Your Own Scroll

One of the six hundred and thirteen commandments is the obligation for every Jew to write a Torah scroll. Jews that are not trained to write the Torah script may fulfill their obligation by commissioning a trained scribe to write it for them.1

Writing or commissioning one’s own Torah ensures that it will be “taught to the children of Israel,”2 and is considered as if one has “received it at Sinai.”3

The King’s Scroll

In addition to the Torah scroll that every Jew is required to write, Jewish kings were mandated to write or commission a second Torah scroll, which was kept on their person. Why did a king have to carry a Torah scroll with him wherever he went?

The Torah mandates that a king be treated with reverence and awe.4 When a person is accorded such great honor, it’s difficult not to grow haughty. It’s human nature. No matter how humble or pious, we cannot avoid experiencing a secret thrill when our virtues are extolled in public.

The purpose of this second scroll was to ensure the king experienced “fear of G‑d.”5 Carrying the Torah on his person served as a potent reminder that the honor accorded him belonged to the office, not himself.

The Struggle

The challenge a king faces is one that every Jewish leader wrestles with, as illustrated by the following stories:

Rabbi Shmelke, the famed disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, was offered the position of chief rabbi in Nikolsburg. Upon arriving at Nikolsburg, he learned that a festival of greeting had been organized in his honor. Before attending the festival, he requested some alone time in a private room.

When his hosts came to collect him, they heard him proclaiming, “The famous Shmelke has arrived! He is a great scholar, and it is an honor to have him in our city.” They asked him about his bizarre behavior, and he explained that he would shortly hear such things from others. Concerned that such flattery might compromise his humility, he said it to himself first so that when he heard it later, he would recall how lame it sounded on his own lips.

In 1894, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe traveled to Romanovka, in the Cherson region. Out of reverence, the entire community came out to greet him. As the carriage approached, the adoring crowds unhitched the horses and carried the wagon into the city. They considered it an honor to carry the Rebbe, but the elderly chassidim, who witnessed the event, discerned a pained expression on the Rebbe’s face. When recounting the story, the chassidim would express the wish that their own hearts be as broken and humbled on Yom Kippur during Neilah as the Rebbe’s was at that moment.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Rabbi Yaakov of Lisa were traveling to Warsaw. When they approached the town, the welcoming crowds unhitched the horses and drew the carriage in their stead. Each rabbi quietly determined that this unusual display of respect was in honor of his colleague, and each stepped from the carriage to join the crowd in pulling the other. When the carriage arrived at its destination, the crowd was astonished to find it vacant. Only the carriage wasn’t empty; it was filled with humility and respect.

This is the essence of our response to flattery. Whether we are being praised for our abilities, personality, character traits or physical appearance, our response must always be to look toward others who have accomplished even more and try to emulate them. In matters of goodness, we must never be satisfied. Satisfaction leads to smugness, and smugness leads to hubris.

When we hear our praises sung, our internal response should be, “They are not praising me, but my achievements. I too am impressed by those achievements. In fact, I’m so impressed that I cannot rest on my laurels in smug satisfaction. I must get up and do more. Compared to others, I have barely scratched the surface.”

The concern is that we might not remember to think this way when we are accorded respect. The king carried a Torah to remind him. The rabbis carried their humility and love of Torah to remind them. What can we carry to remind us?

We carry the examples of great tzaddikim, righteous people. When the opportunity presents itself, we can recall the stories of tzaddikim and strive to emulate their ways.