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Customs Observed by One Who is Called to the Torah

There is a custom observed in our community that one who receives an Aliya to the Torah first recites, "Hashem Imachem" ("May God be with you"). The congregation then responds, "Yevarechecha Hashem" ("May Hashem bless you"), at which point the one receiving the Aliya proceeds to recite the Beracha over the Torah reading.

The origin of this exchange ("Hashem Imachem" – "Yevarechecha Hashem") is the story told in Megilat Rut (2:4) of Boaz’s arrival at his fields. He greeted his workers with the wish, "Hashem Imachem," and they responded, "Yevarechecha Hashem." Interestingly enough, it is still customary among Middle Easterners to greet one’s fellow with the greeting, "May God be with you," to which the other responds, "May God bless you." The question, however, arises as to why it became customary to introduce the Beracha over the Torah reading with this exchange.

One explanation is that the individual receiving an Aliya requires a special Beracha, because accepting upon oneself the yoke of Torah has the effect of weakening a person. A person called to the Torah extends the greeting of "Hashem Imachem" to the congregation so that they will respond by blessing him with special divine assistance, which he will need now that he proclaims his formal acceptance of the Torah. Others explain that at the time of Matan Torah, which we commemorate through the public Torah reading, Beneh Yisrael resembled converts, undergoing the formal process of joining the covenant with God. A person called to the Torah therefore recites with the congregation these passages from Megilat Rut, the book that tells the story of Rut’s conversion to Judaism.

We also follow the custom of introducing the declaration of "Barechu Et Hashem Ha’meborach," which one recites upon being called to the Torah, with the word "Rabbanan" ("Rabbis"). This word is recited as an expression of humble recognition that others are worthier of receiving the Aliya and reciting the Berachot over the Torah. As we know, Aliyot are not always given to the most distinguished members of the congregation, and it might come across as arrogant for a person to accept an Aliya in the presence of prominent Rabbis. It therefore became customary to introduce the Aliya by declaring, "Rabbanan," to humbly acknowledge the presence of distinguished personalities who are more deserving of an Aliya to the Torah.

Some scholars have noted an interesting distinction between the procedure for an Aliya to the Torah, and the Zimun service before Birkat Hamazon. An Aliya to the Torah begins with "Barechu Et Hashem Ha’meborach," which includes the divine Name of "Havaya," whereas the Zimun service begins, "Nebarech Elokenu" – utilizing the divine Name of "Elokim." The reason is that Birkat Hamazon – particularly when recited with a Zimun – should be recited over a cup of wine, and the numerical value of the word "Kos" ("cup") is 86 – the same numerical value as the word "Elokim." Appropriately, then, we use this divine Name in the introduction to a Zimun. The public Torah reading commemorates the event of Matan Torah, which occurred in the 26th generation of the world. There were ten generations from Adam until Noah, and another ten until Abraham, for a total of twenty. Moshe lived in the sixth generation from Abraham (Yishak-Yaakob-Levi-Kehat-Amram-Moshe), or in the 26th generation from Adam. We therefore use the Name of "Havaya" – which has the numerical value of 26 – in the context of the Aliya to the Torah.

It has been noted that the Berachot recited before and after the Torah reading ("Asher Bahar Banu Mi’kol Ha’amim" and "Asher Natan Lanu Torat Emet") have a combined total of forty words. This total alludes to the forty days that Moshe Rabbenu spent atop Mount Sinai receiving the Torah. It is also interesting to note that there are a total of 248 days throughout the year when we conduct a public Torah reading, corresponding to the Torah’s 248 affirmative commands.

Some have also observed that the Sages, in arranging the schedule of the public Torah reading, ensured to distribute the Aliyot equally between the Levite tribe (Kohanim and Leviyim) and the rest of the nation. If we look at the Aliyot of the weekly schedule of Torah reading, we will find that eight are given to the Kohanim and Leviyim, and eight are given to others. On Shabbat morning, the first two Aliyot are reserved for a Kohen and Levi, and the remaining five are allocated for others. At Minha on Shabbat, the Levite tribe receives another two Aliyot, for an interim total of four, and one is given to the rest, who thus far have six. On both Monday and Thursday, the Kohanim and Leviyim receive two Aliyot, thus adding another four to bring their total to eight, while the others receive one Aliya on each of these days – bringing their total to eight, as well.

These insights underscore the importance of the traditional customs we observe. Even after viewing just a small glimpse of some of the profundity underlying our customs, we immediately recognize their significance and deep meaning. We must therefore cherish them and carefully observe them, and never belittle them or consider their observance unimportant.

 


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