong wrists. Your flexors and pronators have to be toned up. But that’s not the tough part. No, the hard part is finding where it is you’re rolling to.
It’s easy to find one’s place in the narrative chapters. I can just read along in the text until I find the correct part of the particular story. After all of these years, I have the Patriarchal/Matriarchal stories and the Exodus pretty well established in my memory. But whenever it comes to the sections – which are many – about the sacrifices, the structure of the Tent of Meeting, and priestly duties, I get easily confused. In my defense, this is due to the highly repetitive nature of the text, mixed in with various names of tribal chieftains, priests, and so forth. It never gets comfortable. It just gets murky!
The anxiety I feel when I am cut adrift on the sea of Torah, searching for the safety of a port – some familiar word or a phrase – must find its roots in my horrible sense of direction. The relief I feel when I do indeed see the right combination of words – oh, THAT vayomer Adonai el Moshe La-mor – is absolutely akin to when the signs on the highway match my GPS. Or as the song goes, “I once was lost /But now I’m found!”
Torah rolling is literally a hands-on task. Whenever I engage in this holy obligation, I think about those whose hands have been on the Torah before me. I think about all the B’nei mitzvah kids who’ve held the wooden spools, standing on the bimah, so nervous, so young. I think about all of the parents and grandparents who passed the Torah to that youngster with so much pride and with such great expectations. I think about the older, big Torah scrolls, about Rabbi Miller’s generation of B’nei mitzvah and their families and how they too held a Torah that I am rolling for a holiday reader.
Torah rolling ends up being a meditation of sorts. It’s a way I connect to the anxiety of getting lost, the relief of finding my way, and the strength of binding myself to the community I love, a community of spirit and tradition—a community of Torah.
A favorite holiday activity on Simchat Torah has been for us to completely unroll a Torah scroll and then surround our kids with it. What a great image! So much love, so much history, so much hope. Tonight we will not be doing that. But the metaphor abides, long after the scroll has been rewound to the right place.
At 500pm tonight, please come drive by the temple. Many of the staff will be outside, holding Torah scrolls, waving to you. Blow a kiss to the Torah; yell out hag sameach! It’s not the same as an indoor Simchat Torah – but it’ll do in a pinch… And then, at 615pm, the mother-daughter team of Beth Kozinn and Peri Barest will join us for our weekly Shabbat Zoom, during which they will read the last verses of Deuteronomy and the first verses of Genesis.
From sitting in the sanctuary hearing someone chant Torah to dancing with a Torah to looking for the right Torah verses to rolling a parchment scroll of Torah to virtually chanting an Aliyah:
We will always surround ourselves with Torah and with blessing.
Shabbat Shalom and Moadim l’simcha,