This week we're honored to have our new Torah dedicated in honor of Rabbi Brownstein.
The dedication of a new Torah scroll is traditionally celebrated with great festivity. The source of this custom is the biblical account of King David welcoming the Holy Ark into his capital:1 “David went and brought up the Ark of G‑d . . . into the City of David, with joy . . . David danced with all his might before G‑d . . . David and all the House of Israel brought up the Ark of G‑d with shouts and with the sound of the shofar [ram’s horn].”
The celebration should be scheduled for a date in the near future. The specifics of the celebration vary from one community to the next. The following is a brief outline of the ceremony according to Chabad custom, as per the instructions of the Chabad rebbes.2
The one arranging the Torah dedication should consult with rabbis and community leaders in order to take local customs into account. The following outline can then be adjusted accordingly.
Once the writing of the Torah is near completion, the celebration should be scheduled for a date in the near future; it should not be postponed for an extended period of time.
Ideally, the celebration should coincide with an auspicious day on the Jewish calendar (such as Rosh Chodesh), and certainly not in the mournful period preceding the 9th of Av.
A mantle, crown, yad (pointer) and other Torah ornaments—each community according to its custom—should be prepared in advance. When making of the mantle, there is a special tradition to prepare an excess amount of material; the leftover material is then cut up into small pieces and distributed at the ceremony (see below for more on this).
All the residents of the neighborhood are invited to the gala celebration. In the days before the ceremony, the date and location of the dedication are announced in all the synagogues.
If the planned procession will be winding its way through city streets, permits may be required, and should be taken care of in advance.
In anticipation of the holy event, it is commendable to immerse in a mikvah (ritual pool) on the day of the dedication. A holiday-like atmosphere pervades the entire community; tachanun (penitential prayer) is not recited in the daily prayers. All attending the celebration dress in their holiday finest.
Completing the Torah
It is customary to sell the honor of writing the final letters of the TorahIf the writing of the Torah was commissioned by an individual,3 the final lines of the Torah are written in the home of that person. If it is a communal Torah, then the entire ceremony (and procession) takes place in the synagogue.
It is customary to sell the honor of writing the final letters of the Torah, with the funds raised earmarked for a local charity or synagogue. The scribe draws the outline of the final letters, and those who purchased the honor fill in the letters with quill and ink.
When the Torah is completed, the ink dried, and the final parchment panels sewn together, the Torah is wrapped in its mantle and other adornments.
From the home where it was completed, the Torah is carried through the local streets to the synagogue in a grand procession, complete with music, singing and dancing. The Torah is carried under a chupah (canopy), accompanied by candles and torches to beautify the occasion.
The parade commences with its owner carrying the Torah—while beneath the chupah, and surrounded by his family—for the first few steps. For the remainder of the procession, family and friends are honored with walking the Torah part of the way beneath the chupah.
All in attendance wish mazal tov to the family dedicating the Torah; this is also a tremendous personal family simchah (celebration).
Along the parade route, all men, women and children are given the opportunity to kiss the Torah. Infants are brought to the Torah, and their cheeks softly pressed to the mantle. Kissing the Torah during this procession is a segulah (auspicious act) for health and longevity.
After the children kiss the Torah, the parents purchase for them a piece of the material that was designated for the mantle. This is a segulah for the children to grow with strong and steadfast faith in G‑d.
At the Synagogue
As the procession approaches the synagogue, the chazzan (cantor) approaches the Holy Ark and proclaims:
“Torah scrolls, on behalf of the holy congregation that prays in this synagogue, you are requested to come and greet the Torah that ——— son/daughter of ——— has merited to write and dedicate, at an auspicious hour, to this synagogue.”
The Ark is opened, and all the Torah scrolls therein are brought out to greet their new “neighbor.” The people holding the Torahs form two lines with an aisle in between.
The owner of the Torah, surrounded by his family, now carries it into the synagogue, and stands in the aisle between the Torahs.
All the Torah scrolls are brought out to greet their new “neighbor”What follows is very similar to the Simchat Torah eve hakafot ceremony. The Atah Hor’eita verses from the Simchat Torah liturgy are responsively chanted, with family and friends honored with leading the various verses.
The recital of the Atah Hor’eita is followed by joyous dancing, with the Torahs circling the synagogue’s reading table seven times, while the Simchat Torah hakafot liturgy is read.
The Simchat Torah hymn, Sisu V’Simchu B’Simchat Torah, is then sung while the reading table is circled for an eighth round of dancing.4
The Torahs are returned to the Ark, and the ceremony concludes with Aleinu and the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish.
The Mitzvah Meal
Like all festive mitzvah events, the dedication of the Torah is followed by a meal.
The one dedicating the Torah should wear a new article of clothing, or partake of a seasonal fruit which he hasn’t yet tasted this season, so that he can recite the Shehecheyanu blessing, thanking G‑d for sustaining him to merit observing such a rare and monumental mitzvah.
At the festive meal, words of Torah are delivered, with the focus on promoting and inspiring increased Torah study.
The mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll is the last of the 613 mitzvot enumerated in the Torah. May its fulfillment also mark the completion of our mission here in exile, and herald the coming of Moshiach!