Touch the Torah
From the time I was a young woman Judaism held a fascination for me. I liked the philosophy of Judaism and I believed the practice of Sabbath observance had not been changed by some divine inspiration. In fact, for many years before I actually converted, when the question of religion came up, I would often tell people I was Jewish. Needless to say, when I had the opportunity to start attending services I did so with much gusto and enthusiasm. I was very mystified by the Hebrew, the rituals and just the whole way of conducting the service. I attended faithfully and followed the service by reading the English as the others read the Hebrew.
But there was one part of the service I could not understand and felt too uncomfortable to talk to anyone about – that was the touching of the Torah and then kissing your hand or sometimes the other way around. Every time the Torah came near me I would stand back. What were they doing? Were they worshipping the Torah? Did they think it had some divine power? This was just too strange. I did not want to touch it. So I just watched and thought I could never take part in that ritual.
About two and a half years after I started attending services I went through the full conversion process. By this time I had taken the required courses for conversion and even a class in Hebrew, although I still can’t read Hebrew. I now loved being with the other members and felt it was the right place for me. However, I still did not touch the Torah.
Not long after my conversion I became a grandmother. Now there was this beautiful little baby boy named Austin. I didn’t get to see him very often, so every time I did it was a joy. One evening when Austin was about four months old, my son, daughter-in-law and the baby came to my house for dinner. Austin was just old enough to assert his independence and he decided that he did not know me and would not let me hold him.
As I held out my arms and begged him to come to me, he clung to his mother tighter than ever and buried his head in her shoulder. I kept holding out my arms and he fiercely held to his mother. I didn’t want to make him cry so I didn’t try to take him, but I loved him so much and I just wanted to touch him. So I reached out my hand and touched him on the arm. In that instant I saw the hand reaching out to touch the Torah.
Instantly, I realized what it meant to touch the Torah. It was not worshipping the Torah. It was just the love of this wonderful object that enriches our lives and brings knowledge to us. The understanding that because we have the Torah life is richer, life has meaning, and the words are eternal. Just as my grandson makes my life richer and brings joy and meaning to family.
The next day was the Sabbath and I went to services with a new love and joy for the Torah. When the Torah came by me I no longer stepped back. This time, I too, reached out my hand, touched the Torah and then kissed my hand.
Written by Clare Chance 618-305-3514