The day after ends, we complete our annual cycle of reading the Torah. And how do we celebrate? Nu, how else? We reroll the scrolls back to the beginning and immediately start all over again! We also dance, sing and parade around with Torah scrolls well into the night. We call this festive holiday Simchat Torah — the joy of Torah — and it’s an expression of how lucky we feel to have been the recipients of G-d’s own divine teachings set to writing.
Given the holiness of G-d’s word, each Torah is treated with reverence, and created with much care. Did you know, for example:
• Each Torah scroll is hand-written by a trained scribe called a sofer/soferet, who must learn more than 4,000 Judaic laws before starting.
• They use a goose-feather quill, permanent black ink and parchment sheets made of a kosher animal’s skin.
• Each letter must be written with precision, because a single typo or misshapen letter would invalidate the entire scroll. There are 304,805 letters. (You think you have a high-pressure job?) It takes an entire year to write a Torah scroll.
• The completed parchment sheets are sewn together with cow sinews to create a long scroll. Each end of the scroll is sewn into and rolled around an ornate wooden rod, each of which is called etz chaim, “tree of life.” (Somewhat confusingly, the Torah itself is also known as etz chaim.)
• The resulting Torah scroll plus its two rods weighs about 25 pounds. Fully dressed in silver ornamentations, it can weigh twice that much.
• Tradition holds that if you drop a Torah on the floor — the terror of every b’nai mitzvah kid — you and every witness must fast from sunrise to sunset for 40 straight days as penance. Nowadays, people often give tzedakah instead.
• A Torah scroll gets respect. When it’s lifted, we stand. Wherever it’s carried, we turn to face in that direction. And when a Torah is within reaching distance, we kiss it using a prayer book or the edge of our tallit as a sign of love.