May 26, 2003 – Number 14
Reading the Torah: How to Have an Aliyah II
There are a number of honors that are related to the Torah Service that do not require a blessing or the formal choreography that a regular Aliyah requires. There are basically three other types of honors, one is opening the Ark either before or after the reading of the Torah, second is carrying the Torah around the congregation, and the third is the twin honor of Hagbah and Gelilah.
Opening the Ark is a rather simple honor but it has great status. Even those who might not take any other honor usually will accept the honor of Peticha, To open the Ark. The honor is beyond the physical act of opening the doors and maybe pulling back the curtain. It is the spiritual act of bringing Torah to the congregation. In our congregation, at the beginning of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, we have a ceremony where the parents, grandparents and the student all have this honor. The Grandparents take the Torah from the ark and hand it to the parents who hand it to their child. This re-enacts the passing of the Torah from Moses, to Joshua and from Joshua to the Elders and from the Elders to the Members of the Great Assembly. This transmission of Torah is found at the very beginning of the Talmudic Tractate of Avot. The Grandparents physically show how they have transmitted Torah and Jewish tradition from one generation to the next.
Carrying to Torah is a separate honor. The Torah is the greatest possession of the Jewish people. Every member of the congregation wishes to draw close to it and to reach out and touch it. The one who carries the Torah leads the “parade” of others (Rabbi, Cantor, President, other honorees etc.) around the congregation. The congregation sings as the Torah parades past and touch the mantle with a tallit or a siddur and then kiss the spot that touched the Torah. It is a show of love and respect. In some congregations the Torah is carried twice, once before the reading and the other after the reading. A different route is used each time so that everyone will have an opportunity to kiss the Torah as it passes by.
Hagbah is the honor of lifting the Torah off the table after it is read. It requires some strength in the arms, but not as much as one would think. When properly done, the Torah is opened, lifted by levering it off the table and raised high into the air. The Hagbah then turns around so the writing in the Torah is visible to the entire congregation. One should strive to be able to show about three columns of text as one turns the Torah to the congregation. The Hagbah then turns around again and sits on a nearby chair. The Gelilah then comes forward to place the mantle and crowns back on the Torah. When finished, either the Torah is held by the Hagbah until the Torah carrier is called to carry it around the synagogue or it is lifted into a special Torah cradle where it will sit until it is time to carry it.
When the Torah is raised the congregation chants “This is the Torah that Moses set before the entire congregation of Israel, Given by G-d through Moses.” Some will lift their pinky finger toward the Torah as an act of honor while they recite this prayer, as if reaching out to touch the text.
Next Week : What is a Torah and the Halachot that apply to it