16 Dec A Shavei Torah reading in Poland for…the UN Secretary-General!
Will the head of the United Nations soon be holding a yad – the silver pointer used when reading from a Sefer Torah in synagogue – to pore over sensitive diplomatic documents in New York? Probably not. But the story of how a yad was delivered from Shavei Israel’s emissary in Poland to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in, of all places, the old synagogue in Oscwiecim (the city adjacent to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp), is nevertheless remarkable.
Ban was visiting Poland in November to attend the world climate conference. His speechwriter (who is Jewish) suggested a trip to Auschwitz and then to neighboring Oscwiecim where the Secretary-General was given a tour of the Oscwiecim Jewish Center by Shavei Israel’s Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis. In the synagogue, Rabbi Ellis opened the ark revealing the Sefer Torah with its crown and breastplate. Rabbi Ellis told Ban “that a synagogue is like a person. The aron [the ark] is its brain, the bima [the raised area from where the Torah is read to the congregation] its heart, the amud [the lectern] its mouth and the ner tamid [literally the “eternal flame” that usually hangs over the ark or the bima] represents our soul.”
Rabbi Ellis then opened the Torah and read for Ban the section on the Ten Commandments. “I explained that this is the foundation for all Western ethics,” Rabbi Ellis recalls.
That’s when the world’s top diplomat noticed the yad Rabbi Ellis was using. Rabbi Ellis explained that traditionally, due to its holiness, and in order not to damage it, one does not touch the Torah directly, but uses a silver pointer as an intermediary.
“The metaphor is that there has to be something to mediate between us, the physical, and the Torah, the spiritual,” Rabbi Ellis says. “As such, the yad is a kind of moral compass. And since it’s the job of the U.N. to spread morality throughout the world, I offered him the yad – it was my own personal yad, in fact – and I blessed him that the yad should help him in his job.”
Rabbi Ellis adds that Ban responded that often he is not allowed to touch diplomatic documents and that he would be able to use the yad now!
Here is the full sized picture of Rabbi Ellis reading to the U.N. Secretary General from the Torah scroll in Oscwiecim: