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diary of a sofer - part 41 - havchanot tinok - part deux

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

Well you wait ages for a real life example of havchanot tinok (the discernment of a child) and then (like buses) two come along at once. And this one was great!

At the Sefardi synagogue that I go to occasionally and up comes a chap called Ezra during the haftarah and says - can you come and look at the Torah - there’s a letter I don’t think is kasher. So up to the bimah I pop whilst there is a bit of a break between prayers and the d’var torah. “Read it”, he says - quite rightly he doesn’t want to tell me what the problem is - he wants to see if I see the problem. So I’m reading along and then immediately stop and say - “well that bet in beyn (between) looks like a nun”. “That’s the problem”, he says. Well it’s a close one - a case of genuine safek (doubt). The bet is too small squeezed in between (pun intended) the words and does look like a nun as it is only just over one kulmus (nib-width) wide. But it does have the smallest ekev (heel) that might make it a bet. Oh how I wished for my ‘shabbat camera’ (they really need to invent one of those). And it was genuine doubt as other members of the community who had seen it felt it was a bet and some said nun. Genuine doubt = discernment of a child. But no children of the right age and knowledge in shul that day so we had to let it pass, but not until I had given an impromptu drasha on the halacha surrounding pasul letters, matters of doubt and how it should be dealt with to the community.

Later I checked one of my books S’fakot Hasofer. I had made the right call. Genuine doubt - if a child read it as bet it would be kasher, if a nun - pasul

Excerpt from S’fakot Hasofer showing the exact issue - I love textbook examples - it just brings it all to life.

Fast forward to Lag Ba’Omer and a community barbecue and a chance (not shabbat) to look at the Torah with a child present. Step forward Joshua.

I get Joshua to read a few letters at random and then covering the nun sofit of beyn (so he can’t work it from context) then get him to read letters in order from the pey in piy. Peh .. yud ... heh ... chet ... yud ... resh ... tav ...

Above: Ezra opens the ark and we open the Torah - and look at the bet in question.

Joshua hesitates a little and reads ...NUN ... yud.

The Torah is pasul and will need to be fixed.

And, since Ezra found the error he will have the honour of fixing it under my guidance thus gaining the 613th mitsvah.

Having not expected to fix Torah that day - my main expectation was to eat meat and sing - I run home to fetch a kulmus (quill), my keset (ink well) and a travel tikkun and then run back. We take the torah from the aron hakodesh (holy ark) and because it is in a tik we have to remove the scroll part for fixing. I get some paper and make a few letter forms for Ezra to practice on - he needs to add a proper ekev and lengthen the base a little - nothing we can do about the top because of the proximity of the yud. I send Ezra off to wash his hands, then back he needs to state that he is writing this l’shem k’dushat Sefer Torah (for the sake of the holiness of the Sefer Torah) and then read what is writing from the tikkun (one isn’t supposed to do this from memory) and then improve the form of the letter. 

The Torah contains not ten but 613 mitsvot and the last, but not the least of which is to write and own a Sefer Torah - not collectively, but a mitsvah that is incumbent upon every Jew.

In the past people did write or commission the writing of their own scroll.  In our day the observance of this mitsvah is a rare phenomena.  The high cost is prohibitive, limiting this to the wealthy only.  Moreover very few individuals are capable, or more accurately, happy to take the not inconsiderable time to study the halacha of sofrut - the scribal laws -  and develop the necessary calligraphic technique to produce an halachically acceptable scroll. Nonetheless Sefer HaChinuch - the book of instruction - has this as number 613 and the commandment is derived from D'varim , where it states, ‘and now write for yourself this song’ In context this probably refers to the song in close proximity to the statement - the poem of Ha-azinu, but is taken to mean the whole Torah by the rabbis.

Fortunately a statement within the Talmud (Menachot 30a) does at least afford the opportunity for people to have the status of the mitsvah accorded to them.

It reads, 'R. Sheshet said if one corrects even one letter it is considered as if he wrote [an entire Sefer Torah]' and adds: 'whoever writes a Sefer Torah, Scripture deems it as if he received it from Sinai'.

So on Lag Ba’Omer 5770 a Torah was given from Sinai to Ezra - that’s the Sinai just outside Newbury Park!

Mordechai Pinchas

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