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The six hundred-thirteenth commandment - to write a Sefer Torah

"So now write this song and teach it to the children of Israel. Set it in their mouths, so this song will become a witness for me among the children of Israel." (Deut 31:19)

Each one of us is commanded to have a sefer torah, and those who are able to write their own are especially praiseworthy. Indeed, the Sages teach, "One who writes a sefer torah with his own hand, Scripture considers it as if he had personally received it from Mount Sinai." Those of us who cannot write our own scrolls are commanded to commission them from scribes. This mitzvah is expressed in the verse (Deut 31:19), "So now write this song and teach it to the children of Israel."

– Sefer hachinnuch

El Paso artist and Temple Mount Sinai member Hal Marcus has taken mitzvat k'tivat sefer torah - the commandment to write a Torah Scroll - very much to heart.  His "Five Books of Moses" tells the timeless stories of the Torah in the medium of stained glass. Though neither parchment nor ink is involved, this is very much Hal's sefer torah.

The story begins in the upper left corner of the work, with a burst of light much like the one in Hal's earlier "Seven Days of Creation." In the Jewish mystical tradition, this sudden appearance of cosmic energy marks the beginning of God's creation...a creation which continues each moment, and in which all of us are God's partners. The remainder of the first panel tells the story of Noah and the flood. In Noah, all of humanity is one family, and we are all party to God's covenant. The sign of that covenant, the rainbow, appears in this panel and in each one that follows.

In the second panel, we encounter the Tower of Babel, a story which teaches the value of diversity. It is just after the Tower of Babel that the Torah shifts its emphasis from the story of the human race to the story of one family-Abraham's. We see Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, as well as the three "men" (are they men? Angels? God?) who hover over the landscape of the book of Genesis.

Panels three and four depict God's redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage and Israel's subsequent covenanting to God at Mount Sinai. The people of Israel in the wilderness are portrayed as jewels, casting brilliant light in all colors and all directions.

The Written Torah ends with Moses ascending Mount Nebo and dying-according to the Midrash, by a "Divine Kiss." In his "midrash in glass," Marcus has chosen not to portray Moses' death, but rather to allude to the way in which Moses lives through the lessons that he taught us.

And so it is that the bottom of the fourth panel pictures a bar mitzvah reading from Torah. With his immediate family surrounding him, he takes his place alongside the generations who have read and transmitted torat mosheh -the Torah of Moses. The timeless story still lives.

Jews never finish reading Torah. After completing the last verses of Deuteronomy, we immediately begin reading from Genesis, chapter one. Marcus's windows don't really end either. As we arrive at the bottom of the fourth panel, our eyes are drawn along the ribbon of text which sits over the rainbow. The Hebrew is translated: "So now write down this song and teach it to the children of Israel" (Deut 31:19). The verse takes us back to story of the Creation. Light bursts forth, and we begin again...

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Sat, June 15 2024 9 Sivan 5784