Netivat Sofrut: diary of a Soferet

Adventures of a female sofer learning to heal the world by doing Holy Work...writing a Sefer Torah

נחזיר את השכינה למקומה בצייון ובתבל כלה

"Let us restore the Divine In-Dwelling to Her Place in Zion & infuse Her spirit throughout the whole inhabited world."

So wherever we are, let us bring the Peace of G@d's Presence.

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Location: Vancouver/London, British Columbia/UK, Canada

SCRIBAL EVANGELIST As the only living certified Soferet (סופרת - female Jewish ritual scribe) & the first woman to practice sofrut (creation of sacred Hebrew texts) in over 200 years, I feel an obligation to blog about my experiences of The Work. I am also currently researching the foundation of a lost tradtion of women practicing this holy craft. For more on the services I provide, please see; Sofrut Nation. I am now available to engage with students, male or female, wishing to enter into the preliminary stage of learning sofrut. You are welcome to join me on this path. "Tzedeq, tzedeq tir'dof - Justice, justice you shall pursue." Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:20.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


28 Iyyar

Malkhut she-be-Yesod


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Tuesday, May 23, 2006


25 Iyyar

My time is being devoured by catching up with work, thank G@d, but am also concerned for my Mum's health & am visiting her regularly. She'll be needing eye surgery soon, so please keep her in mind when you pray for healing. Karen daughter of Muriel. Also please pray for Kim's Grandpa Joe.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006


23 Iyyar

I went to Jordan & Zandra's wedding last week. One of the best ever.

Fun & games before the nuptials! Guests braiding the love-knot (I'm the modestly dressed one in behind).

Toast to the newlyweds - me laughing with Jordan, Zandra (you can see her flowers) & Brendan, his son, after I chanted #5 of the Sheva Brakhas to them.

Party! Not a great pic of me on the right, but a fab one of one of Jordan's & my big sister, Betina! She's in the middle, her daughter Megan has her back to the camera, I'm in the denim & that's Brendan, in the back.

Jordan & Zandra, married!

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Saturday, May 20, 2006


23 Iyyar

I've kept this under wraps for a month, but now it's time to go public. Since 2003 I've enjoyed being the only certified soferet, & now I feel ready to open it up to other women. I just needed some time to grow & gain experience before I was ripe to share my good fortune, B"H, with others. So now, with a little help from Jordy (& others), I unveil my Magnum Opus.
Shavu'ah tov.

ps - please be kind - it's still under construction, so be patient with my errors & spelling mistakes :)

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Friday, May 19, 2006

תמחה את זכר עמלק

21 Iyyar

Tim'cheh et zeykher Amaleyq
"Blot out the remembrance of Amalek..." - Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:19, parshat Ki Tetze

This is said by a congregation, together with the sofer, at the Siyum Ha-Torah held to dedicate a new Torah scroll (sometimes to re-dedicate a repaired scroll, too!).

This is also what a scribe must say each morning as he (or I) begin/s work. As the kulmus, quill or reed, must be tested & sometimes re-shaped each morning. This test must also be performed each time the kulmus is cut or sharpened, as no writing of any STaM (Sifrei Torah, Tefilin & Mezuzot) may be commenced until the writing implement has passed this check. So what is the test?

Dip your nib into your bet d'yo (inkwell), & write the name Amaleyq. As you speak the words "Tim'cheh et zeykher Amaleyq", cross it out.

This is one of those "invisible things" I've referred to that sof'rim do in our work that are required for us to perform according to Jewish Law. Things that nobody can tell by looking at a scroll whether they have been correctly performed. This is why you need to have complete trust in your sofer. No different than your lawyer, your doctor, or your jeweller...

What's more, if this ritual is not performed before any writing or repairing of letters, then all of the work you do is pasul. Not kosher. Bury it.

Torah-scribes may not write any part of a Torah-scroll, nor repair any of its letters, until the name of Amalek is written and completely blacked-out in fulfillment of the command in Deuteronmy 25:17. (ie. to blot-out the name of Amalek"...)
-- Rabbi Dr Eric Ray, z"l, Sofer STaM

Does this seem harsh? Perhaps. People I've met in my travels who have tried their hand at writing or correcting sofrut without being fully trained thought so. Maybe because the first they had heard of this was from me & it has severe implications for their product. But instead of brushing this requirement aside, let's unpack this both practical & vital practice...

Who was Amaleyq?
Jewish gives a biblical-historical overview, while Wikipedia gives their own interesting version followed by religious, historical & philosphical links. Highly recommened before you read on :)

The name "Amaleyq", when you divide it up into two words, reads "עמ לק", am laq, a greedy people, a nation of takers. Am means nation or people, where laq indicates lapping something up greedily. We can extrappolate further by noticing that the Hebrew word amal means trouble, misery, evil; the word laqah means stricken, defective, blemished, flawed, spoiled.

These people, who preyed upon the fledgling Jewish nation as we crossed the Sinai, did so by picking off those who were bringing up the rear. The elderly, the children, the ill. They took advantage of other human beings who were weaker than they. A cowardly act, to attack the defenseless. G@d hates that.

So does this mean that Jewish scribes are responsible for committing a conscious ritual act of genocide with each test of the pen? That a xenophobic grudge is expressed in one of our most sacred practices? No.

There are three mitzvot connected to Amaleyq, all from mitzvah-book 14, the Book of Judges:
#598 - Blot out Amaleyq (Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:19)
#599 - Remember what the Amaleyqites did to the Jewish People (Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:17)
#600 - Don't forget Amaleyq's atrocities & ambush on our journey from Egypt in the desert (Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:19)

#599 & #600 are applicable at all times, anywhere in the world to all Jewish men & women above the ages of 13 & 12, respectively. #598 is equally applicable in all places at all times, but only adult Jewish men are obligated in this mitzvah. Adult Jewish women are free to choose to take this commandment on, if we wish.

How do we observe these mitzvot?
Rashi explains #600:
"From man unto woman, from infant unto suckling, from ox unto sheep, so that the name of Amalek not be mentioned even with reference to an animal by saying "This animal belonged to Amalek".

#599 is fulfilled by Shabat Zakhor, which I already wrote about here & here, the Shabbes before Purim when we chant passages relating to Amaleyq & his descendant Haman, who is the villain in the Purim story.
That leaves #598. The way we fulfill this mitzvah today is precisely what I described above: writing out his name to check your nib & crossing it out, making the verbal declaration, with three diagonal strokes.

So, nu? Why the big production?
On the one hand, this test provides a very practical, mechanical step to writing. All professional calligraphers, regardless of origin, test their nibs in between dipping & writing. It's the only way to make certain your fine strokes will be fine, your wide strokes wide, & that there will be just the right amount of ink (no blobs or streaks). So of course writing a Sefer Torah, Mezuzah, or Tefilin (& Megillot, for that matter), deserves this conscious process, out of respect & because of it's content.

On the other hand, this is in fact a mitzvah connected to a very high, spiritual exercise, calling us to change ourselves from within. Ourselves???

What or who is Amaleyq today?
You are. I am.
Amaleyq is the temptation to take advantage of others, to see only with your own eyes, to feed our appetites off the disempowered.
So with each test of the pen, a sofer is called to remember that very unfortunate human tendency, that it lies dormant within, & that it is his responsibility to keep it in check, if not destroy it.
To kill the predator inside.

Now, back to the party...
The completion of this ritual occurs each year on Erev/the day before Tish'a b'Av, which occurs on August 3rd this year. On that day, I take all the accumulated scraps of kosher parchment on which I wrote & crossed out literally thousands of Amaleyim, & burn them. The sofer holds a public outdoor service for the incineration, which includes prayer, recitations from the Books of Nachum, Yishaiyahu (Isaiah), Tehilim (Psalms) & Ovadiyah (Obadaiah), then concludes with blessings specific to this mitzvah. At the end, everyone present says "ameyn!".

Then we eat :D

So as you can see, this requirement isn't harsh at all. This is a beautiful, consciousness-raising exercise that, when practiced regularly, aids the sofer to imbue his work with appropriate intention & awareness. The work becomes Work. It allows us to gradually & gently correct one of our most negative tendencies, thus bringing our best Selves to the holy service of writing.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006


21 Iyyar

I've added a button under "Social Action" on the sidebar. It will take you to a web site dedicated to saving the life of 18-year-old Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi. She killed a man in self defense when he & his friend tried to rape her & she will be hanged soon unless we can appeal to the Supreme Court in Iran.

Please help.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006


19 Iyyar

I've taken in a lot of information over the past couple of days since I returned to Vancouver & have been processing this deeply disappointing turn of events. I understand that Reb Zalman has cut off all communication with Mordechai Gafni until further notice. Ad kan.

I'm not willing to publicly go into how my life has been negatively affected by Gafni, but my pashut is this: abuse of power is wrong.

Rabbis, gurus, priests, politicians, you name it. Charisma is a heady tool that should be used with caution. Remember with humility that we are all vessels of Torah, & it is the Torah we share that is so attractive. It speaks to people's souls. So it is shocking & sad that any liberties would be taken with another's soul.

"Rebbe-izing" people so that they give their power away is harmful. Rabbinic privilege does not extend to people's bodies. Assaulting your students, your employees, or anyone vulnerable to you is unethical.

Sacred physical intimacy can be achieved, IY"H, by equally empowered, lovingly covenanted partners.

I admire & thank the women who filed the sexual assault charges. I send blessings of chizzuk & support to them, their loved ones & to every single one of Gafni's students, followers, maggidim & to his entire readership. There is much healing to be done in our most tender places, where sex & spirit collide.

I comment further on Jewschool, Velveteen Rabbi & at Danya

[Addendum May 18: I owe an apology for the above phrase I wrote regarding Mordechai Gafni having negatively affected my life. Some people got the impression from these words that he abused me, so for that I am sorry. It wasn't my intention for anyone to think that, & while I'm not responsible for other people's reactions, I'm still responsible for how I communicate. Mordechai Gafni has never abused me. His being my estranged husband's "Rebbe" is what was harmful.]

[Addendum May 18: I owe another apology for my comment on this post which made it sound like Gafni is a Jewish Renewal rabbi. He is not. Although he was a very popular teacher in Renewal circles, his training & ordination comes exclusively from Orthodoxy.]

Picked up at Mystical Politics & JewishBlogging.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006


18 Iyyar/LaG b'Omer!

The Dinover Rebbe, Rav Tzvi Elimelekh, taught much about this 33rd day of the Omer, this day we celebrate Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He said that the point of Lag b'Omer is not to do techinot (supplications), to speak from one's heart. LaG b'Omer is a time to be happy & not get into your neediness.

& he says there is no true wisdom that is not from the Torah.

He writes of the story where Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai says to his students: go out & find what is the Ultimate Good. The Good that includes all other good. Rabbi Elazar replied, "A good heart", & Rabban Yochanan accepted this.

LaG b'Omer is the special transition time between the leyv (heart) & the tov (good). Indeed, the gematria of "LaG b'Omer" is 49. There are 32 days of the Omer to count between the second day of Pesach & LaG b'Omer, then 17 days to count between LaG b'Omer & Shavu'ot. The gematria of "leyv" is 32 & that of "tov" is 17. This adds up to 49.

The first letter Tet in the Torah begins the first "tov" in Breyshit. If you see a Tet in your dream, then it's a good sign. So says the Talmud.

Lignoz ha-or refers to the hiding of the Supernal Light. the light that G@d separated from the darkness on the first day of Creation, long before the sun, mmon & stars were created on the fourth day.
"Geniza" means to put something away permanently, or to bury it, because it is not to be used.
Jastrow has this to say about the root Gimel-Nun-Zayin:
" cut off, set suppress or prohibit, to disappear, be hidden...cover up..."
G@d could see what we would ultimately do, so S/He hid that "First Light" from us.

The 32nd word in the Torah is "tov". Torah comes out of wisdom on 32 paths which are concealed & on the 33rd day the hidden is beginning to reveal itself. This is LaG b'Omer.

He says that if we patiently engage in the process of counting the Omer, step by step, that we will perceive this revealing. We will develop ha-ro'eh et ha-nolad, the ability to forsee consequences. Have an intution of what may come. & this is by that first, hidden light that you can see the mysteries of Creation. Adam could see the entire world by this light.

If we don't accomplish something by our own hands, it has no sustainability. We have to make it happen. We have to consciously engage with it to make the lights of Torah shine.

G@d willing, we can get to a point where our heart can submit & accept the leyv tov & that's when the light can be revealed & we can integrate it. The 32 paths really open up the light of the Torah if we are present in this process.

R' Shimon bar Yochai was called the Butzina Qadisha - Aramaic for "The Holy Lamp" - because he had access to that light. That's why his book is called the Zohar. Because one can see all of the everything by the Or Ha-Ganuz.

The function of this Torah is to leave behind a blessing of this hidden light which is the all-inclusive Primordial Good. May it keep us & our children until is revealed the light of the righteous Messiah. This is the light of the anointed King. By the merit of engagging in the light - Zohar - which R' Shimon bar Yochai left behind.

That's why we light lamps - & bonfires - on this day of LaG b'Omer.

You won't see the footsteps of the Messiah until you see the rainbow created by the light of the Zohar.

Yisachar was conceived as a result of the mandrake, the night before Shavu'ot, when we hold a Tiqun Leil. His tribe sat & learned Torah as a result. This is supported by Targum Yonatan.

These words all have the same gematria:
Ba-Torah = in Torah
Et ha-or = the light
TARYA"G = 613 commandments

I hope you all had a firey LaG b'Omer! May we count the next 17 days as steps to readying ourselves for receiving Torah.

Cross-posted at Radical Torah.

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Friday, May 05, 2006


7 Iyyar

I caught a fascinating documentary about the Dab Iyyiu, an Aboriginal People in northern Quebec. I learned a lot about how these First Nations people cure their hides by watching the family matriarch skin a lynx followed by the family patriarch dry the skin indoors on a board. It might be a more reasonable way for me to tackle qlaf manufacture, considering my current home setup (no garage or workshop space).

It was amazing!

& it was totally kosher & happened to be in keeping with the laws of kosher parchment making :)
For my post on preparing deer skins for the mitzvah of Sefer Torah, click here.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006


6 Iyyar

So I was watching America's Next Top Model tonight. Why? Because, in the immortal words of Kahana, "This, too, is Torah & I must learn it." I was struck by the advice two girls were given by their Thai judge: "When you're a top model, you have to remember that there are repercussions for everything you do each day. You have to be really confident & present."
...what a Jewish attitude, I thought! You could insert a lot of different words into this statement, in place of "top model".

It reminded me of the Monday morning chevruta I have with Rabbis Orenstein & Mivasair. This week we learned mamar Alef of Sefer B'nai Yisachar (I've blogged about it previously here), which relates the month of Iyyar to the tefilin of Rabbeynu Tam. Hang onto your hats, here comes some century-plus old Kabbalah...

The One who is to be praised will be praised with consciousness, intellect, knowledge.

Rav Dinov writes that the 4-letter name of G@d, when written as Yud-Hey-Hey-Vav (יהה"ו) the way it sometimes is, it stands for Yirmiyahu Tet, Khaf-Gimel/Jeremiah 9:23...
כג  כִּי אִם-בְּזֹאת יִתְהַלֵּל הַמִּתְהַלֵּל, הַשְׂכֵּל וְיָדֹעַ אוֹתִי--כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה בָּאָרֶץ:  כִּי-בְאֵלֶּה חָפַצְתִּי, נְאֻם-יְהוָה.  {ס}

"But let him that glories glory in this, that he understands, and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness, in the earth; for in these things I delight, says G@d."

"...yit'haleyl ha-mit'haleyl haskeyl ve-yado'a..."
The tefilin of Rashi, Rabbeynu Tam's saba (grandfather), corresponds to the normal way we are used to seeing G@d's 4-letter name:

These tefilin, of Rabbeynu Tam, are especially good for hasakat chokhmah, the Father-Wisdom.
Because these tefilin correspond to that tzeruf (combination) of this name, Iyyar they're good for acquiring this consciousness.

The aspect of our lives it is connected to is hirhur (reflection - which is the word of Briyah). It was at this point we ran to the Talmud to read about the maklokhet (dispute) on hirhurim & speech in Brakhot 20b (Hirhur Lav K'dibbur, "thinking is not like speaking"). Then I went on a tangent about how this discussion affects some essentials of sofrut, which I'll write a future post about :)

It's a process:
Haskeyl, yediyah, hirhur, refu'ah.
Understanding, information, reflection, healing.

Iyyar is the month of cleaning, clearing out, with the "perfect food" of Man(na), Lechem Abirim/the Bread of Angels (according to R' Akiva)/Lechem Dasvuta - bread absorbed by the organs, which was only nutritious & had no physical or spiritual dreck (toxin).

It takes the month of Ziv, Brilliance, another name for Iyyar, to cure us of our spiritual PTSD!

In Alef:Dalet we learned that Torah was given only to those who ate the Man(na) in the desert - according to R' Akiva - ie: those who accepted the Bread of Angels were open to Torah, as they had properly prepared themselves for it.

"Iyyar" (spelled Alef-Yud-Yud-Reysh in Hebrew) stands for Avraham, Yitzchaq Ya'aqov & Rachel. They are the 4 legs of the merkavah (Divine chariot), so this month is a preparation for Torah by virture of your middot (character traits). Therefore the deeds of the ancestors preceeded Torah - they lived in harmony with Ha-Shem naturally, beforehand. So it is our custom to learn Pirkei Avot during this time of year.

Qadmeynu, our ancestors, were exemplars without explicit instruction - we need instruction (Torah) to achieve this.

The gematria of Iyyar is ARA"Kh, which has the meaning of refu'ah (healing).
In Yirmiyahu 30:17 "arukha" indicates "refu'ah".

יז  כִּי אַעֲלֶה אֲרֻכָה לָךְ וּמִמַּכּוֹתַיִךְ אֶרְפָּאֵךְ, נְאֻם-יְהוָה:  כִּי נִדָּחָה, קָרְאוּ לָךְ--צִיּוֹן הִיא, דֹּרֵשׁ אֵין לָהּ.  {ס}

For I will restore health to you, & I will heal you of your wounds, said the LORD; because they have called you an outcast: 'She is Zion, there is none that cares for her.' {S}

Avraham, Yitzchaq, Ya'aqov & Rachel were each conscious, present. Our role models. They were also all, at one time or another in their lives, cast out & in need of this process of healing which G@d provides. Which meant that they had to be open to it.

There was once a Lakota Sioux woman. All we know about her is that her father was Sitting Bull & her brother was Crow Foot. & we know that her name was Sitting Holy.
Her name sounds like that of a living saint.
Can you imagine having such a powerful name? To be so grounded & present that you could wear such a name? & is it our job in this life to earn our names or to be shaped by them? Or both?
Can we each reach our human potentials to become as living saints? Or do we need others to be saintly for us so we can focus on them?

So how can we best serve The Creator? How do we improve our communities through acting as role models?

Know where you come from. Own who you are. Be where you're at.

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