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diary of a sofer - part 3

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

It’s amazing how daunting a small piece of k’laf, 12cms square can be. However eventually I felt I was ready and started to rule our the 22 lines that consist of the two paragraphs of the Shema found inside a mezuzah. My sargel broke and out came the superglue as I fixed another thorn to the wooden shaft. Clearly a lightness of touch was needed.

I also discovered that up until now I had been cheating! When doing designs in the past that called for Hebrew calligraphy, I had used guidelines for both the top and the bottom of the letters. A real sofer uses only a top guideline (shirtut), and suspends the letters from that, ensuring that they are 3 kulmusim (nib-widths)) tall.

It is at this point that you would think that I began writing the mezuzah, but before quill is even put to parchment, there are more ritual (see diary 4 for one and below for the other).

Amalek were the cowardly nation who attacked the defenseless at the rear when Israel left Egypt, and thus became the traditional enemy of the Jews (Haman, for example, was considered to be an Amalekite). As a result we are commanded :

Hebrew for the amalek verse

"you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens"

No-one knows exactly who Amalek is nowadays, and besides it would be impolite to go around wiping people out, even if it is biblically ordained. (I suspect the police wouldn’t care too much for it either). Thus it falls to the Sofer to carry out this mitsvah symbolically. A small scrap of kosher k’laf is taken and the Sofer writes the word and then crosses it out with three diagonal lines.

My first mezuzah

Above: My first mezuzah - a bit rough and ready, Above right: amalek - well and truly blotted out.

At last I was ready to begin. All in all it took about four hours in about 5 sittings, when I could fit it in.

Amalek blotted out

The writing was reasonable (you can judge for yourself below) for a first attempt, but still in a somewhat ‘arty’ style that I had picked up from the American Sofer Eric Ray. I would have to unlearn this and get closer to real Sofer S’tam. There was also a mistake (but I didn’t know this at the time).

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that the letters 'ayin' and 'dalet' in the first line are enlarged. The enlarged letters spell out the word ed (witness)) as the Shema expresses the purpose of Israel’s existence: to serve as witness to God’s primacy as the one and only Master of the universe.

More importantly we enlarge the 'dalet' in echad (one) to ensure that we don’t read it as the similarly shaped 'resh' which would render the phrase (heaven forbid) as ‘God is acher (another)'.

I recently checked the mezuzah on my son's bedroom and the 'dalet' was not enlarged - it is clearly a 'dalet' so it is not pasul (invalid), but the scribe was clearly a poor one - the writing is even worse than my first attempt.

Bit worrying really!                                                              

Mordechai Pinchas 

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