Dvar Torah for Parshat Ki Tisa


Based on Likutey Halakhot, Kriat HaTorah 4

l'ilui nishmas Yisrael ben Moshe Yaakov aÓh

'Moses [descended from] the mountain with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hand...The Tablets were made by God and written with God's script...When [Moses] approached the camp he saw the [golden] calf and the dancing. Moses grew angry and threw down the Tablets from his hands....Ó
Exodus 32:15-16, 19

When Moses saw the Jews celebrating the golden calf the letters flew off the Tablets. The Tablets grew heavy, like a body without a soul. Then Moses threw them to the ground.
Midrash Tanchuma, Eikev 11

As all you shul-goers know, we Jews have an interesting custom at the conclusion of the Torah reading. One of the assembled is called forward to perform hagbah (raising the open Torah scroll so that the words are visible and turning around so that it can be seen from all directions*). As he is doing so, the people point at the uplifted scroll and recite the verse, 'This is the Torah that Moses placed before the Children of Israel, by the word of God, in the hand of MosesÓ (Deuteronomy 4:44). Reb Noson teaches us that hagbah is a tikun (rectification) for the cheit ha'eigel (sin of the golden calf).

When we pray, whether for rain, livelihood, health, children, etc., we are making a statement: There is a God in the world Who can do with nature as He wants. Unfortunately, there is an opposing voice, a voice that bellows that all is bound to the immutable laws of nature.

Reading the Torah after the Shemona Esrei (the blessings of the Amidah, the focal point of each prayer) is meant to counter that opposing voice. Why is the Torah reading necessary? Each of us, despite out best intentions, sincerity and belief, still is not 100% sure that God really, really can change the course of nature. (This tinge of heresy is a result of unchastity.) The Torah reading is a pronouncement that links the will and desire that we express in prayer to God, the source of all will. And hagbah is the inoculation to aspersions.

For what happens if 'golden calfÓ aspersions are cast on the veracity of Torah itself? What answers are there to insidious claims and questions like 'Now that Moses is dead we need a new oracleÓ or 'Did God really gave the Torah?Ó Such invidious thoughts jeopardize our attempt to link the will of prayer to God's will. The bellowing that ensues such thinking threatens to drown out and silence our prayers.

Hagbah teaches us something. It teaches us that all that the Torah includes–the mitzvot, the practical wisdom, the Kabbalah–comes from God. Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher) witnessed a scene which said that the Jews no longer considered him, or the Torah he was entrusted with, relevant, so he used his hands to throw the Tablets down, to 'buryÓ them. We use our hands to raise the Torah scroll, to show that it is not a deadweight. We say, 'No! Moshe Rabbeinu may not be here, but he is still very much relevant. God's Torah is alive!Ó Each hagbah undoes some of the damage of cheit ha'eigel and protects us from repeating it.

This is why the reward of the person privileged to perform hagbah is equal to the combined reward of those who are called to read from the Torah. For the Torah knowledge their reading imparts is vulnerable without the unequivocal faith that hagbah infuses into it.

agutn Shabbos!
Shabbat Shalom!

*He then sits down. He closes the scroll and someone else ties it with a belt and covers it with a mantle, both of which are especially made for the Torah scroll. The origin of this custom is tractate Megillah 32a.