What is Torah? How is a Torah Made?

Bmitzvah.org: B Mitzvah! The Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah (R)evolution continues

The Torah is not what it seems to be. It is much more than a collection of bible stories. Torah is the foundation text of Judaism, one of the most ancient of wisdom traditions. Torah is the sacred meeting place of the generations. It is where we dialogue, dance and wrestle with our ancestors’ visions and formulate our own. Yes, Torah is a place to find and make meaning. The meaning is often hidden, buried inside the text and inside of you.

Torah technically means the scroll, which contains the first five books of the bible, also called a Humash, from the Hebrew word for five. Jews do not appreciate the term Old Testament and consider it a put down. We more often use the word Torah, from a Hebrew root from archery instruction meaning "giving direction." Torah can also to refer to the entire Jewish bible which is also called Tanakh (T= Torah, N= Neviim, prophets, KH= ketuvim which includes books such as Job, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Psalms and many more) and Torah study also refers to the whole body of Jewish law and teachings (Talmud, Mishna, Midrash, Zohar, Codes, Responsa, etc.)

Torah is valuable far beyond the endlessly fascinating matters of intellectual, anthropological and historical interest which are involved in the development of such a clever, profound and intricate document. Do you believe the entire Torah was given by G*d in one experience at Mt. Sinai? Or perhaps you are certain that the Torah is a set of myths collected and compiled over time. The study of religion, while fascinating, is not the same as experiencing the effects of it. Torah is brought to life by experiencing it.

Think about velvet. It’s probably interesting to know things about velvet such as: Who was the manufacturer? When was it made? How was it dyed? What is the technical process by which it is made? One could know all that and never have touched velvet, never have slept on velvet, never have held a velveteen-stuffed animal and talked to it, danced with it, projected feelings onto it and loved it. One might never have actually experienced velvet and yet know a great deal about it.

So, too, you could know a lot about the construction of the Torah:

---It is written on the hide of a kosher animal

---with special durable yet non-indelible ink

---using quills, usually turkey quills.

---A Torah is done in painstakingly calligraphy by a pious person.

---This sofer, "scribe" will have a ritual bath each day before writing and s/he prays before starting: "I am writing the Torah in the name of its sanctity and the name of G*d in its sanctity."

---Before writing the name of G*d the sofer repeats, "I am writing the name of G*d for the holiness of [G*d’s] name."

---A new Torah might command a price of $60,000 or more.

---The garments worn by the Torah are distilled from the dress of the high priest: head ornament, breast plate, sash, embroidered garment, even the bells.

---The aron kodesh, "holy housing" for the Torah symbolizes the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the ancient Temple which was in Jerusalem.

---Today most Torah scrolls are written in 245 columns of 42 lines.

---It takes a scribe about a year on average to complete a single Torah scroll.

---Different scripts are used by different Jewish communities. Beit Yoseph script by Ashkenazi Jewis, Ari script by Hasssidim, and Vellish script by Sephardim.

---After the writing is finished, each section is checked three times by experts for mistakes. When everything is perfect each section of the Torah is sewn to the next with gut from a kosher animal.

---The wooden stave[s] upon which the scroll is finally mounted are called the eitz hayyim, tree of life.

---There is a story about a Tree of Life in the Torah scroll itself, in Eden.

And, you might also be aware that the prayer used during services for returning the Torah to its cabinet [ark] opens with the verse:
# Eytz chayim hee She* is a tree of life
# La makhazeekem bah for those who hold fast to her.

*Hebrew is a language where all nouns have gender. Torah is a feminine noun.

When you touch velvet, you know you are having a unique experience for which it is difficult to find adequate words, no amount of knowledge about velvet is equal to the experience of it. The same is true of Torah. It is customary to place a kiss on the Torah scroll as it passes by during services. Bar/bat mitzvah students get to harvest the kisses left for them by the generations and to replace them by planting kisses of their own, each time the Torah comes by....that future generations might sense their presence, their loving and listening and contributing to the meeting place of the generations.

How can such a curious thing as a scroll full of ancient stories become a tree of life, something life giving? There have been times in our history when any contact with Torah or Jewish text at all was deemed treason against the state - whether during the reign of the Syrio-Greeks [the derivative time of Hanukkah], during the Spanish Inquisition, or in the USSR during the dominion of communism. What could be so powerful that it would lead whole empires to restrict our access to it? In the second century C.E. Hananiah Ben Teradyon was burnt wrapped in the Torah for the crime of teaching it and from 1240-1757 Talmud burnings were held in public squares. Why did staff members of the Inquisition studiously examine verse after verse of Jewish sacred text looking for the dangerous and subversive?

Because Torah is an inspiration for freedom within civilization. Each story and verse serves as a prism through which your heart and mind can flow so that the story of your life will intersect with the text and reveal a new insight, that is called revelation. No one can tell you what Torah means, only what it means to them. When a bat/bar mitzvah student steps up to the plate to read and teach Torah, it is interesting to include what Rashi, what he and other commentators said may help inspire you, but most important is the new vision you gain for living because your life came into contact with Torah.