Media buzz about the writing of a new Torah scroll in the ancient synagogue atop the Judean Desert fortress of Masada brought a bevy of new visitors, including a squadron of Israeli Air Force pilots, to see the work in progress.

Rabbi Shimon Elharar, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dead Sea who helped commission the new scroll during Chanukah, received a call last Tuesday from a sergeant-major in the IAF Night Raptors squadron based in central Israel.

“Is it true?” asked the non-commissioned officer, known as A. in press reports in keeping with regulations protecting the identities of Israeli pilots.

“Is the Chabad House writing a Torah scroll on Masada?”

Since the founding of the state in 1948, the ancient fortress overlooking the Dead Sea has occupied a revered status in the public consciousness as the place where many soldiers are formally inducted into the military.

Elharar confirmed the report of the Torah scroll, which is being written by a ritual scribe in a climate-controlled space behind a pane of glass.

The sergeant-major’s next question was a little more difficult: “Can you help me organize a sunrise service at Masada tomorrow?”

Assisted by ritual scribe Rabbi Shai Avramovitz, an Israeli pilot writes a letter in a new Torah scroll atop Masada.
Assisted by ritual scribe Rabbi Shai Avramovitz, an Israeli pilot writes a letter in a new Torah scroll atop Masada.

Within hours, the rabbi found himself praying with a squadron of pilots as the sun rose over the azure waters far below. When the service concluded, Elharar gave a brief Torah lesson. He drew upon the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, using an analogy based upon the principles of flight to explain the Chasidic concept of how spirituality interfaces with physical reality.

“The body of a plane cannot take off without wings or an engine,” said the rabbi. “So too it is with a Jew. The body pulls him towards the material matters of this physical world, and the wings, which are love and awe of G‑d, lift the body up to spiritual heights.

“But in order to take off,” he continued, “one must also have fuel and fire. That is the vitality that one can achieve by studying the inner secrets of the Torah.”

Afterwards, he invited the squadron’s commander and executive officer to write a letter in the new Torah, leading First Sgt. Y. and T.Sgt. H. to the space where the scribe toils daily on the holy scroll. The squadron followed and watched their leaders take up the scribe’s quill pen to fill in two letters.

Some tourists who had wandered in to watch the event joined the soldiers in a chorus of “Mazel Tov!”

“You don’t realize how you penetrated our souls with light today,” A. told Elharar as the squadron left. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a true honor.”