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    Bookends – Vayyechi

    The light of Torah, painting by Alex Levin

    This week brings us to the end of the Book of B’reshit.

    The final verse is attended with special ceremony, marking the joy that comes from completing a task and embarking upon a new one.

    It’s an appropriate moment to look at the ceremony that marks the end of every Torah reading – the raising (Hagbahah) and rolling up (Gelilah) of the Torah scroll. This is the practice of the Ashkenazim: the Sephardim raise the scroll before and not after the reading.

    For some (quite invalid) reason there is a popular view that Hagbahah and Gelilah are inferior tasks lacking the status of what congregants tend to call “a real call-up”.

    The fact is that Hagbahah and Gelilah which involve actually handling the Torah scroll have superior status, partly because (as Nachmanides explains) the Torah says (Deut. 27:26), “Blessed is he who holds upright (yakim) the words of this Torah”.

    One of the Jewish mystics used to say that when he looked at the writing on the scroll raised for Hagbahah, the letters emitted rays of light.

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