Ceremony for the Burial of the Shamot/G’niza
This is a g’niza/shamot ceremony I created for our school some time ago. Should you decide to go this route, feel free to use as is and/or edit it to suit your personal approach. A colleague to whom I forwarded it chose to add a reading relating to Kristalnacht and the burning destruction of s’forim and Sifre Torah at the time of the Holocaust. You may to wish to substitute such a reading for the reading on Milton, my number 7, or simply add an eleventh reading. In which case edit the comments prior to reading 10. The topic then does comes closer to home. I am indebted to him for his suggestion.
Narrator l: Today we take the time to acknowledge the great importance of words, and books. Our sages have always said that words carry a great deal of weight. One Talmudic scholar went so far as to say as to say that the generation which left Egypt with Moses, were doomed to die in the dessert because they were guilty of slander. King David cautioned us saying, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile.” (elokai n’tzor )
Narrator 2: In order to emphasize just how far words can are capable of doing good or damage the Midrash teaches that “What is said in Rome, may kill in Syria.” In the Talmud Gitten (65a) the Rabbis even suggest that the destruction of Jerusalem resulted from a rumor and false charges brought to the Roman authorities. Perhaps that is why we begin and end the Amidah asking G-d to guide our lips from speaking falsely and help direct the things we say.
Narrator 3: Do you remember just a few weeks ago on Yom Kippur when we beat our chests and recited the al chayte prayer for things we had done and said this past year for which we asked for forgiveness? There are forty-four of those and a full twenty-five percent deal with things we have said. This topic is also the focus of a somewhat recent book entitled “Words that Hurt; Words that Heal,” by contemporary author and scholar, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.
Narrator 4: A story is told of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel who once asked his scholarly servant Tevi to go to the market and “buy me the best food there.” Tevi went and brought him back tongue.He sent him again with instructions to “bring me the worst food in the market.” Again Tevi returned with tongue. Rabbi asked how this could be, and his servant replied that from the tongue comes both good and bad.” When the tongue says something good, nothing is better. When it says something bad, nothing is worse!”
Narrator 5: Said a very wise scholar of the last century, “Perhaps none of us will find the cure for Cancer, or feed the world’s homeless, or bring about world peace. Bur nearly every day we find ourselves with someone’s reputation or sense of self-worth in our hands. And when we do, we can improve our world in a powerful and pervasive way; we can act as though our words had the power of life and death. They do! The Book of Proverbs warns that ,” Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”(Hachayim v’hamavet…)
Narrator 6: When we address the subject of the significance of words let us remember what we just this week read in the very first chapter of the Torah, B’raysheet. The world itself came into being through the power of words. “G-d said,’ Let there be light.'” and on six successive utterances the entire world was formed and created. When we drop a prayer book or a text copy of the Torah, we treat it as though it were a small child; we help lift it up and kiss it for it carries the name of G-d inside.
Narrator 7: The great author and poet John Milton lived at a time when there existed in England the King’s Star Chamber. This was a committee set up by the King to read, pass or reject anything and everything written, and be certain that nothing seditious was being written about the government or the King. Writers were tortured and put to death; books were censored, edited or burned for such an offence. Milton in an essay entitled The Aereopagitica, suggested that it was “Better to kill a man than destroy a book. Kill a man and you kill a creature of reason. Destroy a book and you kill reason itself.”
Narrator 8: In the Mishnah Avot is a version of the old proverb advising us to never judge a book by its cover (Judge not the flask, but rather what is found inside). This is probably good advice from what we see on the covers of the books on the shelves of Borders & Barnes & Noble. However, when it comes to s’forim or holy texts, which normally have no artistic covers to entice us, this is even more meaningful advice, as it is the content which is so important to us. Forget about the colorful cookie jar. It’s the cookies that I want to see.
Narrator 9: We the Jewish people, often derisively called the “People of the Book,” revere words; we live by them and hold them in esteem; we interpret and write commentary about them, and respect them. Our books and study sustained us when the world of commerce was closed to us. With the same regard we have for our fellow men and women, when they have served their years and no longer serve the life function they were created for, (when they ‘die’) we show our reverence and respect by affording them a proper and ceremonial burial, as we do now following the responsive-reading of Psalm 33.. Note that we have ten readings in all, following the custom of having a minyan (10 people) in order to recite the Kaddish.
Narrator 10 and group: Psalm 33 (modified)
O you righteous ones, sing joyfully to G-d for it is fitting for the upright to praise Him;
Give thanks to the Lord with a harp, sing praises to Him accompanied by your stringed instruments.
Sing a new song to Him, play and sing a pleasant tune with shouts of jubilation;
For the words of G-d are straight and all his deeds are done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice; the kindness of G-d fills the earth.
He sees the work of our hands, and the inclination of our hearts.
The heavens were made by the spoken word of G-d and all their hosts by the breath of His mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a wall: He places the deep waters in vaults.
Therefore all the world should be in awe of G-d, and all its inhabitants, as well.
For He spoke and it was: He commanded and it stood firm.
Happy is the people whose G-d is HaShem; the nation He chose as His own heritage.
G-d looks down from heaven. He sees all mankind.
From His dwelling place He monitors all the inhabitants of the earth.
He who fashions their hearts together; Who considers all their deeds.
False is reliance on the horse for salvation; for despite its strength it provides no escape.
Behold, the watchful eye of G-d is on all who respect Him, on those who anticipate His kindness.
To deliver their souls from death; to sustain their lives in times of duress.
Our souls wait hopefully for G-d; He is our help and our shield.
Our hearts will rejoice in Him; for we trust His holy Name.
May your kindness, O G-d be with us, just as we have relied on You.
We place the s’forim in the ground. Each takes a turn picking up the shovel and shoveling dirt into the ground. This mitzvah is an individual one. Thus retrieve the shovel, we shovel in dirt , place the shovel on the ground, and each in his/her turn retrieves the shovel, and continues the pattern.
Together we recite the Kaddish D’Rabbanan, the Scholar’s Kaddish, and the Shema.