Our Precious Little Torah
Around three hundred and fifty years ago in the Eastern European town of Kolin (approximately 35 miles east of Prague), a Sofer sat down at a small table with a feather quill, a bottle of special ink, and the skin of a kosher animal. He spent more than one year writing out 248 columns of Hebrew text, 42 lines to a column—304,805 letters.
A Jewish community first took root in Kolin in the late 15th century, and that little Torah served the community of Kolin and its environs for over 3 centuries. In June of 1942 as the Jewish community of the Czech Republic was being rounded up and sent to death camps, a desperate attempt was made to preserve the community’s sacred scrolls and Judaica. Along with 1,563 other scrolls, our precious scroll was collected and kept safe in Prague during the Holocaust while the community perished.
For twenty years those 1,564 scrolls languished in a dank, dusty, vermin ridden Prague basement. Until, in 1962, they were discovered and saved by a British businessman and philanthropist. He had them purchased and brought to the Westminster Synagogue in London. There, over the course of 12 years, 1,440 scrolls, including our precious little Torah, were restored and offered on permanent loan to Jewish communities around the world.
In 1978, Rabbi Solomon Kleinman (z”l) sent two TAS members, Harvey (z”l) and Esther (z”l) Saritzky, to London to acquire a scroll for our community. He had but one instruction, “Bring back a scroll that is small enough that every child can carry it at their bar or bat mitzvah.” And that is just what they did. Since that time, nearly every bar and bat mitzvah has carried our precious little Torah around the sanctuary at their bar or bat mitzvah. In 2011 a project was undertaken to once again restore this scroll. Since that time, not only has every child carried, but also read from, our precious little Torah.
We have been entrusted with the care and maintenance, and more importantly, with the preservation of the tradition that this precious little scroll represents. It is our obligation not to let it become a mere artifact, but to make it a living part of our community. We are the link between our ancestors—those that first read from this Torah—and our descendants.
The Torah teaches that it is the responsibility of each Jew to personally write a Sefer Torah; it is considered to be the 613th mitzvah. As we read in Deuteronomy 31:19, “Write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel.” Tradition tells us that one that writes even a single letter in a Torah, or causes one to be written through their support, fulfills this commandment.
We embrace this sacred little Torah with arms big and small — arms that lift the Torah in celebration as our congregation’s children become b’nai mitzvah, arms that hold fast to the Torah as we dance at Simchat Torah, arms that will hand down this Torah from generation to generation. We embrace Torah, and in embracing Torah, we embrace, protect and preserve the most sacred and precious ideals of our people.
The Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) provides support to the thousands of congregations providing love and care to the MST Sifre Torah scrolls. We are a part of that amazing “community”. To learn more about the Memorial Scrolls Trust click here.
— Rabbi Barry Lutz