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Today I discuss Hagbah and Gelilah- I hope you will find this an uplifting experience.
When I announced this in my Shul that I was going to do this I immediately had a few women up in arms about “what are we going to do whilst you show the men how to do Hagbah?”
What I really want to try to do is not just show you the practical aspect of how Hagbah is supposed to be done, but I want to try to understand the why behind it.
What does Hagbah mean?
Hagbah means to lift up the Sefer Torah and Gelilah means to roll it.
Originally Hagbah and Gelilah was one single unit, but in latter years it became two distinct aliyot.
The first time that Hagbah is mentioned in our literature is from an extra canonical tractate: The Masechet Soferim written by the Geonim in the middle 8th century.
We read the following:
After the Sefer Torah is taken out from the ark it is opened up to three columns and shown to all the men and the women to the right to the left, forward and back. When they see the writing, they bow down and say the following passage: Vezot HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei bnei Yisrael- and this is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel. And also the verse Torat Hashem Temimah Meshivat Nafesh- The Torah of G-d is perfect, it refreshes the soul.
There are a few things to note about this statement:
First: Hagbah according to Massechet Soferim-the earliest source, was originally done before the Torah reading. Our Minhag however is to do the Hagbah after Reading from the Torah. Indeed the Sefardim and certain Chassidim have the Minhag of the Beit Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Caro) which is to do Hagbah prior to Kriat HaTorah and most Ashkenazim do Hagbah after the reading.
Interesting to note that Rabbi Chaim Toledano, a nineteenth century Sefardic Rabbi of note, writes in his version of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch that the Ashkenazi minhag is more correct because once people have seen the Hagbah-in his day- they did not bother to listen to the Torah reading thinking that they had fulfilled their obligation through Hagbah and it thereby degraded the Torah reading.
We continue from Massechet Soferim: The act of Hagbah was performed to include men and women. And it was important that people could actually read the letters in the Torah- otherwise they should not recite the verses.
We learn from this that as opposed to Keriat HaTorah which is involved in the listening to the words of the Torah – Hagbah is about seeing.
Rabbi Avraham Gombiner emphasises the importance of being able to read the letters and says that through the fact that one reads the letters on the Sefer Torah, a Divine light is bestowed on the individual.
The Ari Zal- Rabbi Isaac Luria says that when one witnesses Hagbah one should see the letters and think about every single Jew who are compared to the letters of the Torah and how the Torah unites the Jewish people. Indeed it was Saadiah Gaon who said that the Jewish people are a people by virtue of the Torah.
The Ben Ish Chai says that one should be able to read from the Torah, when it is held aloft, the letters that spell out ones name.
But I think the essence of Hagbah is really a statement; you lift it up to declare that this book is not like any other book. This book is different: Vezot HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei bnei Yisrael- This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children Of Israel. In other words we must not forget the honour, the veneration that we need to have for the Torah because its source is Divine.
Interesting to note our Minhag- Ashkenaz is to say the following addendum to Vezot: al Pi Hashem beyad Moshe- by the mouth of G-d through the hand of Moshe. However many authorities do not say this because it’s not from the verse. It actually comes from a different verse which describes how Israel encamped and journeyed al pi Hashem – by the mouth of G-d. These authorities criticise the welding together of different texts that are not connected and out of context.
Some people have the obscure custom to point to the Torah with their little finger or with a Tallit. Is this reminiscent of when the Children Of Israel beheld the Splitting of the Red sea they declared Ze Eli Veanveihu- this is My G-d?
The Minhag in certain communities is to lift up the Torah from the reading desk, then after the hagbah to put it down on the desk again and roll it there and there and the Golel has the task of just placing the ornaments on the Torah.
A few pointers to Hagbah:
If a person is asked to do Hagbah he should only accept if he knows how to do it properly. If not – he should decline.
When he is called up, like any Aliyah he should go the shortest route to the Bimah- to indicate his alacrity and excitement to fulfil the mitzvah.
When he goes up he should go to the Reading desk and kiss the Sefer Torah. He should then open the Sefer to display three columns. There are those who have the minhag to actually have the Sefer Torah closed and lift it up in that way and open up the Torah when it is aloft. However not everyday is able to do this. It is preferable therefore to have the three columns open on the desk.
The stitching of the Sefer Torah- that means when two parts of the klaf- the parchment are joined together should be in the centre of the scroll.
This is a safety feature of Hagbah- If there is a weakness in the Torah- the Torah would tear along the seam which is easy to repair rather than ripping the holy writing.
Make sure that the Torah is taut with three columns open to avoid the klaf falling down. Grasp the Atzei Chayim – the Torah staves and gently pull the Torah towards you without lifting it, so that half the Torah is leaning toward you in order that you use the desk as leverage.
Grasp the Staves of the Atzei Chayim close to the disks which gives added security and leverage.
Lift up the Torah and show it slowly to the right, the left, forward and back.
Do not lift it up too high. We have enough fast days-we’re not looking for more!
Bring the Torah to the Chair that the Shamas presents to you.
The Gollel- the one who is going to roll and bind the Torah and dress it comes forward and rolls the atzei chaim from the top. He makes sure that the Bereishit part of the sefer is always on top.
He then binds the Torah with the little belt and clips it together.
He puts on the mantle making sure that it fits in the holes and then he puts on the breastplate, the yad and then the keter or bells on top.
The Torah is then held by the magbiah- person who did hagbah until the Haftarah is finished.
He then stands with the Torah and hands it back to the Chazan at Yehallelu.
The Gemara says at the end of Megillah that the one who has the mitzvah of gelilah- rolling the sefer Torah- that means the one who today has Hagbah, receives the reward of all those who preceded him. Why? Because it is the last aliyah -and acharon acharon chaviv. The last one is the most beloved.
So my friends: never underestimate the importance of Hagbah.