Monday, December 4, 2017

Celebrating with a Parade

Name a Jewish celebration that is not a wedding that includes a chuppah, music and dancing. The answer is a Hachnassat Sefer Torah, literally “Welcoming the Torah Scroll,” the ceremony of bringing a new Torah to a synagogue.

When the writing of a new Torah scroll is completed, there is generally a major communal celebration. The Hachnassat Sefer Torah begins with completing the final letters of the Torah. The sofer (scribe) who writes the Torah purposely leaves the final letters as only outlines to be filled in on the day of the Hachnassat Sefer Torah. If the Torah is sponsored by an individual, the donor completes the writing. If the Torah is “written” by a community or as a community fundraiser, then several people may have the honor of writing an individual letter or letters.

Once the Torah is completed, a celebratory procession begins. This “Torah parade” mimics the procession of King David when he brought the Ark to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6). With the Torah carried beneath a chuppah (celebrating the Torah as a symbol of the marriage-like union of God and the Jewish people), the men, women and children of the community escort it to its new home. This is accompanied by music, dancing and, often, candy gift bags for the children.

As the procession nears its final destination, the Torah scrolls already owned by the synagogue are brought out to serve as escorts of the new scroll. With a celebration similar to Simchat Torah, the procession moves into the sanctuary. The new Torah is placed on the bimah, the donor or a designated honoree recites a Sheh’heh’che’yanu blessing (thanking God for allowing this auspicious occasion to be reached) and the last chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy is read publicly. Following the synagogue service, the Torah is returned to the ark and a Seudat Mitzvah (a festive meal acknowledging a mitzvah) is served.

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