My Journey to Become a Sofer – Part 4 – Finding a Teacher

Owl - Teacher
Owl – Teacher

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Though still teaching via Skype (from this website) and being involved in some other Torah projects, I felt that I needed some other type of career path. I was looking for something more stable in terms of earning a regular income. Living in Israel is not so simple! Making Aliyah over the age of 30 brings with it tremendous tests in terms of one’s finances! Those who don’t take the “dive” to come to live in Israel, lack an awareness of just how difficult it is to earn a proper income here.

Living Costs in Israel

General costs of living are extremely high! Costs of housing are constantly sky-rocketing. Hard-menial work (aka minimum wage ₪25/hour) work does little to allow those without outside support to actually make a success of settling the land. One need just consider that income (no more than ₪5000 a month) vs the cost of a simple two room apartment going for over one million shekels in a non-central area – to understand the impossibility of owning a home here. This gross income excludes the various taxes that must be paid before being left with livable income to use!

Those in need of working in a more central area like Jerusalem hoping to own their own two room 70 square meters apartment 70 can only dream of ever making the necessary minimum 1.5 million shekels needed. That’s just basics!

Hashgachah Pratit – Divine Providence

It happened that my wife and I were watching a particular Youtube video of a certain Sofer who had just completed an amazing project. I mentioned to her that maybe I should consider studying Sofrut as well. It’s a clean and very honourable profession that would give me the means to earn something on a more stable basis.

Of course, $20-$25 a mezuzah would not really amount to much. Taking anywhere between 2-4 hours to write – and certainly more when just starting – would not help much at all. But it was a start – if I could somehow get through the material and begin writing! Surely, in time, my writing would improve, my speed would improve. Moreover, perhaps people would value me enough to pay more than $25 for my mezuzah!

My Thoughts on the Value of a Mezuzah

At this point I share my thoughts… I often wonder if those purchasing mezuzot etc. realise how long it takes and how much effort is required to write a kosher mezuzah. Do they consider the $25 purchase as expensive? People are often looking for the cheapest mezuzah available. They want kosher – but they don’t want to pay. Okay – I lie! Sometimes they are not even interested in kosher! They are in search of anything that resembles a mezuzah. They are satisfied using that – so long as it doesn’t cost too much! I hope to discuss more in future posts about the importance of the need for kosher (only!) mezuzot – and of their true value.

For those who regard the two paragraphs as nothing more than some decoration, it doesn’t seem like the mezuzah does much in their lives in any case. Why the need to pay? Additionally – do they really need a mezuzah on every door of the home (except for the bathroom)? Isn’t it enough to buy one mezuzah – put it on the main entrance door – and let things be?!

Stories from the Talmud

The Talmud in Avodah Zarah 11a tells a fascinating story! The story concerns the famous convert Onkelos (known for his translation of the Chumash into Aramaic.) Onkelos was in fact the nephew of the emperor Titus – responsible for destroying the second Temple. This is what happened:

When Onkelos converted, the Emperor was most upset about his decision. Perhaps it was his breakaway from family traditions that disturbed him! Perhaps it was his complete distaste for the Jewish people. How could it be that his own nephew would choose a life-path so contradictory to everything he (the Emperor) stood for?!

With that, the Emperor sent out a delegation of his soldiers to convince him to come back to the “true path” of life. Unfortunately, they were not successful in their task. In fact, it was not only that they did not succeed, but Onkelos convinced them to convert too!

The Emperor sent out another group of Roman soldiers. They were instructed not to say a word – but to simply bring him back “home”. Onkelos began a simple conversation with him – a question… He asked them as follows: “In a procession, the torchlighter carries the light in front of the torchbearer, the torchbearer in front of the leader, the leader in front of the governor, the governor in front of the chief officer; but does the chief officer carry the light in front of the people that follow?!” “No!” they replied! “Yet,” Onkelos replied, “the Holy One Blessed be He went before them (Bnei Yisrael) in a pillar of fire to give them light.” They too converted.

The Emperor sent out another delegation warning them not to talk to Onkelos in any way whatsoever! When he was being lead out, he saw a mezuzah which was fixed on the door frame and he placed his hand on it. He asked them if they knew what it was. They asked for an explanation. He explained, “According to the universal tradition, the mortal king dwells within and his servants keep guard on him from outside. But in the case of the Holy One Blessed be He, his servants dwell within, and it is He who guards them from the outside!” These Romans converted too.

It once happened in the times of the Talmud – that a Persian king named Arteban boasted about his wealth. One day – he sent Rabbi Yehuda (the Prince) a pearl. (Rabbi Yehudah was an immensely wealthy man and could surely have purchased any pearl he wanted for himself in any case!) Rabbi Yehuda sent him back a present too – a mezuzah! Rabbi Yehuda sent a note which read, “Your gift of the pearl must be guarded from thieves who may harm you. My gift is more valuable for it will guard you from harm!”

I hope to highlight more beautiful things about the value of the mezuzah. I hope to show how inexpensive it truly is (financially) relative to the power it has in our lives!

My Story

Back to my story… My wife had told me that she knew the Sofer in the video and that she was sure he would be able to help me. A friendly man, outgoing and helpful! We spoke on the phone, made a time to meet and then discussed where things were at. He offered to teach me at a very special rate. Unfortunately I had no idea at the time just how special his rate was! He was really doing me a favour. In addition, he had offered to drive to a nearby shul to where I lived where we could meet up for lessons. Transport for me to get to him would not be easy without a car. It was really a great favour – and showed his true desire to teach me (no extra rewards required!)

I didn’t know how things were to turn out, and so meanwhile – before actually starting our lessons, we met for a trial lesson. The lesson went well! I was looking forward to learning further! Of course, I forgot – where in the world would I get the means to pay for the lessons?!

Here I was, ready to start studying Sofrut! It seemed as though I had overcome the first hurdle – finding a teacher! Now it was on to the second hurdle – coming up with the necessary funds to afford the lessons…

I don’t think I’ve ever found myself in a financial position to have the freedom to study courses I’ve wanted to. I love reading. Nevertheless even with my library of books – there are dozens of books I would read if I could only afford to purchase them. They’re not the types one will find in a public library. Not being close to one doesn’t make it any easier either!

What does one do when one is in need of progressing in life and one lacks the finances to do things? Even a car won’t move without gas – and gas costs! It’s all very well to say start from the bottom, but what about when the bottom may require a car to get to work and one lacks the means for the car. What of the gas?!

Coming Up With Funds to Study!

My next step was to come up with the funds to get going and make a start. But there was still more in store for me with my new teacher. Make sure to check in to my next post where I’ll be continuing my story. Thereafter, I hope to be sharing the Halachic (legal side) of the laws of writing in order to assist those who may be interested in learning the material necessary. Those struggling with various sections of the Hebrew material with hopefully gain from these lessons too.

For those interested in seeing more of a synopsis of my story or who wish to assist me further in getting through the last stages of my learning – do see my Sponsor a Sofer page and assist me in whatever way you can.

Thanks for tuning in and following my story!


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