A challenging mitzva
The obligation of each Jew to write a Torah scroll is one of the least known and least fulfilled mitzvot. Indeed, it is final of 613 mitzvot in the Torah.
So when the leaders at the Kollel Jewish Learning Center decided they needed a new Torah to be used for Shabbat and holidays, they saw an opportunity: just as the Jewish community needs the Torah, the new Torah would need the Jewish community.
There have been Torah scrolls commissioned by individual donors in Pittsburgh in recent years, but the Weinberg Family Sefer Torah fund, started in memory of Jacob and Belle Weinberg by their children, is believed to be the first community-commissioned Torah in the Pittsburgh area in at least 15 years.
The goal is to have the Torah scroll funded and finished by next Passover, but whether it gets completed by that time, or ever, depends on the community.
Writing an entire Torah, which requires specific training and months of work, is too daunting a task for everyone to be expected to fulfill, so the mitzva can be accomplished through writing or buying just one letter, according to Rabbi Aaron Kagan, rosh kollel of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center.
“Our Sages say that every letter in the Torah represents an individual Jew,” Kagan said. “Just like our community is unfit if we neglect even one person, a Torah is unfit for use if it lacks even one letter. So if someone contributes to the writing of just one letter, it’s as if he’s written the entire Torah.”
In this vein, to make the new Torah as complete as possible, the commissioned scribe in Israel sends back parchments with some words left outlined but not filled in. A local scribe — Rabbi Hershel Pfeffer — holds people’s hands as they fill in those letters together.
“People have been dedicating letters or words or parshas or sometimes even whole Books of the Torah to their parents or children or grandchildren,” Kagan said. “Then when the sofer [scribe] writes the letter with them, you can see it in their eyes‚ this is something that really touches people. Most people won’t be able to fulfill this rare mitzva, so it is very special for them.”
The opportunity has generated a large response. At one event, the Kollel sold 65 letters in a single day. Still, only one-quarter of the fundraising goal has been met, so far.
When the Torah is completed, each participant will receive a certificate to commemorate their unique contribution to the Pittsburgh community’s Torah.
In addition to presenting an opportunity for members of the community to fulfill a rare mitzva, Kagan said, the project also offers the Kollel a unique opportunity to educate children about how a Torah scroll is written.
“This fits in with [Kollel’s] mission of Jewish education for all,” he said.
It is the timeless aspect of the involvement of all klal Yisrael that has the most significance for Kagan.
“The Torah is the inheritance of every Jew,” he said. “And the nice thing about Torah is that regardless of background or beliefs, the one thing for us that is universal is the text of the Torah.”
(Derek Kwait can be reached at email@example.com.)