Mitzvah to Write a Sefer Torah
- Every Jewish man has a mitzvas asei to write a sefer Torah, even if he inherited one from his father (שו”ע יו”ד סי’ ע”ר ס”א), as the posuk in Parshas Vayeilech says, “ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה הזאת ולמדה את בני ישראל” (דברים ל”א י”ט).
The Mitzvah Nowadays
- The Rosh writes (הל’ ס”ת סי’ א’) that the mitzvah to write a sefer Torah was only for the generations that learned from the sifrei Torah they wrote. Nowadays that our sifrei Torah stay in shul for leining, every Jew who has the means has a mitzvas asei to write Chumash, Mishnah, Gemara, and their commentaries from which he and his sons should learn, as the point of this mitzvah is to learn from the sefer, as the posuk says, “ולמדה את בני ישראל שימה בפיהם.”
- Some poskim say that according to the Rosh, today there is no mitzvah from the Torah to write a sefer Torah (פרישה, ש”ך סק”ה). However, most poskim hold that even according to the Rosh, the mitzvah to write a sefer Torah still applies, as a mitzvah cannot be uprooted from the Torah. The Rosh just meant that there is also a mitzvah and chiyuv to write and buy sifrei Tanach, Gemara, Mishnah, and their commentaries to learn from (ב”י, ביאור הגר”א, ברכי יוסף אות ט’, שו”ת שאגת אריה סי’ ל”ו ועוד).
A Sefer Torah in Partnership
- The poskim discuss whether or not one can fulfill the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah in partnership (ע’ מש”כ שו”ת חוקי חיים ח”א סי’ צ”ב). Some say one cannot fulfill the mitzvah in partnership (משמעות לשון הרמב”ם פ”ז ס”ת ה”א, מקדש מעט בדעת הרמב”ם, חינוך מצוה תרי”ג, הג’ רע”א שו”ע סי’ ע”ר).
- The Acharonim are unsure whether two people who appoint a sofer to write a sefer Torah on their behalf are both yotzei the mitzvah (שו”ת בית אפרים יו”ד סי’ ס”ג הובא בפתח”ת סי’ ע”ר סק”א).
- If the members of a shul decide to write a sefer Torah together, with each one paying for a parshah or column, and they each write a letter at the end of the Torah, some poskim say they are yotzei the mitzvah (שו”ת בית אפרים הנ”ל, שו”ת כרם שלמה יו”ד סי’ ר”ע). Others say they are not yotzei the main mitzvah since it was done in partnership (שו”ת מחנה חיים ח”א או”ח סי’ ט’).
The Sefer Torah Must Belong to Him
- Some say that if one writes a sefer Torah for himself, even if he puts it in a shul, he should not donate it, as some hold he is not yotzei in such a case since the sefer Torah must belong to him for his whole life. Instead, he should allow the shul to use it but retain ownership over it (תורת חיים סנהדרין כ”א ע”ב, הג’ מהר”ל מפראג על הטור).
- Others say that even if he does not expressly stipulate this, it is obvious this is his intention, as he wants to fulfill the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah. Thus, even if he donates it to a shul, his intention is that it should remain his for the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah (בני יונה, דעת קדושים יו”ד סי’ ע”ר).
- Therefore, when the members of a shul write a sefer Torah together, they should also make sure to retain joint ownership over it and not donate it to the shul. This way, they at least fulfill the mitzvah according to the poskim who hold one can be yotzei in partnership.
When to Fulfill the Mitzvah
- A person is only obligated to write one sefer Torah in his lifetime (שו”ת מהרש”ג ח”ב סי’ ר”ה). While one is alive and has not yet written a sefer Torah, he did not lose the mitzvah; if he ends up fulfilling it, it is considered that he never transgressed it (דעת קדושים סק”ד). Nevertheless, one should hasten to do it in fulfillment of זריזין מקדימין למצוות and also because “He who is alive should take it to heart.”
- Mitzvah for every man. This mitzvah applies to every Jewish man (שו”ע הנ”ל). Therefore, everyone should find some way to fulfill the mitzvah. People have a misconception that they should only write a sefer Torah so that the mitzvah will serve as a zechus for the neshamah of a relative who died, lo aleinu. But just as we do not put on tefillin or take a lulav for a relative who died, this mitzvah is also not dependent on the death of a relative.
- The reason many people do not fulfill this mitzvah is due to its cost. There is no obligation to spend a fortune. Even if one’s assets are worth ten times the cost of a sefer Torah, he does not need to spend a tenth of his wealth for this mitzvah, since it is not a passing mitzvah; one certainly does not need to spend a fifth of his wealth (שו”ת אג”מ יו”ד ח”א סי’ קס”ג). Thus, people rely on the poskim who hold one can fulfill the mitzvah in partnership or on other factors (ע’ שו”ת חת”ס או”ח סי’ נ”ב).
- Still, there is no reason one who owns several fancy houses and cars cannot spend some of his money to fulfill this precious mitzvah in the best way possible, satisfying all opinions, and without delay.
- Some poskim say the brachah of Shehecheyanu is not made upon fulfilling the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah since mitzvos were not given for our enjoyment (מג”א סי’ רכ”ג סק”ה, שו”ע הרב סדר ברכת הנהנין פי”ב ס”ה לגבי ספרים חדשים) and because it is not a mitzvah that comes at specific times.
- Others say one can make the brachah (באר היטב סי’ רכ”ג סק”י מתשו’ מהר”י בי רב) when he finishes or buys a sefer Torah just like when buying other mitzvah items (ע”פ הרמב”ם פי”א ברכות ה”ט). Others say it is better to make the brachah the first time the Torah is read from since that is the completion of the mitzvah (שו”ת מהר”י בי רב הובא בשו”ת דברי יציב או”ח סי’ צ”ב).
- In practice. The poskim hold that strictly speaking, Shehecheyanu is not made on this mitzvah (ע”פ מג”א סי’ רכ”ג סק”ה, פר”ח יו”ד סי’ כ”ח, חכ”א כלל ח’ ס”ד). They conclude that to avoid uncertainty, one should make a Shehecheyanu on a new garment or fruit, having in mind for the brachah to cover the sefer Torah too (שו”ת נאמן שמואל סי’ ז’, ועי’ ברכת יוסף להחיד”א יו”ד סי’ ע”ר).
Completion of a Sefer Torah
Minhag to Honor Other People
- The common minhag is to give people the honor of writing a letter at the completion of a sefer Torah (מקדש מעט סי’ ע”ר סק”ו). Although the mitzvah is really incumbent on the owner and it is better to do a mitzvah personally than to appoint someone else (משנת אברהם ס”א סכ”ח), giving others the honor is also considered the best way to do the mitzvah (תבואות שור סי’ כ”ח סקי”ד); it is an honor to the mitzvah itself for it to be done by great people (ברכי יוסף); and a minhag Yisroel is Torah.
- Going to the mikvah. Care should be taken that a sefer Torah is written with kedushah and taharah (שו”ת ריב”א סי’ רל”ט). Thus, it is proper to go to the mikvah before writing letters. Accordingly, if a person wants to write a letter in a sefer Torah, it is proper for him to first go to the mikvah (תורת השלמים מהחיד”א סי’ ח”י אות ח”י).
- Since most people do not know how to write the letters, there is an old minhag for the sofer to make outlines of letters in the end of sefer Torah and people are given the honor of filling in the outlines to make them into actual letters. The hope is that people will fill in the letters properly and not go out of the lines of the letter.
- Kashrus of letter outlines. The poskim argue whether letter outlines are kosher even before they are filled or whether a letter is only truly considered a letter after it is filled with ink.
- Some hold that letter outlines are completely kosher since there is no requisite size for the strokes of the letters. One fine stroke is enough, and the second stroke of the outline does not interfere with the first one. The connection between the strokes does not negate the requirement for the ink to be surrounded by whitespace [מוקף גויל]: since the letter has its form with the second stroke, it is considered to be surrounded by whitespace (שו”ת דברי מלכיאל ח”ד סי’ צ’, משנת אברהם סקי”ג, שו”ת שואל ומשיב תליתאה ח”א סי’ ש”צ).
- Others argue that letter outlines are not kosher since they do not have a true, complete full form [כתיבה תמה] and one fine stroke is not enough for a letter (שו”ת יד יצחק סי’ רס”ז, שו”ת מנחת יחיאל ח”ג סי’ מ”ט).
- Others hold if a child can read the letter as it is, then it is considered a kosher letter (הגר”ח פלאגי בספר חיים סי’ כ’ סקכ”ג, קב ונקי סדר גט ראשון סי’ פ”ה אות מ”ד).
- Yud. Some write that the outline of a yud is certainly posul. This is because it looks like a mem sofis (מו”ר בשו”ת שבט הקהתי ח”א סי’ ש’ בשם גדולי הוראה), as some sofrim write a mem sofis with a tail descending on the right side, just like an unfilled yud (שו”ת רבי טיאה ווייל יו”ד סי’ ס”ח).
- Based on this, I have seen people specifically finish a yud at the completion of a sefer Torah since it is the only letter that is not kosher when unfilled, thereby becoming kosher when filled.
- In practice. Since the poskim argue about this, it is proper to be machmir wherever it makes a difference. We will give some examples of practical ramifications below.
- Filling by writing. When filling a letter outline, one must make sure to do so with a stroke of the quill, as that is considered writing, as opposed to touching a drop of ink onto the space (שו”ת יד יוסף סי’ פ”ו).
- From a text. A sofer must write a sefer Torah from a text. In other words, he must look in a chumash at the words he is about to write (שו”ע יו”ד סי’ רד”ע ס”ב, קסת הסופר ס”ד אות ה’). When filling in a letter outline though, strictly speaking there is no need to look at a text since the shape of the letter is already written and visible from when the sofer wrote it. This is similar to the halacha that one does not need to write from a text when fixing a letter that faded but is still visible (מקדש מעט סי’ ע”ר). However, I have seen that there are people who make sure to use a text even when filling in letters (הגרי”ז הלוי סאלאווייציק, ר”י ישיבת הגרמ”ד).
- Saying the word. Before a sofer starts writing, he must say the words he is about to write out loud so that he does not make a mistake and so that the kedushah created when each word is spoken extends to the letters (קסת הסופר שם אות ו’). When filling in a letter outline, it is proper to say the word out loud first to bring down the kedushah (ארחות רבינו עמ’ של”ב).
Letter Outlines, Practical Ramifications
- There are certain cases discussed by the poskim that are affected by the halacha of letter outlines, some of which we will cite here. In practice, it is proper to be machmir in all of them, as we wrote.
- Child. Whether or not a child can fill in letter outlines at the completion of a sefer Torah depends on whether or not the letter is kosher before it is filled in (שו”ת שואל ומשיב שם, שו”ת דברי מלכיאל שם, שו”ת תירוש ויצהר סי’ רי”ג).
- Mechalel Shabbos. Another ramification is whether one who is publicly mechalel Shabbos can participate in writing a sefer Torah by filling in a letter (מקראי קודש פתיחה לכלל ל”ט אות ח’, אמרי שפר כלל ט”ז אות י”ג, דברי מלכיאל שם, שו”ת בצל החכמה). [If there is a need to honor a mechalel Shabbos, e.g., an important person, prime minister, or government official, with the writing of a letter, the sofer should remember which letter the mechalel Shabbos wrote. He should erase it afterward and write it again with kedushah and for the sake of kedushas sefer Torah (שו”ת מנחת אלעזר ח”ב סי’ כ”ד, שו”ת שם משמעון אהע”ז סי’ י”ב).]
- Chol hamoed. Whether letter outlines be filled in and completed on chol hamoed depends on this issue (חמודי אפרים בקונט’ חיים שאל, שו”ת שאילת יעקב סי’ ז’, שו”ת בית יצחק יו”ד ח”ב קו”א סי’ כ’, שו”ת בצל החכמה ח”ד סי’ נ’).
- Sefer Torah’s kedushah. A sefer Torah only gets its full kedushah when it is finished (כמבואר בשו”ע יו”ד סי’ רפ”ב ס”א). If a sefer Torah is finished but has some letter outlines, whether or not it needs to be treated with the respect a sefer Torah requires and to be kept in a designated, respectful spot in the house depends on this issue.
- Letters are written with the right hand (שו”ע יו”ד סי’ רע”א ס”ו), but a lefty should write with his left hand (שו”ע או”ח סי’ ל”ב ס”ה). If a sofer writes with his right hand but does everything else with his left hand or vice versa, lechatchila it is proper that he should not write at all or be accepted as a sofer (פמ”ג שם, מ”ב שם סקח”י).
- Others say a lefty should not write at all (כף החיים סי’ כ”ז סקל”א, רב פעלים ח”ב סי’ ט’), but the general minhag is to be meikel. Even for the machmirim, a lefty can fill in letter outlines at the end of a sefer Torah since most poskim hold letter outlines are kosher even before they are filled (נטעי גבריאל, הכנסת ס”ת פי”ד אות א’).
Hachnasas Sefer Torah Procession
Under a Chuppah
- The minhag of Klal Yisroel is to take a new sefer Torah through the streets under a chuppah constructed from four poles (קונט’ מנהגי אמשטדם שנת תק”נ, ויצבר יוסף אות ה’). Several reasons are given for this:
- Compared to a kallah. Some say the reason is that the Torah is compared to a kallah, as the posuk says, “ככלתו” (שמות ל”א י”ח) [in context this means finishing, but it is spelled in the Torah as if it meant a kallah]. Just as a kallah is brought under a chuppah, we do the same with a sefer Torah. According to this, the poles do not need to reach the ground and people can hold them in their hands.
- Respect. Another reason is that a chuppah is a form of respect for the Torah, just as we make a chuppah for the sefer Torah in shul on Simchas Torah.
- Dirty streets. A third reason is because the sefer Torah is brought through the streets. Since there are sometimes areas with filth or excrement, the sefer Torah is transported under a chuppah with a canopy and halachic “walls” structured like doorframes [צורת הפתח], which is considered a separate place, set apart from any filth.
- According to this, the poles must reach the ground so that there is not enough of a gap for a goat to fit under them [which, in halacha, would negate the status of a wall]. The poles should also stand on the ground without being held by people (שו”ת הרד”ם או”ח סי’ כ”ה). Thirdly, care must be taken that the sefer Torah does not leave the chuppah. It must stay under the chuppah throughout the entire procession through the public space (מנהג טשערנאביל).
- Another benefit when the chuppah is made from secure poles and is structured like a doorframe is that people on the sides of the public space do not need to be careful to stand before the sefer Torah when it passes them, as it is considered to be in its own separate domain (נטעי גבריאל, הכנסת ס”ת פי”ט אות כ”א).