Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Touching History

I've written about this before, but more happened this year, or at least I learned more, so here is the story I posted to Facebook. A bit of credit due to the "anonymous" commenter on the original post, as will be seen:

In 1898, Mrs. Imam Sassoon of Bombay commissioned a Sefer Torah, to be written in Baghdad on deerskin and enclosed in an ornate silver case. It eventually made its way to the Old City of Jerusalem and Yeshivat Porat Yosef.

In 1948, the Old City was taken by the Jordanians and the yeshiva was destroyed. This Sefer Torah caught the eye of a soldier, however, and it was spared, winding up in the palace of King Abdullah (great-grandfather of the current king of the same name).

The next year, Golda Meir was in the palace for secret talks along with another Foreign Ministry representative, Eliyahu Sassoon, and they were shown the Torah by the king. They convinced the king that it wasn't right to hold a Sefer Torah hostage (see Shmuel Aleph, Chapter Five  ) and he let them take it back with them. (Only then did Sassoon realize that it had been commissioned by his own great-grandmother.) It was donated to the Beit Knesset of then-Chief Rabbi Herzog, and ended up in the Judaica museum of Heichal Shlomo, then the seat of the Chief Rabbinate, where it remains until today.

The Beit Knesset in which I daven every morning (and layn) is in Heichal Shlomo, and once a year that Sefer Torah is taken downstairs and read from our Bimah. I've been waiting for the day since I first saw it happen over a year ago, and sure enough, they brought it down today. Some people from the museum brought in the Torah and joined us for tefilla, the security guard (who I knew was a real shutterbug) took pictures, and a curator gave a short talk before I read from the Torah.

It's funny: You approach something with that sort of history, at first, with a sense of awe, not even wanting to get too close. By the time you've spent five minutes with it, it's like an old friend, and you're handling it (always respectfully, of course) like the Sifrei Torah with which you're much more familiar. But the awe remains as you look at it, read the pesukim ("Hashem Yilachem Lachem" is one on the case itself, for some reason, prophetically enough) and dedications engraved on it, and think of its story.

I said I waited for the Torah's re-appearance this year. Forgive me for anthropomorphizing, but I get the feeling the Sefer Torah itself waits for this day all year as well. I'm honored we shared in the simcha.

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