Sefer TorahThe Titanic Torah

by Rabbi Israel Rubin

It is highly doubtful that they had a Torah scroll aboard the Titanic. Actually, a Torah scroll would have felt out of place amidst all the ritz, glitz and glamour on the grand luxury liner. Flaunting their jewelry and obsessed with materialism, the passengers probably wouldn't list a Torah among their treasures.

Yet the Titanic is making such big waves these days, that everyone and everything is being swept up with it. In fact, it was probably the word "Titanic" in the title of this article that first caught your eye and prompted you to read on.

But now that you've come aboard, please relax and make yourself comfortable. Be my guest and join me, if you will, on a little pre- holiday cruise in preparation for Shavuot (this year beginning Saturday night, May 30 and ending on Monday evening, June 1), marking the day when we received the Torah at Sinai.

Admittedly, Torah and the Titanic don't really go together. The Titanic offered thrills, rollicking fun and frolic, while the Torah requires serious study and observance.

A Torah's top wooden handles are no match for the Titanic's towering masts or looming smokestacks. A Torah is richly dressed up in velvet with gold embroidery and decked out in silver, but it probably wasn't fashionable in the vogue of that period.

The Torah may not feature majestic ballrooms, but it's been a virtual lifeboat for over 3,000 years. As a people, we've had some very rough sailing, but the Torah has weathered many a storm, and continues full steam ahead to this day.

This may sound strange, but Torah students can benefit from the Titanic! Hollywood has managed to turn this century's greatest disaster into a great success. Why, indeed, has everyone fallen in love with an old, rusting wreck?

It's not just a quaint fascination with a famous story. Actually, all the information about the Titanic had long been common knowledge. Books, periodicals and movies had already fully documented the tragic event. So what's the secret that propelled a sunken shipwreck into a super production?

Obviously, it's not the story itself, but how it is told, that makes all the difference!

Titanic's success shows us the value of breathing new life into a story, to make it alive in a real way. Just telling the dry facts isn't enough. The story should be personalized, and it is so important to put warmth and inspiration into it. We don't study Torah just for old times' sake, as an archaic, once-upon-a-time story from days gone by. Indeed, Chasidic teachings encourage us to "live with the times," by studying a portion of the weekly Torah reading each day.

The Torah's stories and issues continue to be relevant and contemporary; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebbeca, Rachel and Leah are here and now. And on Shavuot, we bring along the children to hear the Ten Commandments, as we personally relive our experience at Sinai.

Our cruise is just about over, for very soon our ship will come in. We will reach our final dock in Moshiach's times when "Divine wisdom will fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 10). Then we will fully appreciate Torah's great depth, for what seems to be superficial stories are just the tip of the iceberg.