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Home » Shoftim

Shoftim: Write a Torah

Submitted by on August 5, 2013 – 11:01 pmNo Comment | 6,332 views

Your Own Scroll

One of the six-hundred-thirteen commandments is the obligation for every Jew to write a Torah scroll. Jews that are not trained to write the Torah script may discharge their obligation by commissioning a trained scribe to write it for them.[1]

The reason for this obligation is not entirely clear in the Torah. The Torah tells us to write the Torah so that it would be taught to the children of Israel.[2] The Talmud elaborated on this and stated that by writing or commissioning a Torah scroll it is considered as if one has “received it at Sinai.”[3]

The Torah is an inheritance from G-d transmitted from generation to generation, however, human nature is such that unless we feel personally invested, our enthusiasm and commitment fades. It is not sufficient to know that our parents were instructed to keep the Torah. For us to invest in Judaism, we need to feel as if G-d addressed us in person at Sinai.

We have many Torah scrolls handed down to us by our parents, but G-d does not want us to be satisfied with it. G-d wants us to write our own so we would know that with every generation the charge begins anew. G-d speaks to us with the same directness that He addressed to our parents. Yes, He means us.

The King

In addition to the Torah scroll that every Jew is required to write, Jewish kings are mandated by the Torah to write or commissionwrite a torah - innerstream a second Torah scroll that they would keep with them every day. The purpose of this second scroll is to ensure the king’s “fear of G-d.”[4]

The Torah mandates that the king be treated with reverence and awe.[5] When a human being is accorded such great honor it is difficult not to grow haughty. This is human nature. No matter how humble or pious, we cannot avoid experiencing a secret thrill when our virtues are extolled in public. It is difficult to be the object of great flattery and continue to see oneself in a humble light.

The king was most susceptible to this challenge because he was always accorded honor, respect, reverence and awe. He held the power of life and death. He could inspire loyalty, enthusiasm, patriotism and even piety. The king held sway over the nation.

Carrying the Torah on his person wherever he went served as a potent reminder that the honor accorded him belongs to the office, not his person. The people honor their king and leader, they honor the man that inspires them and leads them to G-d. It is their reverence for G-d that they shower on the king. Carrying the Torah reminded the king just whom they were honoring and rendered him immune to the ubiquitous stream of obsequiousness that plagued him at all times.

The Struggle

The obligation to carry a Torah on his person applied only to the king, not all Jewish leaders. Yet, every Jewish leader wrestles with this challenge as illustrated by this series of stories:

Rabbi Shmelke, the famed disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, was offered the position of chief Rabbi in Nikelsburg. Upon arriving to his post he learned that a festival of greeting had been organized in his honor. Before attending the festival he requested some alone time in a private room.

When his hosts came to collect him they heard him proclaiming, “The famous Shmelke has arrived, he is a great scholar and it is an honor to have him in our city.” They asked about his bizarre behavior and he explained that he would shortly hear such things from others. Concerned, that such flattery might compromise his humility he said them to himself first so that when he heard them later he would recall how lame they sounded on his own lips.

In 1894, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe traveled to Romanovkeh in the Cherson region. Out of reverence, the entire community came out to greet him. As the carriage approached, the adoring crowds unhitched the horses and carried the wagon into the city. They considered it an honor to carry the Rebbe, but the elderly Chassidim, who witnessed the event, discerned a painful expression on his face. In recounting the story they would express the wish that their own heart be as broken and humbled on Yom Kippur at Neilah as the Rebbe’s was at that moment.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Rabi Yaakov of Lisa were traveling to Warsaw. When they approached, the greeting crowds unhitched the horses and drew the carriage in their stead. Each Rabbi quietly determined that this unusual display of respect was in honor of his colleague and each stepped from the carriage to join the crowd in pulling the other. When the carriage arrived at its destination the crowd was astonished to find it vacant. Only the carriage wasn’t vacant. It hummed with humility and respect.

This is the essence of our response to flattery. Whether we are bring praised for our abilities, personality, character traits or physical appearance, our response must always be to look toward others that have accomplished even more and try to emulate them. In matters of goodness we must never be satisfied. Satisfaction leads to smugness and smugness leads to hubris.

When we hear our praises sung, our internal response should be that they are not praising me, but my achievements. I too am impressed by those achievements, in fact, so impressed that I cannot rest on my laurels in smug satisfaction. I must get up and do more. Compared to others I have barely scratched the surface.

There is a time for everything. This is not the time to sing odes. This is a time for action. When we are eulogized there will be ample time for praises, not now. So long as we are alive, we are capable of more. How can we sit back and enjoy flattery while time is wasting?

The concern is that we might not remember to think this way when we are accorded respect. The king carried a Torah to remind him. The Rabbis carried their humility and love of Torah to remind them. What can we carry to remind us?

We carry the stories of great Tzadikim. When we remember how they perceived their achievements we are inspired to emulate them. We should carry these stories with us at all times. When the need arises and the opportunity presents itself we can pull out the story and use it to good effect.


[1] This requirement hearkens back to the days when students studied directly from Torah scrolls. Today that we study from books the obligation is to write or purchase books of Torah, Talmud and Halacha. See Yore Deah 270:2.

[2] Deuteronomy 31:19.

[3] See Babylonian Talmud: Menachos 30a and Maimonides, Hilchos Sefer Torah ch. 7.

[4] Deuteronomy 17:18. See also Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 21a.

[5] Deuteronomy 17:15. See also Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 20b.

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