11 August 2009

We Need to Love Our Torahs More

You might recall that at one point some months back I told the story of a Torah scroll adopted by Altshul, the independent minyan that prays here a few times a month, and how in gratitude for the space they are given, the minyan raised money to restore the scroll. It remains one of my favorite stories, especially since talking heads in the Jewish world sometimes argue to strongly in favor of making things "free" for "young people" and the adoption of the Sefer Torah was an example of a free will offering from said population which ended up raising a few thousand dollars for the repair. Everyone benefits, most important, the Source of Life, whose words get read with pride from this sacred book by many different minyans across the generations here at CBE.

Other elements of the physical infrastructure are not always so easily repaired and a quick walk through our facilities reveals that fact. Most days we work around these challenges until we can raise the proper amount of money to take care of the buildings, bring them up to date to accommodate a 21st century synagogue and community center. And some days the challenges come raining down on us, literally.

Like last week, for example.

A child in our camping program pulled a prank by plugging up a sink on the second floor, which overflowed, and then subsequently leaked down into our small chapel in the Temple House. Though the roof and building envelope have been declared water-tight, the internal pipes are another matter. There are many surprises left waiting for us. Well, the rain came down into the chapel, on to the piano (which was undamaged) and after mopping up operations, all was well. That was Thursday night.

On Friday night while leading services, I approached the Ark to open it for Aleynu and noticed immediately that the door was stuck--it felt water logged and I immediately knew that what I was about to encounter was just not going to be good.

Sure enough, once opened, I noticed that both Torah covers were soaking wet. One had already begun to mildew, which had my mind on Leviticus and the various laws required for dealing with growing mold. Then I thought of the Macabees redeeming a defiled Temple. Then I thought of Samson, a Temple tumbling down up on him. Then I thought of any number of tragedies in Jewish history, Torah scrolls defiled, sacrificed in blood. It was quite an Aleynu--one I'll not soon forget.

I thought fast, remained calm, finished the prayers, led the Kaddish, made Kiddush, and then grabbed some leaders to head back in to the Chapel. There we assessed the damage. One scroll, already not kosher but certainly usable, was finished. The water had stained several pages and made letters run. The other scroll, the kosher one that had been restored, felt damp to the touch but didn't seem to sustain any damage. We unrolled them both, gently, lovingly, and I begged them each forgiveness. As the rabbi of the synagogue, I promised them that with the best of my ability I would never let something like this happen again. I recited Psalms to them in my heart and felt my chest weighed down with grief. We decided to leave the air conditioning on to keep the room dry and sure enough next morning the scrolls had dried.

Wrapping the damaged scroll in two tallitot, it looked like a body prepared for burial. I was alone in the chapel and it felt like the sacred moment of death, carrying out ritual purification for the deceased. I found a new, dry cover for the other Torah and then carried it across the street for use by Altshul, then went and got a third scroll for the Lay Led Minyan to use for their Shabbat worship as well. For a brief moment I sat alone in the chapel, surveying the situation.

And here's what I have to say.

We need to love our buildings more.
We need to love our Torahs more.
We need to love our community more, so that when we enter its space--both physical and metaphysical--we do so with the commitment to not do damage and not let damage happen. A parent's role is to protect a child, because in the child will we live. There actually is a sustaining self-interest in why we do the selfless things for our own.

So consider the Torah and the buildings that house them. They need our protection, continually, over and over again, because by the words of Torah will we live:

"Let us make the person in our image." (Genesis)

"The Eternal is my strength and might and deliverance." (Exodus)

"Love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus)

"How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your houses O Israel." (Numbers)

"Hear O'Israel, the Eternal our God is One." (Deuteronomy)

Let's all pledge to never let this happen again by promising, in the year ahead, to do all we can in our power to make these buildings true sanctuaries of protection for all that we love.

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