Shabbat Parashat Toldot | 5770
Ask the Rabbi: Leaning on the bima during the aliya
Question: I often see people getting aliyot who lean on the bima during their aliya. Isn’t that a problem? Shouldn’t I tell them to stop?
Answer: The mishna (Megilla 21a) says that one may read Megillat Esther standing or sitting. The gemara (ad loc.) says that, in contrast, Torah reading must be done standing. As support, the gemara cites the pasuk regarding the transmission of the Torah from Hashem to Moshe: “You [Moshe] stand here with Me” (Devarim 5:27). Just as, symbolically, Hashem was “standing,” so too later transmitters of the Torah should do the same. Our questions are: what the nature and severity of this requirement are, whether leaning is considered like standing in this regard, and whom it applies to.
The Tur (Orach Chayim 141) says that if one does not read the Torah standing, he has not fulfilled the mitzva, and thus the leining has to be repeated. He seems to understand the requirement as a fully derived requirement from the pasuk. The Yerushalmi (Megilla 4:1) says that it is an element of honor, related to the idea that the Torah must be transmitted with an air of trepidation, not casualness. The Beit Yosef (OC 141) points out that Rashi views the requirement to stand as only l’chatchila, that it is proper to show respect in that way, but in case he does not do so, the reading is still valid. The matter may depend on the situation regarding Megilla reading, as Torah reading is more stringent than it. If the Megilla should l’chatchila be read standing, then Torah, being a step further, is invalid b’di’eved if one did not stand. In any case, the Magen Avraham (141:1) rules that one does fulfill b’di’eved the mitzva without standing, as is evidence from the fact that we allow a king to read seated. The Mishna Berura (141:1) and most recent poskim take this lenient view.
Despite our relative leniency on the matter of standing, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 141:1, based on a Yeruhsalmi, ibid.) says that, at least l’chatchila, one should stand without leaning on anything. This can be understood in two ways: 1) leaning is not considered standing; 2) since one must show proper regard to the Torah’s transmission, standing that is not fully austere, i.e., leaning, is thereby wrong. The Magen Avraham (ad loc.:2) says that both issues are true, but in different cases. If one stands with a partial lean so that if the object one was leaning on were removed he would fall, this is not halachic standing. If he stands in a manner that he would not fall, this is generally considered standing but it is still not standing in awe. Therefore he reasons that the Mordechai’s permission for an obese person to lean (Shulchan Aruch, ibid.) applies only to partial leaning, as, when his leaning is understandable, it is not a sign of disregard. However, full leaning simply does not fulfill the requirement to stand. The Shaarei Ephrayim (3:11) says that it is also customary to allow some leaning when looking at the top lines of a long sefer Torah, which are far away from the readers. He reasons that crouching over in order to see well is not disrespectful to the Torah.
In general, the laws governing Torah reading apply both to the ba’al korei and to the oleh (the one who receives the aliya), and this is no exception (see Shulchan Aruch and Rama, ibid.; Sha’arei Ephrayim ibid.) The Sha’arei Ephrayim (ibid.) and Mishna Berura (141:5) say that even the gabbai must stand. (Regarding the congregation, there is a major discussion- see Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 146:4).
Like many other halachot in whose regard observance is not 100%, a rabbi should find opportunities to educate his congregants. Regarding partial leaning, which is likely not overly haughty and, according to the majority of opinions, does not affect the congregation’s fulfillment of the mitzva, one should point out to the oleh only if he is confident it will be taken in the right away. If many people lean in the more severe way, it would be more worthwhile for one who can educate effectively to point out to the olim in a way that does not embarrass them.
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This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.