Rituals and Prayer Melodies

How to have an aliyah at Congregation Kol Shofar

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:

  1. Scrolls should be opened on the table first, to at least most of one column, but no more than three columns.
  2. 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.

Delivering a Drash

Meaning and Purpose of the D’rash

The Jewish tradition maintains that the Torah is a relevant document to all who engage it, at whatever time and in whatever place. Indeed, studying Torah is intended to improve our lives, as the Kotzker Rebbe declared: “What good is understanding a text, if one does not thereby attain a better understanding of oneself!”[1]   The Bar or Bat Mitzvah Torah d’rash is an opportunity to study or “dig in” to one’s Torah portion in order draw relevant meaning for the purpose of elevating one’s life.  It is noteworthy, that the word d’rash itself comes from the Hebrew root, meaning, “seek,” “explore,” or “learn.”

The d’rash, however, is intended to be wisdom shared with the entire community, as the Jewish tradition calls upon us to share our insights and our inspiration so that everyone can benefit.  Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah means that one is now eligible to be a teacher of the community, and, within the framework of this rite of passage, we offer time and space for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah to share his or her teaching with all present.

Standards and Counsel Regarding the Bar or Bat Mitzvah D’rash

  • Length: A standard Bar or Bat Mitzvah d’rash is approximately 2-3 pages, typed (double-spaced, 1-inch margins).  This is equivalent to approximately 5-minutes of spoken word, as it takes 2 minutes to speak 1-page typed.
  • Topic: The d’rash is a brief, yet comprehensive commentary upon either the Torah portion of the week or the Haftarah (additional prophetic reading associated with the Torah portion). The goal is to identify a relevant, universal moral derived from the reading.
  • Resources and Help: Although the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is expected to write his or her own d’rash (authenticity is a value), it is acceptable and encouraged for him or her to seek out guidance from family, teachers, friends, as well as scholarly resources.  The officiating Rabbi will schedule meetings to help the Bar or Bat Mitzvah to work draft and edit the final version.
  • Public Speaking: Fear and anxiety around speaking in public is natural. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah is expected read his or her d’rash rather than speaking extemporaneously. Preparation and practice is necessary.  It also is easier for listeners to hear and comprehend the d’rash when delivered at regular, slow pace, annunciating each word.

Getting Started

Writing a d’rash happens in phases.  Here is a suggested process for getting started:

  • Read: Review the Torah portion, looking for verses, ideas, stories that are striking and interesting.
  • Identify Your Questions: Write down questions about that area of the Torah portion, explore pertinent commentary, and discuss with family, teachers, and rabbis in order to gain clarity on what inspires or puzzles you.
  • Develop a Thesis Statement: After your research, questioning and discussion, state what you want the point of your d’rash to be in one sentence. That is, when others talk about what you said in your d’rash, they should be able to do so in one sentence.  What is that sentence? I.e., Finish this following in one clear sentence: “For my d’rash I talked about … “

How to Write a D’rash

Now you are ready to start writing.  There are 4 Steps in the process, which can be broken into 4 fundamental questions.  Each question should be answered in one paragraph (3-5 sentences), in this order:

  1. What does the Torah say? Retell what the Torah actually says.  Simply states the facts: what happened, who, when, what was the context. This is not a time to answer deeper questions.
  2. What does the Torah mean? Share some of your research. What have scholars, rabbis, and others traditionally said about this part of the Torah addresses your questions. (See commentary resources). For example, “Rashi – Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki – asks why God only speaks of Noah’s righteousness when Noah is not present.  Other commentators point out that Noah may have been bigheaded and therefore, God kept His opinions to Himself.”
  3. What does the Torah mean to me? Now that you have retold what the Torah says and what others in history have said about it, give our opinion about what the Torah means to you.  How is does it apply to your life? How do you see the same issues in your own life – among your friends, family, society, or your own personal life? For example: “I think that we have to be mindful of what we say about other people.  Just as God was cautious in making Noah’s head too big, we don’t want to overly praise people to their face.  However, when they are not around, we should speak about all of our their wonderful qualities.”
  4. What am I going to do about it? A Bar or Bat Mitzvah is expected to take responsibility with what they learn. Take a moment here to express how you are going to apply what you have learned from the Torah. For example: “From this teaching, I am committing to speaking kindly of people when they are not present because if we live in a community where everyone is speaking nicely about each other, we will all feel safer and more trusting.”
  • If there is an opportunity, relate your Tikkun Olam Project with what you have learned. For example: “In my Tikkun Olam Project, I worked with underprivileged children.  In this experience, I learned how important is to emphasize their good qualities and to not speak badly about others, as this behavior builds trust and self-esteem.”

D’rash and B’nai Mitzvah Resources

I. Books

  1. Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary (2001), ed. David Lieber, The Jewish Publication Society.
  1. Torah Commentary for Our Times, 3 Vols. (1991), Harvey J. Fields, J Levine/Millenium Publishing.
  1. Text Messages: A Commentary for Teens (2012), Jeffrey K. Salkin, Jewish Lights.
  1. Tough Questions Jews Ask: A Young Adults Guide to Building a Jewish Life (2012, 2nd), Edward Feinstein, Jewish Lights.

II. Websites & Podcasts

  1. Jewish Calendar, Birthday, Date Converter, Portion Finder: Hebcal.com: https://www.hebcal.com/
  1. Non-Denominational Torah Portion Summary and Learning: Myjewishlearning.com: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/torah-portions/
  1. Torah Portion Podcast (Conservative): JTS Torah Commentary: https://player.fm/series/jts-torah-commentary
  1. Reform Judaism Weekly Torah Portion: https://reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study
  1. Orthodox Weekly Commentary: http://www.aish.com/tp/

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.

  1. p105 Ha’el Be’taatzumot Uzecha
  2. p105 End of Kedusha for Festivals

Resources for Celebrating Shabbat at Home
Compiled by Rabbi Susan Leider

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.

Candle Lighting for Shabbat, p. 1
Shalom Aleikhem, p. 2
Kiddush for Shabbat Evening, p. 7
Shir Ha Ma’alot–the psalm sung before the Blessings after the meals, p. 47
Blessings After Meals, p. 49-64

A Selection of Shabbat Songs:
Al Shloshah Devarim, p. 79
Am Yisrael Hai, p. 79
Hinei Ma Tov, p. 89