Tonight I went and saw some old Hebrew scrolls with friends. I expected to see, you know, a couple of old scrolls here and there, in a very informal kind of presentation. Instead what I saw was at least 16 unique scrolls, going as far back in their origin as the 1400s (or as recent as 2008). As it turns out, this collection was (truly) the only one of its kind, fulfilling in its entirety all of what we would call the Old Testament in kosher scrolls. Very hard to find. The Vatican claims to have several of such collections, but last I checked, the Vatican doesn’t have the most open-door policy toward college students. Or anyone, ever.
I saw a scroll of Esther, with the names of Haman’s sons enlarged so as to remind the reader that messing with God’s people is a serious offense.
I saw a Torah scroll from a Hebrew kindergarten, stabbed through five times by Nazi bayonets, rescued from the Nazis and hidden by a Jewish grandmother until such a time as it was safe to possess the word of God.
I saw a THIRTY-FIVE POUND TORAH SCROLL, made of unbroken deer skin.
Being so close to the heritage of my faith nearly brought me to tears. I would have taken more pictures with my iPad, but my hands were shaking, and I didn’t want to drop it on a scroll and have the next edition of the Torah printed on my hide.
The display was shown to us by a Messianic Rabbi with a southern drawl.
All this was in the small basement of an Episcopalian church.
“Why aren’t there more people here?” I asked my professor.
“Because no one cares,” he responded.
And you know? Throughout the presentation I was thinking, “How can I share this with my friends?” I wanted my sister to be there and see this guy speak. But honestly? A month or two ago I would not have appreciated this like I did tonight.
I wouldn’t have been able to find Haman’s name in the text of Ruth. I wouldn’t have laughed when the Texan Messianic Rabbi talked about how vowels are, of course, only used in beginner’s Hebrew. I wouldn’t have gained an appreciation for the uniformity of the letters written in kosher ink on a quill from a kosher bird, which was changed every time the scribe came to God’s name.
And I’ve only been here for less than a semester. Gary Schnittjer, on the other hand, has basically given his life to this kind of work. He’s a doctor who wrote his dissertation on the Haftora (the kindergarten-style Torah, with vowels inserted). Tonight he got to see one in person for the first time.
Knowledge, it would seem, opens up a door for excitement. It plows the field so that seeds of joy may be planted. The plowing itself can be difficult. But the benefit!