PEABODY – In the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of hardship to the North Shore, but according to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism, one way to bring a community together to heal is to commission a Torah scroll.
It’s also a way for Jewish people to fulfill the commandment of writing a Torah by sponsoring a letter, word or verse of a new Torah scroll, which can be an expensive proposition to have written.
On Sunday, Sept. 12, at 11 a.m., Chabad of Peabody plans to unveil its new Torah of Unity and Healing, a Torah which has been sponsored by David and Harriet Moldau in memory of family who perished in the Holocaust.
The free event will also feature a building dedication celebration. Due to the pandemic and to gauge turnout, people are being asked to RSVP at www.jewishpeabody.com.
The Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, lived from about 1698 to 1760.
As Schusterman explained: “Back in the time of the Baal Shem Tov, there was an epidemic that broke out in the community and the Baal Shem Tov then guided them that writing the Torah is something that brings unity.”
During the pandemic, in New York, there were a few Torahs that were written using this as a context, Schusterman said.
“I don’t know if there is any formal sage of our generation who can tell us exactly for sure that doing this is going to … bring about that result,” the rabbi said, “but certainly it’s a good concept, and it’s always a good thing. In general, historically, the temple was destroyed as a result of disunity, so anything that is unifying is certainly something that is the opposite of destruction, something that builds and heals.”
The scroll was commissioned during Chabad’s 18th birthday year celebration dubbed the Year of Love. Now in its 18th year, it was established in 2003 as an affiliate of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore in Swampscott.
But there was also a practical reason for the commissioning of the new scroll, which has long been a dream of Schusterman, who co-directs Chabad with his wife, Raizel.
Chabad of Peabody has three scrolls at its center at 682 Lowell St., two of which came from a temple that closed in Rhode Island. Chabad also obtained two scrolls from Temple Shalom in Salem before it closed. These scrolls were old and beat up, so Chabad bartered one of the scrolls with a scribe in Brooklyn as payment to make repairs to the other three.
“The Torahs are not in great shape,” Schusterman said, “and it’s always been a dream to have a crisp, brand-new Torah, but it’s expensive, and it wasn’t something that was possible.”
A new Torah scroll was on the rabbi’s bucket list for this year, but he wasn’t sure if any of their donors would consider underwriting it. When he met with David Moldau about the 18th-year celebration, “he jumped on the idea,” Schusterman said.
Since then, the Moldaus have given another significant gift, so the Sept. 12 event is going to be both a Torah dedication and a building dedication for David and Harriet Moldau in memory of their parents, Schusterman said.
While the pandemic meant it took a little longer to write the new scroll, the Torah is basically finished.
“What happens at a Torah dedication is the scribe comes and in this case the scribe will be coming in from New York, and he will leave a handful of the final letters unfinished,” Schusterman said. Some people in the community will have an opportunity to hold the scribe’s hand as they finish the letters to conclude the Torah.
“That’s a very significant event,” Schusterman said, “because it’s almost compared to Simchat Torah.” Simchat Torah marks the end and the beginning of Torah cycle readings, and runs from sundown Sept. 28 through the evening of Sept. 29.
The event to mark the completion of the Torah and gifts of the Moldaus will feature live music, entertainment, arts and crafts for the kids, food and more, the rabbi said. One does not have to be a member of Chabad to attend the Torah dedication, Schusterman said. “It’s a community unifier,” he added.
Schusterman noted that because it’s “not financially pragmatic” to own or write a Torah on your own, one way to accomplish this mitzvah is to own a letter.
Dedication opportunities are available on the Chabad’s website to buy a whole book, portion, verse or individual letters. To fulfill the mitzvah, there are also opportunities to get a name engraved on the Keter, or crown, or the Eitz Chaim, or Torah handles, among other things.
“From as little as $18 to as much as $10,000, you can buy different honors,” Schusterman said.
“A thank-you to Harriet and David Moldau for their inspiration and leadership,” Schusterman added, thanking those who have already supported the new Torah scroll, while inviting people to the event. “You will get to see a special occasion that doesn’t happen that often,” he said.