The Sta”m Chronicle (9)

28 Shevat 5774

January 29, 2014

Aesthetic beauty vs. Yiras Samayim
(Part 2)

Last week we discussed reasons why choosing a sofer with a beautiful kesav may be more worthwhile than choosing a sofer who is a great yirei shamayim. Now we will explore the argument for choosing a sofer who is a great yerei Shamayim:

Many of us grew up with an image of a sofer as an old, bent over, heilige Yid (holy Jew) with a long, white beard streaked with yellow, hunched in a corner somewhere in Mea Shearim writing with all the Kavanos (mystical awareness) of the Arizal.

Unfortunately, the fact is that many of today’s sofrim are young, gum-chewing, iPhone-carrying, magazine-reading, radio-listening, fast-talking businessmen who may never have heard of the Arizal. I’ve seen them come into the klaf stores in their jumpsuits right off their scooters. They are people whom, if they had asked us for a $1,000 loan which they promised to repay within thirty days, we would refuse. We would justify our refusal by saying to ourselves, “He looks suspicious, how do I know I can trust him?”

So, when this sofer is writing our mezuzah, what sense does it make to suddenly defend our purchase from him by reminding ourselves that “every Jew has a chezkas kashrus”?

Although it is, of course, not possible to know how much yiras Shamayim a person has, nevertheless, there must be certain standards. Just as we try to use only the most reliable people for the other things in life that are really important to us, isn’t it obvious that we should do no less when purchasing STA”M?
STA”M possess an awesome level of kedushah (holiness). The level of kedushah and the hashpa’ah (effect) on us is very much connected with the spiritual level of the person who wrote them.

I was once in the office of someone considered one of the best sofrim in the world. I don’t remember exactly what the issue was, but a comment was made which got him extremely angry. He was quiet for a moment, perhaps struggling to control himself, and then unleashed a couple of unprintable sentences. I had previously seen laxity on his part in other areas, but this was a whole different level of debasement.

I remember thinking to myself at the time, “I don’t care how nicely this fellow writes – I wouldn’t want his mezuzah on my doorpost.”

There have been many sofrim throughout the years who may not have had the nicest kesav, and yet Gedolim flocked to them in appreciation of their great yiras Shamayim.
Another major factor in choosing a sofer with a great amount of yiras Shamayim is that such a person generally asks a shailah whenever he has the slightest doubt regarding the kashrus of the STA”M item he is writing. Countless times I have been present when Rabbanim were approached with far-fetched shailos from sofrim who were worried that there might be a slight problem with what they had written, and that they should therefore take less than the regular price.

Sofrim who are lacking in yiras Shamayim will rarely ask a shailah. Instead, they will tell themselves things like, “I’m sure there is an opinion to rely on”; or, “I’m sure it’s no big deal, and there’s nothing to worry about.”

People may not realize that shailos arise even with the best sofrim in the world. Some sofrim have more, some have less, but there is no such thing as a sofer who does not have shailos.

Beware of a sofer who does not have a Rav to whom he asks his shailos – no matter how nice his kesav may be! You would be entering a danger zone!

When looking to purchase STA”M, it is advisable to casually ask the sofer, magiah, battim macher, or even socher who he goes to with his shailos. If he does not have a clear, instantaneous answer – beware! And if he tells you, “I don’t really have shailos,” you should immediately begin your search for a different, more honest person, with whom to deal.

Next time we will try and come to some sort of conclusion regarding choosing between a great yirei shamayim and a sofer with a beautiful kesav.

The Sta”m Chronicle is reprinted here on JKN with permission from the author.

Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz is a practicing magiah who lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh. He has certification from the Vaad Mishmeres Sta”m for Safrus and Hagahah. He has received Rabbinical semichah for psak in Sta”m from HaGaon HaRav Mordechai Friedlander, Posek for Mishmeres Sta”m in Yerushalayim and the Badatz Eidah HaChareidis Sta”m division. Rabbi Mendlowitz has authored the acclaimed sefer “Inside Sta”m, A Complete Buyer’s Guide” (Israel Bookshop 2012) and is in the process of preparing a Hebrew version for print. He lectures in Eretz Yisrael and the U.S. to raise consumer awareness in these areas.


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