The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 8 September 2018 / 28 Elul 5778

People of the Book

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
ArtscrollLibrary

As a yeshiva student, I remember always being amazed at how many books there were in the houses I would visit for Shabbat meals. Though one can often find an assortment of Jewish books around the house, to find a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) one usually needs to go to a shul. Why is that?

The Sefer HaChinuch concludes his monumental work with mitzvah number 613, the mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah. The ideal way for a person to fulfill this command is for him to write one. However, not everyone is capable of doing so. The laws of writing a Sefer Torah are many and intricate, not to mention the actual act of writing, which requires countless hours of training and practice. So, aside from someone who is a scribe, how does one fulfill this mitzvah?

Although there is a dispute as to whether one can fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah by purchasing one that has already been written, there is agreement that it is sufficient to hire a scribe to write it. One can fulfill the mitzvah even by fixing one or more letters of an existing Sefer Torah that needs correcting, thereby rendering it kosher. As Rav Sheishes said, “One who corrects even one letter (of a Sefer Torah) is considered as if he has written the entire Torah.”

According to some commentaries the purpose of writing a Sefer Torah is for the sake of having it to study. This idea is implied in the verse that commands one to write a Sefer Torah, “Write this song for yourselves and teach it to the Children of Israel. (Devarim 31:19).” Based on this reasoning, the Tur writes that the above command to write a Torah scroll applied when the common custom was to write a Torah scroll and learn from it. However, nowadays, the common custom is to use Torah scrolls only for public readings in shul, but we study Torah from printed books. It is therefore a positive mitzvah for anyone who is able, to write (or acquire) a Chumash, Mishnah, Talmud, and rabbinic commentaries, in order to properly learn the mitzvot of the Torah and their detailed laws. The Chinuch also writes that the purpose of this mitzvah is in order to facilitate Torah study, and he even encourages purchasing rabbinic commentaries, but he does not seem to include these acts in the fulfillment of the mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah.

A mitzvah as important as this should be pursued with the best of one’s abilities. If possible, fulfilling both of the above opinions — owning a Torah scroll and sefrei kodesh, would be ideal.

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