The 613th Mitzvah

Posted on September 7, 2023

By Hazzan Jenna Greenberg.

The 613th mitzvah in the Torah falls within this week’s double Torah portion, Nitzavim and Vayelech. We read in Devarim 31:19, “Now, write down this shira (song/poem) and teach it to B’nei Yisrael–put it in their mouths.”

This is a verse with which so many of us are already familiar. We contributed to writing a Sefer Torah this past year during Beth El’s Mitzvah 613 Torah writing project. This very verse is quoted on every certificate given to anyone who participated in this mitzvah.

Rav, the great Babylonian commentator, said that writing a Sefer Torah is so important that if you do it, it’s as if you received the Torah on Har Sinai. We, at Beth El, revealed our newly completed Torah scroll for the first time this past Shavuot, when we celebrated the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai and read from it for the very first time.

Rav Sheshet, yet another of our great Babylonian commentators, said that even if you write a single letter in a Torah scroll, it’s considered as if you wrote the entire thing. What an amazing feat, to think that it truly “took a village,” and without everyone’s participation, we could not have fulfilled this mitzvah.

It takes many individuals within a wider community to write a Sefer Torah. And we did it!

According to the Rosh, the German-born medieval Talmudist, the purpose of this 613th mitzvah is to be sure that everyone can study Torah.

That being said, I’d like to agree with the Rosh by suggesting that in this upcoming new year of 5784, we can all take an opportunity to grow as Jews, to learn something new, to take on new rituals. I would love to challenge all of us to cling to our Torah,  “l’mahazikim ba,” as we say everytime we return the Torah to the ark. By remaining close to our Torah, may we all find opportunities to draw close to our new Torah, be it by learning to read Torah, taking an aliya to the Torah, or any variety of bima honors when we can experience what it feels like to be in proximity of our new scroll. 

“It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and all who hold onto it are blessed.”

Let us each find the opportunity to continue to fulfill the mitzvah of creating our new Sefer Torah by drawing close to it, learning from it, and finding blessing in every Torah encounter we have.

Shana Tova!