As the men danced around below us, I had a lot of time to notice the people who were there – many are friends and neighbors of mine; children and grandchildren of people I know. The rabbi that is so loved in this community; a woman who regularly collects food for needy people. This one has a child who is ill; a boy with Down Syndrome who is so loved and cherished. This family has more boys than I can count; this one just had a daughter who got married. She’s a grandmother now. Her son just got engaged. That one there is married to her over there. And on and on – a community of people.
Around and around the dancing went as I pointed out different people and stories to my mother. The ages ranged from a newborn baby held in her mother’s arms, transferred to a young aunt, to the grandmother and back to the mother. The baby was at most a few weeks old, sleeping happily despite all the noise.
And back to the dancing – the boys playing on the side; several men sitting down to rest and talking (and they accuse women of gossiping too much!) and finally my eyes turned to two elderly men. One was the one I wrote about in A Torah and the second, not nearly as old, was in a wheelchair. Both were afforded so much respect; as the men danced around they were always so careful not to bump into these two older men.
When the older one walked with a cane, there was always someone who walked behind him; sometimes three men would join together and dance moving backwards, their faces towards the elderly man – almost clearing the path for him. When the other was pushed in his wheelchair, he was often given a Torah to hold and he too was often escorted by others. His voice was amazingly strong when he was given the honor of singing out the beginning phrases of one of the hakafot (circles) as he held the small Torah with the green velvet cover.
Later, after the dancing and the seven hakafot had been finished, each man was given a chance to say the blessing over the Torah on this special day that we end and begin again. Each Shabbat, the weekly Torah portion is divided into 7 sections. Seven men are called up each week to recite the blessing – one at a time. They recite the blessing, the section is read, they say another blessing, and then the next one is called up.
In a synagogue where there are 200 men – giving all 200 the opportunity to say a blessing could take many hours and so – they divide up into several areas – and still each section is read 10-15 times before each man finally gets his chance. For close to an hour, again and again, they began the section:
And this is the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.
The next to last chapter of Devarim (Deuteronomy) was read until almost all the men had been given the chance to bless the Torah. There were now two blessings left to be said – the one to say the blessing over the final section of the Torah, and the one to say the blessing over the beginning of the Torah.
One man came up and began a special prayer honoring the one who would be given the opportunity to say the blessing for the final section of the Torah for this year. Calling up the Hatan Torah (the one to receive the last blessing) is done with much fanfare, “Arise, arise, arise,” and then they call out his name Eliezer, son of….and come give honor to the God who is great and awesome.”
And then, four men raised a tallit, a prayer shall over a man as he was escorted to the central area where he would say the blessing and the final segment of the Torah would be read. Four men, perhaps even six, held the edges of the prayer shawl high above their heads to create a canopy…and under the canopy, in the center, about to be honored, was the man in the wheel chair who was rolled down the aisle as all stood and sang. His chair was gently lifted in reverse up to the raised platform where the Torah is read. Usually before saying the blessing, a man kisses the Torah.