Properly raising the Torah

Traditionally, one of the most important yet overlooked of all Torah honors is Hagbah, the raising of the Torah after the last aliyah.

For Men’s Club members (and others, web master), especially for those on the larger side of average, this honor is the one that they are often chosen to perform, but without any assistance or instruction. There is no hebrew/english ”crib card” like the one for aliyot, no instructions in the siddur, only the fear of dropping a Torah in public. While not the easiest of aliyot, Hagbah has it’s tricks and a few tips can make it an easy way to show your expertise in the rituals of the service.

A few points:

  • Who: Hagbah can be done by any Jew – Cohen, Levy or Israel
  • What: Lifting the Torah from the reader’s table and carrying it vertically for a short distance, then sitting and holding the Torah while GELILAH – the dresser – tightens, binds and covers the scrolls with the peroket (cover)
  • Where: At the Bimah
  • When: Hagbah is done whenever the Torah is read, 4 times during a normal week – Torah service on Shabbat morning, Mincha Shabbat afternoon & Shacharit on Monday and Thursday, and twice during holiday morning services -except on the rare ”triple play” day, when Hanukah, Shabbat & Rosh Chodesh Tevet occur on the same day. Hagbah is done after the last aliyah is read from each Torah.
  • Why: We honor the Torah by ensuring that it is treated with respect during the process of re-dressing it, very much like a king is attended by his butlers.
  • The mishne on Hagbah and Gelila (Masechet Migilla) mentions that the mitzvah for Gelila is “equal to all the other aliyot combined” (Gelila AND Hagbah – there’s no difference in the text)

 What’s the procedure?
The person honored with Hagbah (Magbiah) should be ready near the Bimah when the last Aliyah (or Maftir) is finishing their blessings. The Gabbai will call the Magbiah and the person honored with Gelilah (the Golel) to come forward.
Before you reach the Bimah:

  1. You want to ensure that the lift is done easily. Remove any rings on your fingers that can be caught on the handles. Many synagogues put small plaques on the wood discs on the bottom of the Torah, these can get caught on a ring.
  2. If it’s a weekday service, remove your tefillin from your fingers and palm and wrap the strap around your wrist. Tightly wrapped tefillin will restrict your grip on the handles

The Magbiah places his hands on the Torah’s handles (Eitz Chaim) and waits for the Ba’al Koreh (Torah Reader) to finish the blessings. The congregation will all rise and there will usually be a signal to begin from one of the Gabbaim, or you can wait for the dramatic silence to engulf the congregation as they await your performance!

  1. While the Torah is still on the reader’s Table:
    • Twist the handles to move one of the Torah’s seams into the middle of the space between the 2 scrolls. Your overriding concern is to avoid damage the Torah at any point, and moving the seam into the middle will reduce the stress on the parchment. In fact, if the stress is too great and there is a tear, because the seam is weaker than the parchment, it will separate. Since the Torah is only a Torah when it is complete, by separating at the seams, the penalties for dropping the Torah are removed. What penalties? 40 days of fasting!
    • Lift the handles about an inch or so off the table and drag the Torah towards you, so that about 3 to 5 inches are leaning over the edge of the table. You want to increase your leverage at this point; you’re not lifting straight up.
  2. With the Torah overhanging the edge, begin by pushing down first to lever the Torah into a vertical position for lifting.
  3. The Torah will ”pop” up into the vertical position and your knees will probably be bent slightly at this point. As you straighten them, lift the Torah, while moving your hands apart, maintaining tension on the parchment. Release one side’s grip SLIGHTLY to allow the scroll to open.
    • The maximum number of columns of script that may be shown is 6 (six)
    • The proper number of columns of script that should be shown is 3 (three). Judaism believes in modesty and you don’t want to be a “show off”!
    • If you are a really big person and Golel is of slighter stature, it’s poor form to make the distance between the scrolls wider than Golel can reach
  4. Twist your body to the left and to the right to show the open scroll to as many members of the congregation as possible. Some men will do almost a complete rotation, but dancing is not advised (other than Simchat Torah).
  5. Walk backwards towards the chair that you’ll be sitting in while Golel does their magic. The Gabbai should be guiding you to the chair.
  6. Have a seat. 
  7. Help Golel tighten up the scrolls to close them. The mishne on Hagbah and Gelila (Masechet Migilla) talks entirely about the role of the Golel, and how you tighten the Torah before you cover it. It’s a bit of a physics lesson, as you are only supposed to tighten the smaller side, never turning the larger side. [PHYSICS LESSON: it’s all about the moment arm – the larger side will “amplify” the turning motion, and you don’t want to tear anything]
  8. The mishne also mentions that the mitzvah for Gelila is “equal to all the other aliyot combined” (and Hagbah – there’s no difference in the text)
  9. In a low voice, offer pithy boy scout type comments while Golel ties the knot – right over left and under, etc. – and if the Torah has a velco strap, lament the ”good old days” when you actually had to make a knot.
  10. Watch out for the Yad – pointer – as it’s placed on the wrapped Torah. The Golel may not notice your eyes and there is a slight possibility of getting poked! Some fun loving Magbia like to include a well timed “ouch” as the Golel is placing the “jewellery” on the Torah.
  11. Turn the Torah around, placing the Torah on your right shoulder with the back of the Torah towards you.
  12. Some synagogues will take the Torah and place it on a rack or stand at this time, other will ask a young person from the congregation to hold it while seated and still others will ask Hagbah to hold the Torah until ready to be placed back in the Aron (ark).
  13. When the Torah leaves your possession, be sure to shake hands with everyone on the Bimah and proceed back to your seat. Shake hands with everyone in the congregation who offers, but ”high fives” should not be given without a prior hechsher from the rabbi or balebatim.
    Yasher koach!

Courtesy of The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs