ט״ז באב ה׳תשע״ד (August 12, 2014)

Megilla 32a-b: Reading the Sefer Torah

Common practice is to pay attention to the aliyot to the Torah as great honors, while the closing activities of hagbah (lifting) and gelilah – of rolling up the sefer Torah so that it can be properly returned to the ark – are perceived as less important, and are often given to young people. The discussion on the last page of Massekhet Megilla focuses on the act of gelilah, and its conclusions fly in the face of common practice. Rabbi Yohanan is quoted as teaching that when there are ten people available for Torah reading, it is the greatest among them who is asked to perform gelilah. In fact, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches that the individual who does gelilah received a reward as great as all of those who were to read.

The Gemara also relates a series of halakhot that teach the proper way to perform gelilah. For example, when tightening the scroll, Rabbi Yohanan requires it to be done on a seam, where the parchments that make up the Torah scroll are sewn together. Rashi explains that this is the place where it can most easily be tightened well; Tosafot Ri”d and R Yehonatan explain that this will ensure that the scroll will not tear, and in the event that it does tear, only the stitches will come out, but the scroll itself will not be damaged.

Other rules of gelilah are:

  • golelo mi-bahutz ve-lo mi-bifnim – turn it from the outside, but not the inside;
  • mehadko mi-bifnim ve-lo mi-bahutz – tighten it from the inside, but not the outside.

Many explanations are given for these rules. Rashi appears to understand that this is not talking about gelilah in the synagogue after a public Torah reading, rather it deals with a case where a person is reading privately from a scroll (before bound books became the norm). Rabbeinu Hananel suggests that this means that the back of the Torah should be facing the person doing gelilah, but that he should tie the knot closed on the other side, where the Torah is going to be opened. This is important because otherwise when the Torah is next taken out to be read from it will have to be turned over, which will show a lack of respect and honor.

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