OKLAHOMA CITY —
In the Jewish community, completion of a Torah, a sacred text with 304,805 letters, marks a major accomplishment.
Sunday afternoon, members of the local Jewish community gathered to celebrate and dedicate the Oklahoma Unity Torah at the Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning, 3000 W. Hefner Road.
Part of the ceremony was the inscribing of the last few letters of the Torah — which in the narrowest sense refers to the five books of Moses: Genesis (creation), Exodus (departure), Leviticus (Levites), Numbers (numbering of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai and on the plains of Moab) and Deuteronomy (the second law). The ceremony also included the lifting of the scroll, the tying and covering of the scroll, the adorning of the cover and hanging of the breastplate. The scroll was then adorned with a royal crown.
During his remarks to the congregants, Rabbi Ovadia Goldman spoke about the Jewish people and their appreciation for the religious freedom they enjoy in the United States.
He spoke about the journey of Edward Kaswan and his family, who created the Torah in memory of Paul and Sabina Schechter. Born in Vienna, Austria, Ed witnessed the beginning of the Holocaust, during which the Nazis murdered an estimated 6 million Jews.
Kaswan’s parents arranged for him to escape Vienna on the Kindertransport to the United Kingdom.
After the war, the Schechters arranged for Kaswan to come to the United States, where he joined the Air Force before working for the FAA and then opening his own contracting business.
Edward, who witnessed the destruction of Jewish centers and Torah scrolls in Vienna, became a significant contributor to the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City.
“We can never forget,” Goldman said. “But the way we never forget is by inspiring ourselves and others ... .”
Goldman said it is important that Jews carry forth the message of the Torah, the spirit of the Torah, the in-grace of the Torah, the love of the Torah onward until the messiah returns.
Rabbi Yehuda Weg, director of Chabad House-Lubavitch in Tulsa and director of Chabad activities statewide, said it is important to remember what the Torah is and why they were celebrating.
“The Torah is a gift. An incredible gift. An amazing gift,” he said.
Weg said the Torah is our ability to be able to understand how God looks at something. The Torah at the center was made from a copy, which was made from a copy, which was made from a copy before it, copied letter for letter, word for word totally uniform from the original manuscript given by God to Moses to give to us, he said.
“Each and every one of those letters has to stand on its own,” Weg said, adding that the letters represent Jewish people, their part in the Torah. “This is what you need to know, this is what you need to do. But it’s yours. You need to know it. You need to do it.”
Weg said the Torah, which on one hand is greater than believers, was given to them by God in a specific way.
“We have to unwrap this gift,” he said.
A Torah project is a year-long program of learning, community involvement and fundraising. Jewish scriptures used in services are written on parchment scrolls made from the skin of a kosher animal. They are always hand-written in Hebrew calligraphy.
Letters are written by a scribe (“sofer”) who must be a God-fearing and pious person dedicated to the sanctity of the Torah scroll, according to Chabad.org. The scribe must copy the letters word for word from a kosher Torah scroll or a copy of a certified Kosher scroll.
A scribe uses only black ink made from gall-nut juice and gum, darkened by adding various tints and a feather pen; iron pens may puncture the parchment and iron is often used to make weapons of death and destruction, which oppose the intent of the Torah.
Letters are written in the “Assyrian” script. Numerous laws detail the precise figure of each letter. If a single letter is missing or flawed the entire scroll is not kosher. Two wooden shafts (“atzei chayim”) attached to either end of the scroll are used to roll up the scroll. They also serve as handles for holding the scroll.
After the scroll was completed, celebrants paraded with the Torah under a canopy in the streets. The procession was accompanied by festivity, dancing and music. The Torah was then brought to its home, a cabinet in the synagogue called an “ark,” as in Ark of the Covenant.
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