HMS Volume 2: Number 14 – Mitzvah 15: The Mitzvah of writing a Torah Scroll

Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 14
January 16, 2006
Mitzvah 15: The Mitzvah of writing a Torah Scroll

Mitzvah 15 – It is a positive commandment that everyone in Jewry should write a Torah scroll for himself.
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture states, “Now therefore write this song” (Deut. 31:19) which the sages explain to mean “Write a Torah that contains this song.” One should not write a Torah in separate sections. If he writes it with his own hand it is as if he received the Torah at Sinai. If this is not possible, he should hire someone to do it for him or buy a Torah scroll. If he inherits a Torah Scroll, he still needs to write one for himself. However if he corrects one letter it is as if he wrote the whole scroll. Rabbenu Asher (who wrote the law code, the Tur) wrote that this applied to earlier generations when they would write a Torah Scroll and study from it. Today…It is a Mitzvah for everyone who has the means to buy humashim (printed bibles), Mishna, Talmud and their commentaries so that he and his children may study from them. For the religious duty of writing a scroll is to study from it so one will know the Mitzvot and the laws thoroughly. Therefore these are the volumes a person should write or have printed. Whoever has it in his power to do both, to write a scroll and to buy printed Humashim should follow both interpretations of this commandment if he has the means. It applies everywhere and at all times, for men but not for women.

This Mitzvah is pretty straight forward but I have just a few comments on it. First of all, since the writing of a Torah scroll involves skills that are no longer a real part of our lives, the writing of these scrolls has been given over to a trained Sofer (scribe). These Sofrim (scribes) can produce a Torah scroll in about a year. They are commissioned by those who want to fulfill this mitzvah, who pay them for their labor. They also, usually, leave the last few lines unfinished. They outline the letters but do not fill them in, so that when they are done, there can be a “Siyyum” a ceremony for finishing a Sefer Torah. This Siyyum involves the person who commissioned the work to actually fill in some of the letters and to let others fill in letters so that everyone can say that “I wrote a Sefer Torah” since filling in one letter is the same as writing the entire scroll.
When an organization or synagogue commissions the Torah, they will raise money for the organization by having members or the organization and others in the community to sponsor the writing of a Parsha, paragraph, chapter, book, sentence or letter. In this way, everyone has a hand in writing this scroll. On can fulfill this Mitzvah when one participates in a Siyyum ceremony.
It is also important to buy a Humash, and other copies of Rabbinic texts for our homes so that we can study from them. Every Jewish home should have a printed Torah, Talmud, and law codes so that they can use them as reference books to understand their faith. Many online E-mails (like this one), websites, blogs and podcasts are designed to help us read and understand these important Jewish Texts. If we don’t have them in our homes we will never read them and will not come to value our heritage and our faith. This is more than just supporting the Jewish publishers of these texts, it is crucial to our growing in our understanding and commitment to Judaism.
The Hafetz Hayim may have lived in a time when women did not participate in this Mitzvah, indeed, women in his day never really studied Torah at all. In our day, however, women are equally commanded to study and they are equally commanded to write and purchase a Sefer Torah as described above.
Next week: Mitzvah 16: The importance of Torah Scholars

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