WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.
The scroll rolls on, now nearly at the end. In the cozy shul on the beach this past Shabbat, a very strong guy raised the Torah high, and almost dropped it.
Once again, the rerun is almost over… even knowing it will start again doesnt damage – if we try – the cliffhanger ending. So close. The cliffs of the promised land loom over the Jordan, like the days of the coming new year. In this cycle of our life – the Torah cycle – the ending births the book itself.
The final chapters of the Torah include the swan song of Moses – and – detailed instruction about the completion of The Book – the Torah. Like many (esp. first time authors), Moses spends a lot of time making sure the book is taken care of and well distributed.
Clearly he did a great job with the marketing.
The object which seems to the very first Torah scroll is mentioned more than ten times in this week’s Torah text – Nitzvaim Vayelech- more times than any other chapter in the Bible.
And it’s not quite clear when the book is actually done: In one of a few versions of the Torah’s festive conclusion -chapters before its actually over but we’ll gloxx over that for now – we are told:
“And then Moses finished writing in a book the words of this Torah from beginning to end. (!)”
And then it is carried from ritual to ritual before being carefully placed in the sacred ark alongside its two predecessors, the earlier models: the broken fragments of the first set of ten commandments, and the second, complete set.
The Hebrew word used here is “Sefer” – modern Hebrew for ‘book’ but biblical Hebrew for ‘scroll’. Thus, the emobdyiment of the story, the closest thing we have to a tangible idol, kissed and crowned and living behind a curtain, entered our lives, to become the most expesnive and imporant item on the list of Jewish objects.
But even though the object matters so, the choice of words reminds us that what Moses is handing over to Joshua is not a scroll – but a secret. The word “Sefer” is also the root of the word “Sippur” – story, and the sister of the word ‘Sifra’ – digit, and the other one ‘Sfira’ – Sphere.
So clearly the book is not a book, the story is more than a story, and the secrets keep getting revealed and hidden, and then again.
The ‘body of knowledge’ that Moses completes here is a secret that is called ‘Sefer’ but also ‘Torah’ – the teaching, and ‘Ed’ – a witness, and ‘Shira’ – a poem.
And as the last chapters of this book describe to us in detail, how to use this book – the book becomes all about the book itself – a book about a book, a self reflexive story.
And that, say kabblists and the like is the secret of this story: It is ongoing and it is a mirror to our own soul’s story in ways we barely understand.
For why else would we be here year after year retracing the footsteps in the sinai sand?
Sometimes one wonders: Why still unscroll this scroll and mine it for meaning?
Looking back on this ‘word’ journey of almost a year, in pre conclusion mode, I pause to ponder the point of following the trail of Torah, this past year, and always, and why this scroll-story-sefer is so much part of my innermost path. It’s a longer answer, but the on-one-foot reason is that this shared sacred vocabulary of my people’s tradition of wisdom is my roadmap, sometimes treasure map, an inherited minefield, the sacred story book that amazingly is still going on.
And I get to revisit and revise it and honor it and tell it again, and anew, and search for the secrets.
What Moses passes on is much more than an object or the words that are in it in scroll, on page or screen or scream.
The secret, he reminds us, is that it’s all right inside each one of us – in our mind, and heart, and mouth: we get to tell and write and pass the story on. And hopefully – we’ll make good choices:
Remember not to look for God in sea or sky, Moses says:
|14 For it is very close to you, in your mouth, and in your heart; so that you will do it.|
|15 See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil,|
This is where the two cycles co-circle and the two books open as one: The weekly torah cycle and the season of the year. This book of Tora is about to close and the book of life is about to open.
What is my life is closing now, what’s opening?
Our stories say that on the first night of the new year a book is opened, and some say three, and in it we are inscribed for the year to come – or, perhaps, we get to begin authoring our next chapter, a new page, in a very old story book.
Whether we are the authors of our destiny or characters in a great story or both – I hope that this year brings us journeys that will deepen our finding of what’s already deep inside.