Forecast: Good Chance of Parchment

Yesterday, I measured and ran my first cut.  It was absolutely awful. It was crooked, jagged and just bad.

I decided my problem was, that I have one hand too few. So today, I enlisted Malkah’s help, and I now have a piece of parchment cut and ready to go.  Now, when everything else is ready, I will start writing.

It just feels good to finally have it cut.  That alone makes me feel like things are moving again.

What a great way to start my birthday.

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The word Devarim means words, and is the name of the last book of the Torah. Some of you know it as Deuteronomy. Why do we keep using the Greek names of these books?  The Ivrit is much easier to say.

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been occupied with learning Devarim Aliyah 1 because I was assigned to read it this last weekend.

I thought I’d give you a taste of what Ivrit (Hebrew) sounds like when spoken by someone who grew up in Oklahoma.  Ok, here it is:


I think I’m about to wrap up a bunch of small things that have kept me from going forward with my writing, and so I believe we are starting to journey again very soon.


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New Sofer in Town

New Printer Named ShoferOn Sunday, June 24, lightning struck our house, at least according to our neighbor.  We know it did strike close, because it took out everything that was connected to the cable  TV cable or to the ethernet modem that was connected to this cable.

Fortunately there wasn’t much connected, because most of my computers are now connected through wireless. We did loose some hardware, namely:

  1. The cable modem
  2. Vonage router
  3. Wireless Router
  4. Printer

We did not realize that we didn’t have a working printer until last week, when Malkah needed to fax something.  Yes, people still use faxes.  We then realized that the printer was dead.

We decided that if we needed a new printer, it should be one that has airprint, so we can print from our phones. Stephanie ordered it and it came in yesterday. It really is nice and printing from the phone is such a nice feature.

While setting up the printer, I needed a name.  I thought for a moment and then saw my writing table and said:

“Sofer, It has to be sofer.”

and sofer, it is…

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TNK Different

Sorry for the play on words in the title.  I couldn’t resist. As most of you know I’m a long time Apple aficionado and some of you may remember their “Think Different” campaign from the 1990′s.  Once I wrote the word TNK, it was so much like the word think that the rest just came.

We spent the night last night at Nun’s house, partly because we expected things to go late last night, and partly because I wanted to visit Rosenblum’s World of Judaica today to see if they had a Tikkun Sofferim and Malka (Stephanie) was looking for a TNK.

Rosenblum’s has a new store front in Skokie that we had not been to yet, so we wanted to go their and just browse and see what they had. Nun was looking for some new books as well, so after breakfast we set out.

The new location is very nice, and has plenty of parking.  The store occupies three store fronts, so it seems bigger than it was at their old location.

The person at the cash register had no Idea what a Tikkun Sofferim was. She called to the back room and soon a man was looking at me like I had sprouted a third eye and it was coming out of the top of my head. After searching for a while, he said, “The book exists, but we don’t have a copy”

Malkah was wanting a TNK, but the one she thought she wanted was still in the plastic wrapping, and she decided to simply put off the purchase and besides, we were out of time.

We needed to go get Malkah on a train.  She was going down to see her friend Trish and spend the Fourth of July with her.

After dropping Malkah off, Nun and I decided to go to one more bookstore. Nun took me to Kesher Stam which is located on Touey. This place had possibly more books, and they at least didn’t look at me as if I was an alien or an idiot. They said they didn’t have it, and gave me the phone number of a Sofer in New York who could answer my questions.

As I browsed a bit, I noticed that they had a copy of the TNK that Malkah had been looking at. After looking at it for a while, I decided to buy it.  If Malkah doesn’t want it, I’ll definitely use it.

In fact, since I can’t find a Tikkun for the book of Ruth either, I’m thinking of using this TNK as my source for my copy of Ruth.

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Why are there two altars? – Very good question

I was trying to figure out the basic design of the Altar based on Exodus 27:1-6 and Exodus 38:1-6.  Based on these text I see the following specifications:

  • Dimensions of Altar 5 cubits by 5 cubits by 3 cubits high
  • Made of wood covered by Bronze
  • Horns on the four corners
  • Ledge (no dimension given)
  • Grating at half the height
  • Grating below Ledge
  • Rings below Ledge

Both of these altars assume that the ledge was to stand on. If the ledge was meant to be only decorative, then the altar would be shaped more like a box, and that would be a third design option.

The left altar is based on an assumption that the altar mentioned in 1 Kings 2:28 was the brazen altar of sacrifice and a man, even Joab would be hard pressed to hold two horns at the same time with 5 cubits or 7.5 feet between them.

If the altar mentioned in 1 Kings 2:28 was the Altar of incense, then:

  • Joab was brave or crazy
  • Adonijah was brave or crazy
  • It is surprising that one or both of them were not struck dead.

So the two altars above were for getting a feel for what the altar might have looked like.


I spent the last week preparing to study, with the kids at the kahilah, the parashat Korakh. This is a hard parsha, and so I tried to find something that would teach some of the lessons of the parsha in a unique manner.

For you that do not remember the story, this is the story of Rebellion, and what happens to those who rebel against יהוה and His Anointed.

Korakh was not happy with his lot in life and seems to be trying to establish equality, but his idea of equality seems to be that he himself would be in charge. From his bitterness at his “lot” in life.  He started grumbling and the rumors and lies he told, made the hearts of those that heard his words, bitter.

Ultimately, he brings over 250 people into rebellion, directly against Aharon. But, the words indirectly challenged the authority of Moshe and ultimately, יהוה. By questioning Aharon’s position, he and his followers were questioning Moshe’s leadership, and more importantly יהוה’s guidance.

Moshe and Aharon interceded for these rebellious ones, and Moshe asks them to bring their own censors the next day to see who יהוה will choose as Kohen Gadol ( High Priest).

The next day at the show down: Korakh, Dathan, Abirhim, and their families were swallowed by the Earth, and fire comes down and burns all 250 of the men bearing their censers. The men are gone, but their censers remain.

These 250 censers become the covering of the altar of burnt sacrifice that was carried for forty years through the wilderness and lasted until the time of David.

I built a miniature (see above image) altar so we could talk about the material that it was made from and it’s importance.  We often learn more when we teach, than those we teach. My lesson was to come the next day as I thought of what it might be like to look at a bronze wall made from the censers of rebellion.

The censers were probably originally mirrors, so it may have been polish to a mirrored surface. This mirrored surface would create a golden hued image of the one facing the altar. Probably a distorted and blurry image.

According to my reading, the lower half of the altar was a net, grid – porous surface. The coals and ashes could be seen trough this lattice, and the heat could be felt.

What would it be like to kneel on the North side of the ark as you slit the throat of a lamb? A lamb that would take your place on the flames. What would it be like to look into that mirror darkly-the beaten and polished surface of the Altar?

As the sinner killed the lamb that was his substitute, he would see through the grating at the bottom of the altar, the coals glowing in a bed of the ashes of burnt wood and burnt lambs.

As he looked up he would see his own reflection in the mirror of rebellion. His own face reflected by this covering of rebellion would remind him that each rebellion starts with a choice.  A choice to believe the deceiver. A choice to step off the path, a single sin. A sin like the one that has brought him to this place.

When the sin is allowed to be repeated over and over we have rebellion and rebellion like a disease spreads from individual to individual through gossip, and grumbling.

Above his golden hewed reflection he would see the smoke ascending up into the heavens. He would know that his sins were covered just as the wood that formed the inner part of the altar was covered by this bronze mirror.

He would in a sense see a distorted image of himself standing in the fire with the smoke arising from his head. If that is not an image of the final judgement, I do not know what is.

His lamb would be place on the other side of his reflected image, taking his place in the flames. If this is not an image of redemption, I do not know what is.

In its most basic form, all sin is rebellion.  Rebellion against life and against love. But a rebellion like that of Korakh’s can destroy not just the person who is the seed of the rebellion, but it can destroy a congregation or even a nation. The TNK talks about this type of rebellion in this manner:

23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He also has rejected you from being king.”

1 Samuel 15:23

My desire is to never be rebellious against יהוה and His words.  I am trying to guard my words and speak truth or not at all.  To speak love or not at all. I sometimes fail at this, and must look at myself in the mirror of rebellion as my sins are placed upon the sinless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.


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Live Long and Prosper

Although I’ve disagreed with some of Leonard Nemoy’s recent statements, I did enjoy this video regarding the origin of the Vulcan hand sign and it’s connection to his Jewish childhood.

For those of you who are not Star Trek fans, Leonard Nemoy is a Jewish actor who played the part of an alien named Spok, who was half human and half Vulcan. His character was the chief science officer on the starship named Enterprise in a TV series named Star Trek,that was created by Gene Roddenberry.

I’ve never gone to a Star Trek convention, but Trekkies fascinate me as a subculture. Stepahanie and I once went to hear Gene Roddenberry speak at IIT.  His talk was very interesting and the bloopers, he showed afterwards, were hilarious.

I think you will enjoy this video, even if you never watched Star Trek.



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Before Writing the Name

יהוה’s Name is Holy, and He told the children of Israel not to use His name in vain as part of the ten commandments:

7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Shemot 20:7

We all know what it means to take יהוה’s name in vain and for those of us in the United States it has been the word God and for the Christians the word Jesus.  For some these words are the most common swear words. In the movies, it seems like you can’t have a movie that doesn’t use God’s name in vain at least once.

There was a memorable scene in a forgettable movie entitled Time Changer where a time traveling theologian from 1890′s goes to a movie in 1990s to 2000.  He comes running into the lobby of the theatre, in a panic, trying to get them to stop the movie. He yells:

“Stop the movie! You must stop this movie! The man on the screen just blasphemed the name of the lord! There must be some mistake! You must stop this movie! This is an abomination!”

Unfortunately we are so desensitized that this scene becomes nothing more than a comedic element in a time travel movie.

It is my memory that even phrases such as gosh and Golly were forms of God’s name and were commonly used in a place and time that had the death penalty for using God’s name in vain. (my memory is that it was on a Caribbean Island, possibly Haiti/Dominican Republic – in the 17th century- but I can’t seem to find an online statement like this.  I think I probably learned this from an Historic Novel by James A. Michener entitled “Caribbean”  I just don’t remember)

In Biblical times the use of the name was associated with the death penalty as well and this is probably the origin of the custom in modern Judaism of never saying יהוה’s name. It appears, based on at least three text of the Torah, that Israel was to use His name for swearing an oath that is true. This is not simply an utterance of surprise as above, but an official oath as in a court of Law. I think this is like our modern society where people swear with their hand on the Bible.

Here is what Israel was told for swearing an oath:

13 You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.

Devarim 6:13

20 You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.

Devarim 10:20

And they are further told that they should not swear falsely in his name.  If you invoke יהוה’s name, you better be telling the truth or you will be using His name in vain.

12 You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.

Va’yikra 19:12

Even though we have these three examples of proper ways to use יהוה’s name, modern Judaism never speaks his name.  Instead of using His name, they will use the following phrases or words:

  1. HaShem  (Literally means the name).
  2. Adonai  (Literally Lord)
  3. Adoshem (a mix of the previous two)
  4. Yod He Vav He   (Simply speaking the name of each of the characters that form the name)

It is believed that The Holy Name was spoken until the 3rd Century BC, but then only by the High Priest and only on Yom Kippurim (Day of Atonement – day of Coverings).

This same respect for the name goes to writing the name.  Only here the issue is destroying the name or erasing it. We do not want the name to be written on a piece of paper that the next day is on the garbage heap.

Many of the Jews that I’ve met actually will not even write the English words God or Lord because these words are used by modern society to refer to the Torah יהוה. Often they will write one the following instead of יהוה:

  1. Y–H
  2. G-d
  3. L-RD
  4. Any of the phrases used when speaking listed above

A sofer needs to make sure that they are not writing יהוה’s name in vain, so there are b’rukah’s (prayers) that are said before we start writing and then again when we write יהוה.

I’ve gathered some of the B’rukah’s here for my own reference:

I like starting by thanking יהוה for teaching me how to write:
ברוך המלמד את ידי לספר את האותיות
Barukh hamelamed et yadi lesapper et ha’otiyot
Blessed is the One who has taught my hand to scribe the letters

Before starting a Mezuzah the Prayer is
אני כותב לשם קדושת המזוזה
ani kotev l’shem kedushat hamezuzah
I am writing for the sake of the sanctity of the mezuzah

Before writing יהוה the B’rukah is:
הריני כותב לשם קדושת השם
hareni kotev, l’shem kedushat hashem.
I am writing the name to sanctify the name.

There may be others that I don’t know yet, but this seems like a good start.



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Totofot Manufacture

The process of making the Tefallin is fascinating.  I had these three videos on my list of things to share for a number of weeks.

Some people will find the human powered tools fascinating.  Others will enjoy the complicated process of making the Tefallin.

Process Shown from Start to Finish- Music no Commentary

Slightly More Random order- Music and no Commentary

JewishLife: Tefillin : Raw Footage from Upcoming Documentary – English Commentary






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Totofot- טטפת


Wikipedia Tefallin image


Since this topic has come up twice in sofergoy comments recently, I’ve decided to do some reading and share info that I’ve been accumulating for a while about totafot.

You probably have not heard this word. That is because the word meaning is obscure, and so it has been replaced with another word, namely Tefallin – תפילין. This word comes from the root pelilah which means evidence, proof or sign.  The Brit Hadasha (New Testament) word for this is Phylactery.

There are four Torah Text that are used to describe the usage of the Totafot, but this word is not used anywhere else in the Tanakh (Old Testament). The texts are:

Exodus 13:16

16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a Totafot on your forehead that the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

Deuteronomy 6:8

8 Tie them as Totafot on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

Deuteronomy 11:18

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as Totafot on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

Now some of you still don’t know what I’m talking about. The Totafot in modern usage is a square box, with leather straps, that contains four passages of scriptures and is tied around the head such that the square box is on the forehead. A second square box is tied around the left arm. The second box only contains one text.

This word is often translated as frontlet, sign, or symbol in modern English versions, but there seems to be a lot of discussion of the meaning.

The Brit Hadasha uses the word Phylacteries in only one text in which there is condemnation of wearing these for show.

Matthew 23:5

5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;

The Pharisees increased the size of their totofots (phylacteries) so people would notice, and think that they were “more holy” than others. Many Christians will take the words of Yeshua as a condemnation of this practice, but a close reading seems to indicate that this is not about the practice of wearing totofot, but about trying to draw attention to ourselves and say look at me. The issue is pride.

Many christians look at this and say either “It was done away with” or they say it is simply metaphor. The words are like a sign in our heads and in our hands. It is in the things we think and the things we do. It is in our thoughs and in our actions.

Indeed a comparison of these texts with Exodus 13:5-9

5 When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites—the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey—you are to observe this ceremony in this month: 6 For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the LORD. 7 Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. 8 On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.

Seems to indicate that either Pesakh, or the remembrance is the definition of Totofot.

The Karite Jews take a similar position, and I think in many ways these views are correct. I think the important thing is not whether we put a box containing Holy words on our foreheads, our arm, or our doorpost, but that we place the holy words in our minds, our mouths, and our actions.

Now if someone wants to place a box on their forehead, arm or door, and this helps them focus on יהוה, then it is a good thing. At least that is what I think most of the time.

Sometimes, the thoughts I have, are more like this:

  1. Is there mana in the words that are placed in these boxes? ( I’m not talking about the bread that the Israelites ate. Mana not manna. Mana is holiness or a spiritual essence that resides in an object or a person.)
  2. Does the mana make the boxes holy?
  3. What is the difference between this practice and a shaman placing stones that contains mana in a bag and then hanging this around his neck or the neck of one of his patients?
  4. What is the difference between this and the Catholics placing the bone of a saint, ie a sacred object in an altar or statue?
  5. Ultimately what I am asking is at what point do we cross from something that is Holy and harmless into something that is a form of idolatry?

I think the line may be at a different point for each person, but if it looks like idolatry, my red flags come up and I proceed with caution.

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Tonight we had second Pesakh with my daughter and her family. It was so cool to celebrate it with my family and celebrate it twice.  It was a double, double blessing.

I always love the food, especially the homemade matza.  We had more than enough food, and it was very, very good.

After the meal, Olesea was asking “where’s my gift”.  She was so excited to get her Pesakh gift.

Because I was baking matza until almost midnight last night, I seemed to have no desire to crawl out of bed this morning. This means I didn’t really get any sofer tasks accomplished today.  But mixing up a good batch of Maror (Horse radish sauce) can be almost as challenging. as writing.  Remember: DON’T PLACE HEAD ABOVE THE BLENDER after blending horse radish.  That makes my eyes burn just thinking about it.

I think I’m finally getting my thoughts organized as to the next steps I need to take on this Journey.

  • I’ve been reading through Keset HaSofer to get a better understanding of what I need to know.
  • I want to write one more Mezuzah now that my hand has had some time to relax. Writing that small is very tedious, so the break was good.
  • I’ve found a source for Kosher parchment, but can’t afford to buy more parchment right now. I need to use the parchment that I currently have, but I do not want to mix the Kosher with the non-kosher, so I need to come up with an interim project to do with the non-kosher parchment. Whatever project I come up with needs to use the same size letters that I will be using when I write the Torah, so I can start getting used to writing larger letters.
    • The book of Jonah? (Letter wise, I have just enough parchment to do this book)
    • Ruth?  (I’d have some parchment left over)
    • Some of the Psalms? (which ones?)
    • Something from the Brit Hadasha (New Covenant).  I’m not sure which New Testament book is the right number of characters.

My schedule is going to be interrupted even more as we go to California for Malka’s (Stephanie’s) niece’s graduation, and for Maria’s graduation.  I’m sure there was something else that I’m supposed to do…

Ok, it’s time for bed…

לילה טוב
Laila Tov
Good night


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