For the past 9 years, I have been offering annual prizes I immodestly entitle “The Avi Awards” for the favorite books I have read in the past 12 months. In preparing my awards for this year, I have pondered the value of reading books. I am well aware that in this age of social media, fewer people cherish the experience of holding a book in one’s hands and setting aside time to read.
There are moments in which I identify with Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the USS Enterprise in the 24th century. Though he commanded the most powerful ship in Starfleet, equipped with deuterium injection reactors and photon torpedoes, he would nonetheless find pleasure in his chambers reading classical works by Shakespeare. And no, he did not gaze at a screen or listen to an audio recording nor even step into the holodeck to personally meet Hamlet. Instead he would sit in a chair with a cup of tea (Earl Grey, hot) holding a book and reading. It was pretty low tech, if you ask me.
But whether you are an active reader of books or a consumer of social media; whether you prefer exquisite works of literature or the occasional light summer novel (and who doesn’t like the latter?), there is one book for the Jewish people that stands above all others: the Torah.
Talk about a book that is elemental and essential. The Torah is a hand-written on animal skin. It is carefully inscribed by a skillful Sofer whose work is an act of sacred devotion. The Torah is our Tree of Life; our source of spiritual sustenance; the foundation of our people and faith. God’s words are received when we proclaim them in worship. God’s teachings are revealed when we study together. God’s commandments are embraced in the presence of sacred community.
Shavuot, the holy festival beginning Saturday night, commemorates the Giving of the Torah to our people. The young adults celebrating their Confirmation on this evening affirm the continuity of our faith from one generation to the next. Imagine: a Sefer, a Book, is the holiest of holies for Jews worldwide. We are a People of the Book, bound together for an eternal destiny.