Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

IF you want to be part of our Chavarah email group let me know at

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

About Hagbah Tradition

Last week's Torah Study reminded me of a report I compiled on Hagbah that I wanted to share:

What is the source for and the meaning of the custom to point the pinkie at the Torah during hagbah?

This is a widespread custom whose source is rather obscure.

Nachmanides remarks that the verse "accursed is the one who will not uphold the words of this Torah...," is the source for the obligation to show the written text of the Torah to the whole congregation.

The Shulchan Aruch states: It is a mitzva for all men and women to see the written text of the Torah, to bow, and to say, "This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel. Halachic authorities explain that this verse is to be said only upon seeing the actual text of the Sefer Torah.

It is told about the Arizal that when the Torah was held up for all the congregation to see, it was his custom to look closely at the text so that he could read the letters. The Arizal was quoted to say "that by gazing at the Torah closely so as to be able to clearly read its letters, a person is infused by a great [spiritual] light."

While the Shulchan Oruch obligates reciting the verse: This is the Torah... , it is also a minhag (custom) to append part of a second verse "according to the word of Hashem through Moshe." In his comprehensive anthology Me'am Lo'ez, Rav Yaakov Kuli expounds on this custom saying: "the combination of these two verses, though from different sections of the Torah, alludes to the dual nature of Torah -- a Written and an Oral Law both stemming from a single Source."

Also, The Me'am Lo'ez is the only source that mentions the custom of pointing the pinkie finger towards the text, adding that it is customary to kiss the pinkie after pointing. However, this is not a universal custom, and is not mentioned in other halachic sources.

In reply to our inquiry as to the source of this custom, Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, gave the following explanation: The Torah lists the ten generations from Noah until Abraham, including Yoktan, who established the largest number of families. Rashi notes that Yoktan merited establishing so many families due to his great humility as his name indicates (from the root katan-little). Rabbi Scheinberg went on to explain that when pointing at the Torah we take
this lesson to heart and we point with our smallest finger - the pinkie - to indicate that we should reach out to try to gain understanding of the Torah with the utmost humility and thus merit to succeed in this aspiration.

Rabbi Chaim Falagie expounds on a second variation of the custom in which the index finger is used for pointing towards the Torah rather than the pinkie. He bases this custom on six consecutive statements in Tehilim the first of which is, "The Torah of Hashem is perfect reviving the soul...". Each one of these statements is composed of five words corresponding to
the number of fingers of one hand. The second word of each statement is Hashem corresponding to the second, namely the index finger. In pointing towards the Torah with the index finger we are indicating that every word of the Torah is a Name of Hashem. For that same reason, Rabbi Falagie points out, during the wedding ceremony the ring is placed on the
index finger to signify that Hashem is the unifying force binding husband and wife.

The significance and the symbolism that our Sages attach to every finger and to each part of our body is most instructive. Rabbeinu Bechaye discusses the utility of each organ and in particular the fingers, each of which serves to facilitate one of the five senses. The pinkie finger is associated with the sense of hearing and we may conjecture that this is related to the custom of pointing towards the Torah with the pinkie.


Nachmanides--Ramban on the Torah -- Devarim (27:26).
Tractate Sofrim (14:14).
Shulchan Aruch -- Orach Chaim (134:2); and Ba'er He'tev(6).
Devarim (4:44).
Sha'ar Hakavanos (Sefer Torah -- Drush 1)
Bamidbar (9:23).
Me'am Lo'ez -- Devarim (27:26).
Bereishis (10:26-29).
Lev Chaim (Responsa) -- Orach Chaim (167:6).
Tehilim (19:8-10).
Rabbeinu Bechaye -- Vayikra (8:23).

Labels: , , ,

Moses' Ethical Will to EVERYONE

Deuteronomy 29:9-14

It is the ultimate moment in the cycle of teachings, the covenant at Moab for the new generation 40 years after Sinai and beyond, as he lists off who all is there and not only does it include all the women and children but the strangers as well and 'those who are not there'.

One Midrash noted about the "woodcutter to the water drawer" explains that Abraham is the woodcutter and Elijah is the water drawer. This is symbolic of the first Jew to the one who will announce the end of days.

Deuteronomy mentions "everyone" many times and thus is considered to be the inclusive book that speaks to all people and is also timeless as it speaks in all time as well. This covenant must be reaffirmed again and again.

In Biblical times there is a reaffirmation at Sukkot every 7 years mentioned in Deuteronomy 31. There is the ceremony of blessings and curses reenacted in Joshua 8. Ezra reads Torah after the exile to Babylonia. In 2nd Kings 23 the "lost scroll" is read again to the people as a renewal of the covenant.

Today we reenact the covenant each week as we share Torah with the congregation and the ceremony repeats symbols in the Hakafah and the Hagbah to share the words of Torah with the people

Monday, February 26, 2007

How to preserve the covenant?

The best way to keep Torah alive is to teach it to someone else.

Teaching it helps you internalize it within yourself.
- - -

I have found this to be true. When I teach, there is more that I learn from my students and the process of teaching than what they learn from me!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why 40?

This week we talked about 40!

Fortysomething By Susan Handelman

It is forbidden to be old
-- Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav

40 years in desert, 40 days and nights on Sinai, 40 days of rain and floods...

40 years to understanding.

Why 40?

And is it still 40? or is 60 the new 40?

more details later

Monday, February 12, 2007

Deuteronomy: The Overall Picture

Last week with David Meir-Levi we reviewed the format of Deuteronomy and how it parallels the vassal treaties between the kings and their subjects. These type treaties were in existence for thousands of years. There were these types of treaties in the time of King Josiah, which is a clue that the book of Deuteronomy might have been written at that time. However it was discovered that the Hittite treaties from 1000 years previous also had similar structure. There are those who date the book in the 7th Century because the structure of the curses and blessings seemed so close to those in documents of their time. AND then there are those who still say that Moses wrote the book and it is plausible that he also was familiar with vassal treaties as he was a prince in Egypt where similar treaties were used. So the conclusion is, yes, the structure is similar to the vassal treaties, but there is no way to certify a definite date on the writing.

An Example: Outline of a Typical Vassal Treaty 15th Century BCE
I. Preamble -- "These are the words..."
II. Historical Prologue -- antecedant history: the events which lead to and now form the basis of the treaty.
III. General Stipulations -- substantive statements regarding the future relationship which is related to the antecedant history and which summarizes the purpose of the specific stipulations which will follow.
IV. Specific Stipulations
V. Divine Witnesses -- the gods are called upon to bear witness.
VI. Blessings and Curses -- what will happen if the covenant is kept or broken.
(from Quartz Hill School of Theology - not Jewish but a good outline! )

This week with Rabbi Marder we also talked about the structure of Deuteronomy. As Rabbi Marder pointed out that there are 3 major discourses in Deuteronomy:

The 1st speech: Review - Chapter 1: 6 to 4:43 is a retrospective summary of the journey and 40 verses on observing the law.

The 2nd speech: Laws - Chapter 5 to Chapter 28, reviews the commandments and details the Laws to live by in The Land. This is often referred to as the Covenant made at Moab. But this continues the detail and spells out the consequences for not following the laws.

The 3rd speech: Peroration – Chapter 29 + represents the summation, the concluding argument, the peroration that is Moses’ final opportunity to convince the Israelites to keep this covenant.

One other interesting point made based on the overall look at the structure and format of the book is that it speaks to all types of people and all types of learners. There are oral, visual and tactile messages in the laws to enhance the understanding. (a very sophisticated technique and observation)

Now as Moses prepares for his final arguments he tells the Israelites that they are now ready to understand. Now that they have listened and seen, they were given the insight needed to succeed. This marks a major turning point in the book!

Next week we will explore why all this took 40 years!

More on Deuteronomy Structure:

Deuteronomy a Constitution

JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy
Author: Jeffrey H. Tigay

Excellent Review of the Speeches

A look at structure and parallels

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Celebrate Tu B'Shevat

My favorite tradition is to plant parsley today and it will be ready for Pesach! So that is what we will do this week!

To celebrate we eat all kind of fruits of the trees especially the ones that grow in Israel...
Fruit with seeds inside, with seeds outside, with peel or shell and those that are totally edible.
Pomegranate, Grapes, Dates, Fig , Olives and Dried Carob fruit are Tu B’Shevat favorites.
A Hasidic custom is to eat the etrog and pray for a “kosher – blemish free” etrog for this year’s Sukkot. Remember that etrog jam we made after Sukkot? It is a good day to include it with your meals!
And of course to plant new trees!

If you want a good Tu B’Shevat Seder to do with your family here is a link:

Labels: , ,