Spoiler Alert: No Torah was dropped before or during the writing of this blog. (I know such things make Jews nervous!) Ok, read on…
I’m often at Beth Am alone. I live across the street and the office is closed one day a week. So, quite frequently I find myself either working solo in the building, or running in to pick something up (e.g. a book) or complete a task (e.g. run off copies of a source sheet for class). It’s eerily peaceful being in our ninety-year-old historic sanctuary late at night.
Recently, and on my way to a shiva minyan, I entered early in the morning, just as the sun was rising. The light was filtering through our understated stained glass; long shadows from the wooden pews began to creep across the sanctuary. It was a Monday and I needed to grab a sefer Torah for the service. Even before I placed the tenderly tallis-wrapped scroll in my trunk (functionally upgrading the worth of my vehicle from Subaru to Maserati), I had a moment’s panic. What if, there alone in the shul, attempting to remove the rimonim and breastplate myself, I somehow dropped the Torah? Would I fast? Would I tell anyone? If a Torah falls in a shul, I thought to myself, and no one’s around to see it, has it made a sound? Have I committed a sin?
The hypothetical reminds me of a scene from the golf movie The Legend of Bagger Vance when Matt Damon’s character hits a wild shot into the woods and then, clearing debris for his next shot, causes the ball to move. The golfer is faced with a moral dilemma: Does he ignore the ball’s tiny movement, take his shot and potentially win the round or does he take the penalty stroke ? His conscience is clear; he takes the penalty and 3-way ties Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. I think many of us would like to think we would do the same.
Much of my writing in this blog is about people, confronting, assimilating and transcending cacophonous urban living. The story of this “urban rabbi” is often about relationships. But as artist Edward Hopper pointed out in his paintings, there is solitude in the city — actually a great deal of it. The moral life, no matter where one lives, derives from a sense of honesty with one’s self and, ultimately, with one’s God. We all have to decide what matters. Can we live with a win if we know it’s really a lie? Is the Torah sacred or not?