Did you know that the Torah commands each person to write their own Torah scroll, with several options available to fulfill this commandment.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Vayelech” (Deuteronomy 31:1–30) and it is the shortest Torah portion in the entire Torah. It’s so short, that in most years, it doubles up with last week’s Torah portion, Netzavim, which is also unusually short. Also notable about this week’s Torah portion is that it contains the final mitzvah (commandment) of the entire Torah, the mitzva to write a Torah of our own.
As the verse says, “So now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel.” This teaches us that every Jew is duty bound to write a Torah scroll for him or herself. Well, actually, whether or not women are included in this is a matter of dispute among the authorities.
Some authorities encourage women to take part in this mitzvah as well, while others exempt them from this mitzva entirely, as women are not required to occupy themselves with Torah study in the same manner as men. Even one who inherits a Torah would still be obligated to have a Torah commissioned and written especially for him.
Among the many interpretations offered as to the motive for this mitzvah is that writing a Torah and keeping it in one’s home promotes and encourages greater Torah study. Among the modern-day authorities who actively promoted the fulfillment of this mitzvah was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
In fact, it was one of Rabbi Schneerson’s ten lifelong projects. He felt that it was critical for every Jew to participate in this mitzvah, either by commissioning a scribe to write an entire Torah scroll on one’s behalf or even by merely purchasing one letter towards the completion of one. It has been suggested that his urgency in promoting this mitzvah derives from a verse in the book of Daniel, which seems to teach that those who have participated in the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll will be saved from future apocalyptic disasters.
Even one who merely corrects a non-kosher Torah and thereby makes it usable once more is credited with having written the entire scroll!
The Midrash (rabbinic literature) relates that prior to his passing, Moshe wrote a Torah scroll on behalf of each and every tribe, and by extension, every Jew, thereby fulfills the mitzvah on behalf of the entire nation!
Today’s application of the mitzvah has several manifestations. Considering that this mitzvah is intended to further Torah study, many authorities are of the opinion that the requirement to write a Torah scroll is not necessarily literal, but rather, that the mitzvah can also be fulfilled by buying Torah books to study from, and common custom is in accordance with this view.
Nevertheless, one who participates in the literalist approach by writing a Torah scroll is to be praised.
We are taught that whoever fulfills this mitzvah, in one form or another, will merit the blessing, “And everyone who observes this commandment will be blessed, and he and his sons will become wise.”
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portions, click on the links below:
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