04 – The Lifting of the Torah Scroll (Hagbahah) and Its Return to the Ark

The Chachamim established that the Torah scroll be lifted and its letters displayed to the whole congregation. The original minhag was to lift the Torah before the reading (Masechet Sofrim 14:13-14), which is the custom of Sephardim and a few Ashkenazim, as well as that of the Ari. Most Ashkenazim follow the custom of lifting the Torah after the reading, so that everyone will know that the essential objective is to hear the words being read. After the reading, the Torah is displayed to the nation (Shulchan Aruch 134:2; Mishnah Berurah 8; Kaf HaChaim 17; Piskei Teshuvot 9).

The lifting (hagbahah) is so important, the Chachamim say (Megillah 32a) that the golel, referring to the person who lifts the Torah, receives a reward equivalent to all those called up to the Torah. Therefore, it is proper to give the honor of hagbahah to one of the distinguished people in the community. Today, it is customary to honor even ordinary congregants with hagbahah, although the more correct minhag is to give the honor of hagbahah to a respected person of the community. In any case, great care should be taken not to give the honor of hagbahah to someone who may drop the Torah scroll.

L’chatchilah, at the time of hagbahah it is necessary for the Torah scroll to be held open at the place it was read, though if it was not, it is not necessary to lift it again (see Piskei Teshuvot 134:4). Regarding an Ashkenazic Torah scroll, the one who is lifting it must open the Torah so that it is possible to see three columns (Mishnah Berurah 134:8).

Some lift the Torah and turn it only slightly to the left and slightly to the right, and many people from the congregation standing in front of the bimah cannot see the writing. The person doing hagbahah must make sure that all the people praying can see the letters of the Torah. It is best if he slowly turns in a full circle, thereby enabling everyone to see (see Piskei Teshuvot 134:5).

It is a mitzvah for all the men and women who see the writing to bow and say “V’Zot HaTorah…” (Masechet Sofrim 14:14; Shulchan Aruch 134:2). Many Ashkenazim are not accustomed to bow, and some poskim lend credence to that; however l’chatchilah, it is proper to bow when seeing the writing (Har Tzvi, Orach Chaim 1:64).

There are those who are accustomed to point to the Torah with their pinky while saying “V’Zot HaTorah…” and then kiss their finger. Some also hold their tzitzit and point to the Torah scroll with it, and afterwards kiss the tzitzit.

The Geonim introduced the recital of Half-Kaddish after the conclusion of the Torah reading, just as it is customary to recite Kaddish after verses of scripture (Piskei Teshuvot 147:9). So as not to interrupt excessively between the Amidah and the Kaddish-Titkabal after U’va L’Tzion, only Half-Kaddish is recited.

The Ashkenazim are accustomed to say “Yehi Ratzon” while the Torah is being rolled and covered, except on days that Tachanun is not recited (see Piskei Teshuvot 147:7).

According to the Ashkenazic minhag and the custom of some Sephardim, the Torah scroll is returned to the ark after the Torah reading and before the recital of Ashrei. The Chassidic minhag and the custom of most Sephardim is to return the Torah to the ark after U’Va L’Tzion and Kaddish Titkabal.

It is customary to recite verses of scripture while escorting the Torah scroll and returning it to the ark.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman