Va’ad Ha’ezra wrote a Torah scroll in memory of the six million Jews who had been murdered in the Holocaust.
During the Second World War, particularly as communities realized the magnitude of the tragedy that had befallen the Jewish People, groups were established to assist refugees and survivors. One such group was a society in America called Agudat Ha’admorim, the Association of Hassidic Masters. The president of this organization was Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Friedman of Boyan (1890-1971), a scion of the regal Ruzhin dynasty. Va’ad Ha’ezra, the Committee for Assistance, was one of the branches of this Agudat Ha’admorim. The goal of this arm was to assist survivors.
One the initiatives of Va’ad Ha’ezra was to write a Torah scroll in memory of the six million Jews who had been murdered in the Holocaust.
The idea was publicized in the summer of 1946 in the rabbinic journal Hapardes that was published in New York and Chicago. The journal carried an invitation to the public to purchase a letter in the Torah scroll in memory of their beloved relatives who had perished.
Proceeds from the sale of the letters went to helping widows and orphans and the invitation stated that anyone who purchased a letter in the Torah scroll would be doing a double mitzva – taking part in the writing of a Torah and supporting the surviving remnant.
After the summer, a grand event was held in the Lower East Side of New York to commence the writing of the scroll. One document that survived from the preparations for this event is a letter sent by the Boyaner Rebbe to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch (1880-1950) inviting him to participate. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, did not participate personally – perhaps the distance between Crown Heights and the Lower East Side was too great considering his ailing health – he sent a representative armed with a personal letter and a cheque for $72 for the cause.
A celebration for the completion of the Torah scroll took place before the summer of 1953.
There have been – and indeed continue to be – many efforts to memorialize the Jews murdered in the Holocaust, but this effort of the surviving Hassidic masters stands out. The Zohar records that there are 600,000 letters in the Torah. Truth be told, our scrolls have far fewer letters – 304,805 to be exact. Thus the number 600,000 cannot refer merely to a different text of the Bible, for the discrepancy is too great. The number 600,000 could therefore be considered a symbolic number.
One of the later mystics, Rabbi Natan Nata Shapiro of Krakow (Megaleh Amukot, 1585-1633) wrote that this number corresponds to the 600,000 Jewish souls that exist. Sure there are more people than that, but each soul can mystically animate more than one person.
Moreover, the Hebrew name for Israel – Yisrael – is an acronym for Yesh Shishim Ribbuy Otiyot Latorah, there are 600,000 letters in the Torah.
A Torah scroll missing even one letter is rendered invalid – that is, until that letter is added or corrected. Similarly, the loss of each Jew leaves us as a people bereft and unfit for use. The writing of a commemorative scroll was an attempt to complete the Jewish People with the lost soul-letters.
Today that Torah scroll continues to be used in the synagogue of the late Boyaner Rebbe on the Lower East Side. The wooden poles of the scroll bear the following inscription in Hebrew: “This Torah scroll was written by the Association of Hassidic Masters of the USA and Canada in memorial of the holy and pure souls that were killed and burned, thereby sanctifying [God’s] Name, in the years of the pogroms and the rage, 1940-1945. May their souls be bound in the bond of everlasting life.”