How to have an aliyah at Congregation Kol Shofar
—Rabbi Chai Levy
It is an honor to be called up to the Torah, but it can also feel a little intimidating if you aren’t sure what to do!
The honor of reciting the blessings over the Torah is called an aliyah, which means “going up”; it refers to the fact that the person so honored ascends or goes up to the bimah where the Torah is read. The word also connotes that participating in this ritual represents a spiritual ascent. Upon being called for an aliyah, you come up to the bimah. Everyone who comes up for an aliyah must wear a tallit and a head covering, both men and women. The Torah reader will show you the beginning of the reading in the Torah. Take the tzitzit on the corner of your tallit, touch it to the Torah, and kiss it. Then, taking the Torah handles (atzeihayim) in your hands, you chant the first blessing over the Torah. The words of the blessing will be found on the podium in front of you in both Hebrew and English transliteration, so you need not memorize them.
After the first blessing, the Torah reader will read a portion from the Torah. Keep holding the right handle or etzhayim. When the Reader completes the reading, touch the Torah with your tzitzit again, take hold of the left handle or etzhayim, roll the two sides of the scroll together, and recite the second blessing.
After you complete the second blessing, another person is called up to the Torah. Remain at the bimah until the person who receives the aliyah after you completes the second blessing. Now is the proper time to step away from the bimah and return to your seat.
Yasher Koach! (May you be strengthened!)
Click here for a video – How to Have an Aliyah
Chick here to Download PDF – Aliyah Blessings
Hagbah – Torah Lifting Guidelines
The Ritual Committee has recently discussed this ritual activity and wants to make you aware of its desires regarding setting some basic standards for the way Hagbah is done at Kol Shofar, specifically:
- Scrolls should be opened on the table first, to at least most of one column, but no more than three columns.
- Once scrolls are up in the air, they should be left the way they are, without any further adjustment.
The reasons for setting these standards are:
- We want to keep the physical stress to the scrolls induced by this activity to a minimum.
- Dropping a Torah scroll, while a rare occurrence, has extremely serious consequences for observant members of the congregation who are present – specifically, some people would feel obliged to do a 40-day (daylight) fast. Having had some “near misses” in the past, we want to do our best to assure that this will not happen in the future.
- The raising of the Torah scroll is intended to call people’s attention to the Torah itself, and the traditional view is that exposing three panels are sufficient to accomplish this. To hold the Torah open wider can begin to look instead like a public display of the lifter’s prowess, calling people’s attention and admiration to the skills of the lifter instead of the scroll, and is therefore antithetical to the whole purpose of raising the Torah.
Read the Torah portion and commentaries (see below for resources) and find one idea, question about the text, interesting word, general theme, etc. that interests you and speaks to you. Ask yourself: what is the Torah trying to teach us in this portion? Why is this portion part of our sacred text? What message does it hold for our lives? For Shabbat morning drashot, it is preferable to focus on the third of the parasha that we are reading in the current year of the triennial cycle.
BEFORE you start to write your drash, know your ONE central point that you want to make. Even if you don’t have an absolute answer to a question that you ask (it’s ok and very Jewish to ask questions without knowing the answer), make sure you have ONE central concept, point, proposition that people can walk away with. There is a temptation when giving a drash to mention every thought you ever had, but that makes for a jumbled, hard to grasp drash; the best drashot have ONE main idea.
Ground your thoughts in a text – it can be a verse, a commentary, or an overall theme from the parasha, but make sure your ideas flow out of the text itself.
Have a beginning, middle, and end.
• Brief and concise is better than long and rambling. For Shabbat morning, 12-15 minutes is a good length. For Friday night, even shorter is good.
• Respect the Torah and the congregation, even if you offer a challenge.
• Make an outline before you start to write, if you write – it’s ok to speak extemporaneously from an outline. Here is a suggested outline, but feel free to be creative and begin with a story, a rhetorical question or something to grab the attention of your listeners:
• Introduction to the Torah portion – give a BRIEF overview of what’s in the parasha. DON’T mention every single thing in the parasha, only what’s particularly relevant to your teaching.
• Raise your particular topic by quoting a verse, citing a commentary, asking a question raised by the text, pointing out an apparent problem in text, etc.
• Develop your topic through: an answer to your question, an explanation of your idea, a resolution to the problem from another textual source, a story or an example.
• Make your teaching personally relevant to yourself, to the congregation, or to our current world.
• Conclude by reinforcing your main idea – what is the one central thought we are supposed to take away?
A FEW RESOURCES IN ENGLISH FOR PREPARING A DRASH:
- Commentaries in Chumashim like Etz Hayim and Plaut.
- In the Reference section of our library
- Rashi on the Parasha
- Ramban (Nachmanides)
- Nehama Lebowitz’s Studies
- The Torah Anthology – for a collection of midrashim on the parasha
- The Language of Truth by Arthur Green – for a Hasidic commentary
A note about interactive drashot with congregational participation:
It takes a LOT of practice and experience to learn how to ask the right kind of questions to make a drash interactive. It is also very difficult to respond to the variety of comments from congregants and to pull them all together smoothly. When you ask a question of the congregation you open the floor to a free-for-all that can be challenging to control. For these reasons, I ask you NOT to include discussion in your drashot, even though it is our custom when the rabbis give the drashot. Trust me on this one!
S’MORE SHABBAT SERVICE – PRAYER MELODIES & TEXT
Heiveinu shalom aleikhem
Psalm 96-(Hassidic Style)
Yismekhu ha shamayim
Ha ma’ariv aravim blessing
Hashkiveinu with brakhah
Kiddush Over Wine
SHABBAT – PRAYERS, TORAH, AND MUSAF SERVICES, recorded by Rabbi Chai Levy. Page numbers refer to Siddur Lev Shalem.
SPECIAL CHAG/HOLIDAY NUSACH (melodies), recorded by Rabbi Chai Levy.
Friday Night – Melodies Around the Shabbat Table
All sound files below coordinate with the following page numbers from the following Shabbat bentscher (blessing booklet) Shiovitz, Jeffrey, New B’Kol Echad USY Songster
The bentschers cost $2.75 each.
To purchase click here.