I was speaking with my friend Rabbi David Vaisberg of Temple B’nai Abraham and was reminded of an episode that took place between my fourth and fifth years of rabbinic studies. I spent that summer participating in a spirituality seminar. One day, we were sitting in the chapel at the Hebrew Union College with Dr. Eugene Borowitz of blessed memory. We were all on the bimah and Dr. Borowitz had his back to the ark.
Now, if you have ever been to the Hebrew Union College you might have noticed the magnificent lucite ark designed by the Israeli Artist Agam. We had just finished the Torah service and placed the scroll back in the ark. As Dr. Borowitz spoke I noticed that the Torah, newly placed back into the ark, was leaning forward on the ark doors. To my horror, I watched as it began to push the doors open. It quickly became clear that the weight of the Torah was enough that, within a few seconds, it would push the doors open just enough for the scroll itself to fall forward onto the floor.
Without thinking, I leapt past Dr. Borowitz, flipped over so my back hit the ground, and caught the Torah as it fell on top of me.
That’s right, for two seconds I became a Jewish ninja!
When he realized why I had flown past him, Dr. Borowitz stood up, took the Torah from me and carefully placed it back into the ark. When he sat back down he said, “Decent catch Cohen… now let’s talk about what would have happened had the Torah actually fallen to the ground.”
He went on to explain that, according to tradition, if a Torah scroll is dropped or falls to the ground for any reason, it is presumed that someone had been careless and, as a result, needs to perform a tikkun, an act of repair. Moreover, he said, that tikkun, that act of repair, needs to follow a rule known as mida kneged mida – meaning that the repair must be connected in some way to the transgression. So, in this case, since Moses was on top of Mt. Sinai for 40 days to receive the Torah, a 40 day fast was deemed an appropriate tikkun, an appropriate response. As an alternative, however, a donation to tzedakah could be made. “But,” Dr. Borowitz went on, “here is the thing. Not only would the person who dropped the Torah have to fast or give to tzedakah, but everyone who witnessed it would have to do so.”
In other words, while one person may have been careless, the entire community was responsible for fixing the damage that had been done and ensuring that it not happen again. So even though the community wasn’t responsible for what had happened, once it did happen EVERYONE became responsible for setting things right.
Friends, this Shabbat message is NOT about dropping Torahs.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
A SOMA Refugee Resettlement Update
After nearly four months, the SOMA Refugee Resettlement effort is continuing — and will continue for eight more months. The Afghan family we support is making progress on many fronts, but will need our support as they move forward. At the same time, we are exploring the possibility of supporting a Ukrainian family to settle in our community. If you are interested in the possibility of getting involved on a leadership level in this effort, please contact Alan Levine at [email protected] .