Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Minhag Yisroel

Once, someone found a sefer Torah in the trash heap outside their city. After examining it, the townsfolk realized that this was a valid, kosher, sefer, and were mystified as to what this sefer was doing in the garbage, hardly a befitting place for such a sacred object.

Someone suggested that maybe this sefer was in fact a sefer written by a heretic; halacha states that a sefer Torah written by an apikores must be disposed of. If this sefer was written by scribe who was a heretic, then the terrible treatment visited upon this Torah was indeed appropriate.

But how could they determine the authorship of the sefer? After all, the scribe doesn't sign his work! How would they know who wrote it? They decided to bring the matter before Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the rav of the town. After hearing the case presented to him, he responded that there was exists a custom among Torah observant Jews that the last two lines of a sefer Torah are not filled in by the scribe himself; he makes the outlines of the letters, and then the townsfolk - eager to join in the completion of this wonderful mitzvah - take turns filling in the letter themselves. The result of this custom is that the last two lines are easily distinguished from the rest of the sefer: whereas the  body of work has the signature style of a professional, the last two lines are not as polished or refined as they would be in the hands of the scribe.

He instructed them to roll the sefer to the end. If the last two lines are slightly imperfect, then they would know that it is indeed a kosher sefer, and would have to restore the Torah to its rightful place in a shul, with a massive induction ceremony in order to make reparation for the sullied honor of the Torah. If the last two lines matched the style of the rest of the body, i.e. the scribe wrote the entire sefer himself, then they would know that the sefer was unfit, as it had been written by a heretic.

Sure enough, the sefer's last two lines were slightly imperfect, indicating its validity. The town made a big celebration, bringing the sefer Torah into the shul with joyous singing and dancing. Rabbi Akiva Eiger himself, whose time was carefully measured and weighed, danced with the Torah for an extended period of time in an effort to appease and mend the honor of the Torah.

*  *  *

Years ago, the P'nei Menachem (the Gerrer Rebbe OBM) dedicated a sefer Torah in memory of his son, who had died in an accident. He invited a select few to the completion ceremony, including Rav Shlomo Zalman Ohrbach OBM, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe OBM, and Reb Yochanan Twerski, the Tolna Rebbe. At the ceremony, Rav Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg (a talmid of the P'nei Menachem and grandson of the Tolna Rebbe) related this story which he had seen in a sefer to the group.

At that point, Reb Yochanan commented that now he understood the statement that Tosafot makes, that "minhag Yisroel, Torah". The comment is usually understood to mean that although there may not be any source, scriptural of otherwise, a minhag found among the Jewish nation is considered to be Torah, and cannot be done away with - it is binding and enduring. After hearing this story, the Tolna Rebbe continued, he realized that it can be understood that through the minhag Yisroel, we have Torah! Because of this minhag, we had a way to establish the quality of a Torah, and so too, the customs of the Nation of Israel testify to the veracity and immutability of God's Torah.

Rav Shlomo Zalman leaped to his feet and exclaimed "I don't know which is greater genius - Reb Akiva Eiger's chap (stroke of insight), or the Tolna Rebbe's tzu-shtell (thematic connection)!
- As heard from Rav Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg, the Tolna Rebbe of Jerusalem.

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