In our last two editions of S.A.L.T., we briefly mentioned the different customs that exist regarding hagbeha – the practice to lift the Sefer Torah in the synagogue and show it to the congregation. The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 134:2), representing the Sephardic tradition, codifies the custom to lift the Torah scroll before the reading, whereas the Rama records the Ashkenazic custom to perform hagbeha only after the Torah is read.
Rav Chaim Benbenishti, in his Sheyarei Kenesset Ha-gedola, expresses support for the Ashkenazic practice, of lifting the Torah after the reading. He writes that many ignorant congregants mistakenly afford primary importance to viewing the Torah scroll, as opposed to hearing the reading. If hagbeha is performed before the Torah reading, then these people will simply leave after seeing the words of the Torah, rather than staying to listen and pay attention to the words of the Torah. Rav Benbenishti therefore concludes that it is preferable to follow the Ashkenazic practice of lifting the Torah only after the reading.
This mistake observed by Rav Benbenishti reflects the tendency among many to feel content with shallow exposure to Torah without putting in the hard work and effort needed to properly internalize and apply the Torah’s messages. We are mistaken if we think it suffices to merely “see” the Torah, to encounter it briefly, superficially and effortlessly, that we fulfill our religious duties by spectating, by observing from the side, by taking a quick occasional glance. In order to absorb the Torah’s timeless messages so we can live proper Torah lives, we need to take the time to hear its words, and invest effort to understand them.
In every generation, there are those who “lift” the Torah, who devote themselves to teaching and disseminating Torah knowledge. We bear the obligation to not simply look on as the Torah is shown to us, but to put in the work needed to study its words, internalize them, and apply them in every area of our lives.