Simchat Torah means rejoicing with our Torah.

Let us see how many details we know about the Torah scroll or Sefer Torah which we see so often in the Synagogue, and from which portions are read just as often.

We will not consider here the contents of the Torah, or the 613 commandments which it contains. We will, in passing, say but this: Torah means teaching, for it teaches us our way of life, the kind of life G‑d wants us to lead.

What we are interested in at the moment is to see how much we know about the external appearance of the Sefer Torah and the material of which it is made: Is the Torah printed or hand-written? What material is used in writing a Sefer Torah? How often is the Torah read in the synagogue? and similar details....

Since we received the Torah at Mount Sinai exactly 3268 years ago at this time of writing, it has been our light and life through the ages. Not one letter of it has been changed or altered. It has been copied many times: for the synagogue-in the form of scrolls; for the house-in the form of books, the Five Books of the chumash.

Let us watch the whole service of Keriat Hatorah (reading of the Torah) from the moment the scroll is taken from the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) until it is replaced in the Ark.

At the Morning Services of Shabbat and Yom Tov this usually takes place at about the middle of the service, between shacharit (Morning Service) and musaf (Additional Service).

Let us imagine it is Shabbath, and the service has reached this stage. The chazan (Reader) stands by the open Ark. The appropriate prayers have been recited.

The Torah has respectfully been taken from the Ark and handed to the Reader. He recites the first verse of Shema and certain other verses, which the congregation repeats, and then carries the Torah towards the bimah. As he passes us we bend forward and kiss the mantle of the Sefer Torah and get a glimpse of it at close quarters.

The mantle covers the scroll completely; only the two wooden handles are seen at the top and bottom. Frequently the top of the two handles is enclosed in a special silver crown, and the Sefer Torah is further decorated with a silver plate hanging in front of it, a reminder of the Breastplate worn by the High Priest in the Holy Temple of old. A silver pointer is also of ten hung upon it, to be used by the Reader.

The mantle is made of an expensive material, with fine embroidery of symbols, such as a crown, the Ten Commandments, etc.

On the bimah the Sefer Torah is stripped of its decorations, and of its mantle. Under the mantle there is a girdle of silk or other fine material which holds the scroll together. This is untied, and the Sefer Torah opened. After the Reader makes sure of the place from which the reading is to begin (that is, the beginning of the weekly portion pertaining to that particular Shabbat, or the portion which is to be read if it is Yom Tov), he rolls the scroll together again, and covers it up with its mantle. Now, the first worshipper is called up to the reading of the Torah. This is a Cohen. He recites the blessings. The first section is read, and then he says the blessing over it. Then the second worshipper is called up. This is the Levi. After him follows a third, who is neither Cohen nor Levi, but an ordinary Yisrael. Seven men are called up on Shabbat, and an eighth, called maftir (who also reads a chapter from the Prophets).

When the reading of the weekly portion is concluded, two men are called up. One, hagbah, to lift up the Torah for all the congregation to see, and the other, gelilah, to roll up and tie the Sefer Torah, and “dress” it before it is replaced in the Ark. Every Sefer Torah has, of course, two etz chaims, prepared wooden rollers with flat discs, one at each end. These discs are often ornamental with little mirrors inserted in the woodwork, etc. In doing gelilah, the right etz chaim must be placed above the left one, for the right one holds the scroll upon which the beginning of the Torah (Bereishit) is inscribed.

The Sefer Torah is the holiest possession of the Jew. Jews often risk their lives to save a Sefer Torah in case of fire. The scroll of the Torah must not be touched with the bare hand, but with a tallit or other sacred object. When it is placed on a table for reading, the table must be covered with a cloth or tallit.

From the respect which is due to the Sefer Torah one can understand the respect that is due a scholar of the Torah, for he is like a living Sefer Torah!

Before concluding this "talk" about the Sefer Torah, there are a few questions to be cleared up as to the number of people who are called up to the reading of the Torah on various occasions, and why are several Sifrei Torah taken out on occasion?

We have mentioned before that on Sabbath seven men are called up, and one for maftir. On the Three Festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) five men are called up and one for maftir. If the festival coincides with Sabbath, then eight men are called up in all, as on an ordinary Sabbath. On Rosh Chodesh and the week days of the Festival (chol hamoed) four people are called up. On Yom Kippur —six, and one for maftir. On all other occasions-three. The following table will be helpful:

Sabbath: Seven and maftir

Yom Kippur (if not Sabbath): Six and maftir

Festivals (if not Sabbath): Five and maftir

Chol ­Hamoed (if not Sabbath): Four

Rosh Chodesh (if not Sabbath): Four

Chanukah, Purim, Fast Days, Mondays and Thurs­days, and Sabbath minchah: Three.

There are occasions when in addition to the weekly sidrah a special portion must be read, such as that of the New Moon (if it occurs on a Sabbath), or any of the four parshiyot: Shekalim, Zechor, Parah and Hachodesh. In that event, not one but two Sifrei Torah are taken from the Ark, so as not to have to roll the scroll back and forth to find the second portion, keeping the congregation waiting in the meantime. For this reason we take out two scrolls on a Yom­ Tov, because maftir is invariably read in a different portion (Pinchas). There are occasions when three Sifrei Torah have to be taken out, as for example on Sabbath-Rosh Chodesh-Chanukah.

It is remarkable indeed that on any given Sabbath or festival, or even Monday and Thursday, the very same portion is read in each and every congregation throughout the world! Every Jewish calendar gives the name of the weekly sidrah, and it is so much part of the Jewish calendar, that very often instead of giving the Hebrew date (the day and month) Jews use the day and the weekly sidrah!