Asher and the Torah Scroll
Asher is our rather rambunctious 5-year-old son, he is very full of energy and excitement and enjoys spending his time pretending to be Spiderman at the Synagogue as well as helping to cook in the kitchen, climbing and playing with his toy cars.
Asher’s birth really signified the beginning of our Rabbinical career, it was in the weeks immediately after he was born at our home in Jerusalem that I began visiting India as a Mashgiach for the Star-K and by the time he was 2 months old we undertook to move our family to India to run the Paradesi Synagogue in Kerala.
It was there in that ancient Synagogue in India where he learned to crawl on the ancient Chinese ceramic tiles and took his first steps, to this day he is an avid eater of Samba; the spicy south Indian soup that accompanies almost all foodstuffs, he was actually raised on a diet of curries and chapatis, and, provided he isn’t told that something is “spicy” he can normally enjoy eating it no matter the actual chilli content.
Asher has grown up in a family committed to Shlichut, we have over the years lived in some 7 countries where we have undertaken work for the Jewish community, he knows that the passports come out and the visas begin to be processed a new adventure is underway, the luggage is packed by Mummy and our “mission” is revealed: Sometimes we are going for Kashrut, other times for burials, Jewish Education, giving lectures, running Shabbatons and also at times musical events. Over the years he has had to adapt to many experiences including during the quarantine that we experienced in 4 different countries, he is now enrolled in the same online Torah academy as his sister and regularly comes to study Chumash with me.
In the Philippines it is rare that he does not attend the various prayer services, convinced that he is needed for the Minyan and that he plays an integral part (he also enjoys blowing Shofar during Ellul, which he does rather enthusiastically).
Last Rosh Hashanah, the service was running rather smoothly, we reached the Kriyat Torah when suddenly Moshe Alkobi, our wonderful Chazan from Jerusalem, stopped abruptly.
“Rabbi.. I am not sure about this Sefer Torah, look at this letter it doesn’t look right..”
We were placed in a predicament, to exchange the Torah Scroll and roll it to the correct place would take time, the community was already restless awaiting the decision of what to do.
“Call Asher!” I demanded from the Bimah.
In ran Asher, dressed in his Spiderman costume up to the Bimah, I promptly scooped him up, showed him the open Sefer Torah and asked him;
“Asher, can you see this word? This is an Aleph… that is a Chet… what is this letter?”
He thought profoundly for a moment or two and grasped the Yad in his hand, stared intently at the letter and suddenly, and rather loudly declared to the congregation;
“It’s a Resh Abba, like in my name Asher!”
“thank you Asher” I said calmly.
There was great approval from the community as I decided that based on this we could continue with the service and read from this Sefer Torah, the rest of the service ran smoothly and the moment was almost immediately forgotten.
Later at lunch we were sitting eating and Moshe came to join us at our table.
“Asher, you read from the scroll and helped the service continue, thank you for helping us!”
He smiled and nodded.
“oh yeah no problem! I know a lot of Sefer Torah’s, we had one in India and in Israel, we have taken them on the airplane before, one day I will have my very own Torah I will read as well as you Moshe!”
For Asher, growing up outside the normal life of a Jewish community has never meant being distant from the Torah, he has seen dozens of synagogues and been present for Minyanim, Shiurim, special events and even a few board meetings – he remembers fondly the various times we have been asked take a Sefer Torah to a community or to deliver suitcases full of Matza, Kosher meat, cheese and grape juice around the world to various communities.
When we first undertook this decision, we were originally very concerned that there would be a lack of stability or “normality” for our children, my wife loving reminds me (often!) that we as a family and “normality” are often only distantly connected, ultimately our internal stability as a family unit has allowed us to travel and have some truly unique and memorable experiences and I feel grateful and blessed that Hashem has chosen us as a family who can undertake these projects for Am Yisrael around the globe.
For Asher, Judaism is much larger than just a single Kehila, Minhag or country, he intuitively understands, as I think all our children do, that Judaism comes in all colours, flavours, and styles – my son born in Jerusalem continues to have a great affinity towards Israel and often asks when we are planning to visit again; he also asks about when we will visit England, India, Sri-Lanka and the Philippines and what “mission for Am Yisrael” we are planning to do next, I often do not have such a clear answer myself and some of the more complex products take months of planning and others fall into our hands only because the opportunity is present, as the saying goes “right place at the right time”.
Later following the Chag I would speak to a friend of mine in Jerusalem who is an expert in Safrut and the laws relating to the Torah Scroll itself, aside from those that he has written he has repaired and corrected hundreds of Scrolls over the years, he assured me based on a photo I sent him of the writing the that (very) elongated Resh was actually a fairly common occurrence and totally permissible, he liked my solution of calling a Katan to verify the letter even if it was not the standard approach many would have taken, he stressed that it was these kinds of decisions that make or break a community Rabbi:
Sometimes we read in Sefarim what our correct practice should be and it is a clear and obvious road in Halacha, and at other times we are forced to improvise and do our best to serve our creator within the context of the situation and the particular circumstances we find ourselves in, it is then that the Rabbi must use both his knowledge and fear of Heaven to do what he believe is right, especially when the path is not so clear.
At times that means asking a 5-year-old dressed as Spiderman his Halachic opinion on Rosh Hashanah.
Shabbat Shalom & Chodesh Tov!
Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2024 ©