I love old books, especially the ones from my father's library. They were printed all over the world, many in Baghdad, Livorno, Italy; Calcutta, or Bombay. Their leather covers in black, browns or maroons are often embossed with gold designs or stamped with the owner's name.
Recently, I was asking my father about our customs for Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah. There is a universal custom to hold a tikkun on Erev Shavuot (the first night). We called it a hatimah (sealing, as on Hoshanah Rabbah that precedes Simhat Torah).
Our hatimah was conducted after dinner (not a dairy meal) at home with friends and family. It was literally a night of Torah reading that featured a mind-boggling survey of the Torah...kind of an ancient religious version of speed-dating: The beginning and end of each of the 54 parashiot of the Torah and the beginning and end of the remaining 19 books of the Tanakh (Bible) were read aloud!
I asked him, how did you know exactly which verses to read? And he showed me this amazing volume called Keri'ay Mo'ed, (readings for holidays, which delineates exactly which portions were to be read. For the Torah, usually it's the first few verses of the parashah, and the maftir (ending).
They didn't study all night on an empty stomach...there was some yummy food involved! A fluffy layered Baghdadi bread called Kahi, similar to Indian paratha, was eaten with sweet halwa (not halva) made from fine semolina.
After the Torah reading, sections of the Zohar, the classic mystical text, were read, even though no one understood them, followed by chanting the entire book of Psalms! Finally, when all this concluded, they would go to the synagogue for services at 4 am, when the sun rose.
I get goosebumps when I am reminded of the deep commitment to Torah that is bound up in the pages of this book. I wonder how to revive even a measure of that dedication in our world today?