These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Vessels of Creation in Room 2

Posted on December 14, 2013 by Dorielle Parker

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Discovering the art of Sofrut at Pardes

d0ri3113I have always felt enchanted by shape. The coffee mug shaped perfectly for my hand. The shoes fit perfectly for my feet. The canvas built perfectly for paint. Letters curved perfectly for words. Words shaped perfectly for Creation.

It is told that every Hebrew letter has a specific shape because that shape is meant to manifest a certain aspect of the Divine into the world. The diagonal nature of the alef that channels energies: of yin and yang, of the upper and lower, of the One. How the eye meets the lamed on a page and notices the vav on top of a caf forming a pictogram that resembles a head leaping into a higher realm through learning: lamed, to learn. How the peh, when studied closely, is found to have inside it a small bet, telling the very story of God speaking the world into existence: peh, a mouth, creating the world, beresheit. 

Each letter brings us back to the foundation of communication, which enables us to engage with ourselves, with each other and with God. Each letter’s shape is a map, aiding us along our journey and reminding us where to find home.

dbp03So where is home?

I feel at home with the pen and paper. So long as there is time to sit, there is time to draw. I truly feel that all of the different shapes contained in my imagination yearn to be drawn out and onto the page. It is their deepest desire, and I suppose my deepest desire, to be able to dance through the pen and on the paper. And when others’ eyes meet these shapes, I hope they learn something and then delve even deeper into their own consciousness.

Drawing, to me, is a Divine passage. So when I found out that Pardes offered a class on the art of sofrut, the traditional Hebrew calligraphy used to write a sefer Torah, mezuzah, megillah and other sacred objects, I took the chance to find home in the pen and paper yet again. I wanted to know the different shapes contained in God’s imagination – the shapes that yearn to be drawn, to be learned.

dbp01Every yom shlishi (Tuesday) we meet in classroom 2 at Pardes and re-discover the secrets and foundations of Creation. There are seven students, and Dov, our sofer spirit guide, teaches us and inspires us with the magic of shape. We are each given a kumus, a traditional writing utensil, and a piece of claf, scraps of animal parchment leftover from Dov’s various projects. For an hour and a half we sit, with our quill and parchment, and write the letters that make up our very existence. Dov maps out the letters and we struggle through the technical difficulties of drawing each in its particular way. We then learn a text from the mystical tradition about these letters and the way their shapes trace specific channels of Divine energy.

I am aware of how esoteric this all may seem, but the journey of a sofer does not exist in the realm of pashat. It exists in limbo, somewhere between the space of humility and embracing the unknown. It is the journey of allowing your fingers to hold on tightly to the kumus as it flows so eloquently and softly along the claf, creating lines that form shapes so unique, exquisite and sacred. This is a journey I never want to stop taking.

Our whole world is composed of language. We have a language for the body, for the mind, for the soul. Every tool we use to communicate can be considered a language and every language has to be made up of something. Whether it is with movement, gesture, word or song, we find ways to confess, to convey, to commit, to convince, to destroy and to destroy. The human being finds deep purpose in the ability to be heard. We communicate because we must.

By learning the sacred script of Hebrew, I have gotten much better at communicating the many deep thoughts that I have always longed to convey. This is why I devote my days to learning to Torah. It brings me back home. By learning how to draw this language, learning how the letters were first used by our great Creator to convey The Idea, brings me even closer.

dbp02Even closer to home. Even closer to HaMakom. Closer to HaShem.

When that hour and a half is up each week, we are all left in such amazement. So many questions unanswered and so many shapes undiscovered. We all yearn to have more shapes fill our imaginations and we all yearn to take the journey of the kumus and claf once more. But we can’t go on dwelling in the esoteric world of sofrut for too long. Eventually, we have to lift the pen off the paper and leave home.

Until next yom shlishi.

-Dorielle Parker

Dorielle Parker is a first-year student in the Pardes Educators Program. She has found home in many places in the states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado and most recently New York City. When she’s not at Pardes, she spends her days and nights in the windy neighborhood of Nachlaot with her fiancé Josh, sipping on coffee and listening to music, mainly that of the band Phish. She also loves to draw, paint, do yoga and learn Torah in any way possible.