Tuesday, January 26, 2010

897. Freedom

Every Shabbat, at the end of the Torah reading and before the chanting of the haftarah, there's a ritual called hagba (lifting). Someone (preferably someone strong) is given the honor of raising the scroll by its atzei hayim, the poles to which the parchment is attached, and holding it up as high as possible so all members of the congregation can see what's written. If he or she has any energy left (in my synagogue this person is sometimes a woman, of whom I'm in awe; the scroll weighs as much as a small person), she will also turn from side to side so that even those way off to the side can see it. The congregation, in response, lifts the edges of our tallitot to the scroll as we point at it with pinky fingers, a mysterious old tradition (see here).

The best part about hagba, though, is looking at those words. Even if I've just been up at the bima to read them, I'm always amazed by the sight of a whole army of columns waving in the air at perfect attention.

This past Shabbat I looked up at the scroll during the moment of hagba and saw something even better: the future. Next week during Parashat Beshalah we read Shirat Hayam, sung by the Israelites as the waters began to part. Written like bricks in a wall, it's unmistakable amidst the sea of letters in the Sefer Torah:

(From Navigating the Bible.)

Last Shabbat the Israelites were in Egypt. But here was proof, in the wide, unrolled scroll like a flag above our heads, that by next week—each word and person supported by the others—they would find freedom.

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