The Children's Torah Scroll was born at afarbrengen, a chassidic gathering, held on the Hebrew date of the 11th of Nissan, 5741 (April 15, 1981)--the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's, 79th birthday.
Several months previously, the Rebbe had launched the "Tzivos Hashem" children's organization. At the farbrengen that day, the Rebbe spoke about Tzivos Hashem and the ways that children bring their parents closer to Judaism, a task which unites all Jewish children. Furthermore, the Rebbe stated, in our physical world a visible gesture of oneness was vital, and that the ultimate expression of unity was through Torah. For this purpose, the Rebbe called for the writing of a special Torah scroll for all Jewish boys and girls.
The new campaign was received with such enthusiasm that even before anyone knew exactly where to send their applications, many parents and children around the world were signing up to buy letters at their local Chabad-Lubavitch centers.
The Tzemach Tzedek Shul in Jerusalem
In talks delivered over the next few days, the Rebbe dealt with the Torah scroll campaign at length, down to the most specific details.
The Rebbe also asked that the Torah scroll be written in Israel - "the land where the Eyes of the L-rd your G‑d are upon it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year." The Rebbe specified the Old City of Jerusalem as the location for the writing of the Torah scroll. This is because Jerusalem also represents "the concept of unity," as it was never divided among the Tribes and was the focal point of the people in Israel.
The Rebbe further requested that the Torah scroll be written in the famous Tzemach Tzedek synagogue, built in the old city of Jerusalem for the third Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the "Tzemach Tzedek," (1789-1866), of righteous memory. The Rebbe pointed out that this was the only synagogue in the Old City whose walls and roof have remained intact from the time they were built.
The Rebbe wanted the writing of the Torah scroll to begin immediately, and to be completed in less than six months, by Hebrew date of the 29th of Elul--by the last day of the Jewish year and the birthday of the Tzemach Tzedek. In the end the scribes worked so quickly that it was completed more than a month before the deadline, by the Hebrew date of the 20th of Av.
The Children's Leading Role
The Rebbe set the price of a letter in the Torah scroll as one dollar or its value in local currency. The Rebbe also emphasized the importance of the child's role in purchasing a letter in the Torah. It was not enough for his parents to buy it for him. If the child was old enough, he had to use his own money and a letter detailing his age, his Jewish name, his mother's Jewish name, family name, and write his address himself. This way, he would value this acquisition all the more and would be encouraged to participate in an exercise of unity. Even small babies could play a role by being present when their parents filled out the form, because "whatever a baby sees and hears (even at one day old) remains in his memory afterwards."
The Rebbe paid special attention to the sensitivities of young children by directing that they should only be told which Parshah (Torah portion) contained their letter rather than knowing exactly which letter they had been given. Although every letter in the Torah is holy, it is possible that some children would be upset if they knew that their letter was part of a word which had an apparently negative connotation, such as one of the Divine Rebukes in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). The letters are to be allocated by lottery.
The Rebbe asked for certificates to be issued to the children who had purchased letters because, "this will make it special and important to them. When they see this certificate they will hang it on the wall to show it off to their friends, who will then be inspired to buy a letter in the Torah scroll." The Rebbe was very involved in the design of these certificates, specifying that a picture of the Western Wall be put on the right instead of the left side and that a picture of Rachel's Tomb should be featured on the left rather than the right side of the certificate.
The Rebbe also directed that ten adults (including the rabbis and scribes involved) should purchase a letter in each Torah scroll so that there would not be any halachic problems with a Torah scroll whose letters were bought exclusively by minors.
The Rebbe instructed that the office running the Torah Scroll Campaign should be in Kfar Chabad (the Chabad village near Tel-Aviv in Israel) and specifically asked for Israel's Chabad Rabbinical Council (Vaad Rabbonei Chabad) to oversee the campaign. The rabbis immediately met in Jerusalem to discuss the exciting challenge that lay ahead.
During the meeting, the celebrated sofer (scribe) Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Henig was given the task of writing the Torah scroll. The parchment was immediately purchased and the writing began immediately on the Hebrew date of the 11thNissan. Later on, another expert sofer, Rabbi Shimshon Kahana, was appointed to work on the Torah alongside Rabbi Henig.
Rabbi Shmuel Greisman, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Israel, was appointed to direct the campaign. From then on, Rabbi Greisman has been running the Children's Torah Campaign.
The First 304,805 Letters Sold
The worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch community worked tirelessly to sign up applicants for letters in the new Sefer Torah. The Rebbe also continued to promote the project by speaking about the campaign at almost every farbrengen. When children passed by the Rebbe, he invariably asked if they already had a letter in the Sefer Torah. The Rebbe often mentioned it when people requested blessings on behalf of their children and would emphasize that a letter could be purchased as soon as a child was born. The name could always be added after it was given.
The campaign was very successful. Many prominent Torah sages, chassidic rebbes and Jewish leaders bought a letter for their children and grandchildren in the special Sefer Torah for Jewish children. That summer, 304,805 letters were purchased, bringing the first Sefer Torah to completion.
The Celebration at the Western Wall
The writing of the first Torah scroll was completed on Hebrew day of the 20th Menachem Av 5741 (August 20, 1981)--the anniversary of the passing Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, of righteous memory, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's, father,. The writing of the last letters took place in a special ceremony in the Tzemach Tzedek synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City, followed by a huge celebration at the Western Wall, a short distance away.
The Rebbe sent a personal representative to the celebration - the late Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin. Rabbi Dworkin was given the honor of writing the last letter in the first Sefer Torah and the first letter in the second one. Rabbi Dworkin brought 1,200 dollars from the Rebbe, which was to be used towards the writing, the ink, and the parchment of the Sefer Torah. The Rebbe also paid for two mantles of white and blue and sent a separate amount of money for charity. The Rebbe also sent Rabbi Dworkin with a bottle of vodka which had been sent to the Rebbe from a farbrengen in Russia.
The celebration was attended by tens of thousands of men, women, and children. Many leading rabbis, chassidic rebbes and yeshivah heads also participated in the celebration. The new Sefer Torah was carried in a joyful procession to the Western Wall before being brought back to its permanent home in the "Tzemach Tzedek" Shul.
The highlight of the celebration was a live broadcast, from New York, of a farbrengen marking the Yahrtzeit of the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson. The Rebbe spoke about the newly completed Sefer Torah, saying that writing the Children's Sefer Torah greatly added to unity and peace among the Jewish people. This is because Torah is the uniting factor among all Jews, including those whose connection to it is seemingly very distant. In a later talk the Rebbe emphasized that true peace in the world is accomplished through the unity achieved by the writing of the Children's Sefer Torah, which is permanently located in Jerusalem's Old City.
More Torah Scrolls
At the very onset of the campaign, the Rebbe stated that one Torah scroll - which has 304,805 letters - would surely not suffice for all Jewish children. The Rebbe also said that many more Jewish children would be born in the coming months and they should also purchase letters. Thus, the Rebbe instructed that when the Torah scroll was completed, a second Torah should be written.
Even while the celebrations surrounding the completion of the first Torah continued, work was already beginning on the next one. This time, however, it took five years for 304,805 children to sign up, and the second Torah was completed in the summer of 1986, the third in 1995, the fourth in 2005 and a fifth in 2012.
All five Torah scrolls--embracing 1,524,025 Jewish children--reside in the Tzemach Tzedek synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, where the sixth Torah scroll is now being written.