Rabbi Yossi Friedman speech
At occasion of Torah dedication
With the dedication of a new Torah scroll a new chapter has been written into the history book of the Kingsford Maroubra Jewish community.
Each and every scroll has a story behind it. Some of our scrolls were transported to this country by European Jews making their way to freedom, to rebuild their shattered lives. It was these Jews, these survivors, who founded our community and last week we heard a number of their stories at our 70th anniversary celebrations.
Today, our Torah also contains a story. It’s writing was commissioned as a moving testimony to the commitment and dedication exemplified by the Bonert, Aaron and Kessler families and their love for their family and community.
The very last commandment in the Torah is to write a Torah scroll. Rabbenu Asher (13th Century, Toldeo, Spain) explains that the main intent of the commandment is to enable the study of Torah. Before the printing press was invented the primary text was the scroll itself, unlike today, where the scroll is used almost exclusively for reading during prayer services.
Rabbenu Asher also rules that one who writes a single letter in the scroll fulfils the requirement of writing a scroll. This is because the presence of every single letter is what renders a scroll Kosher and valid. This new scroll was underwritten by the Aaron and Kessler families and also by contributions from hundreds of people of our community who have purchased words and letters. This Torah has indeed brought our community together, a fitting tribute, to those that it was written to honour.
The Jewish nation has existed as a people for well over three millennia. Yet since the destruction of Solomon’s Temple some 2500 years ago until the foundation of the State of Israel, the Jewish people have not had a majority of the nation in one region.
Scholars and historians are hard pressed to explain the survival of our people to this day. Many nations and civilisations have enjoyed their time in the limelight, yet most of them are now long gone, relegated to a few pages in history books. Astonishingly though, the Jews have retained a culture and identity despite having had no homeland, no physical roots, for well over 2 millennia. What is the secret of this survival?
For Jews the answer is very simple. The lifeline of a Jew, the core of a Jew’s identity, stems from the shared mission outlined in the Torah to which every Jew is bound. The study of the Torah, its transmission from one generation to the next, pored over with love and joy, is what has given fortitude and provided a sense of meaning and belonging to Jews for all of these centuries. You can harm a Jew, you can take away everything that Jew possesses, but you can’t take away what a Jew knows and believes in. The answer to our survival is this Torah.
Our task from here is to keep these words living; to ensure that THIS Torah, commissioned as a testament to the vitality of Judaism here in our community, is not left behind this curtain, visited only on weekends and festivals. This Torah needs to be carried with us always, reflected not only in our lives at home but in the outside world as well.
I wish to stress the historic significance of this moment. It is well known that one of the first actions taken by the Nazis upon entrance to a city was the confiscation of Torah scrolls and Jewish books for desecration in the city streets and squares. During this tragic period in our history, millions of Jewish souls and thousands of Torah scrolls were lost to our nation. By dedicating a new Torah into our community, we are returning a scroll to our people and strengthening our nation. There is nothing more powerful than that.