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For the week ending 9 September 2006 / 16 Elul 5766

Persistent Pentateuch Pinkie Pointing People

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From: Mr. Irv Oxlander

What is the source for and the meaning of the custom to point the pinkie at the Torah during hagbah — the lifting of the Torah Scroll after reading from it in public?

Dear Mr. Oxlander,

Your question is interesting because it relates to a widespread custom whose source is rather obscure.

Nachmanides remarks that the verse "accursed is the one who will notuphold the words of this Torah...," is the source for the obligation to showthe written text of the Torah to the whole congregation.

The Shulchan Aruch states: It is a mitzva for all men and women to see the written text of the Torah, to bow, and to say, “This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel.” Halachic authorities explain that this verse is to be said only upon seeing the actual text of the Sefer Torah.

It is told about the Arizal that when the Torah was held up for the entire congregation to see, it was his custom to look closely at the text so that he could read the letters. The Arizal was quoted as saying "that by gazing at the Torah closely so as to be able to clearly read its letters, a person is infused by a great [spiritual] light."

While the Shulchan Oruch obligates reciting the verse: This is the Torah... , it is also a minhag (custom) to append part of a second verse "according to the word of Hashem through Moshe." In his comprehensive anthology Me'am Lo'ez, Rabbi Yaakov Kuli expounds on this custom saying: "The combination of these two verses, though from different sections of the Torah, alludes to the dual nature of Torah -- a Written and an Oral Law, both stemming from a single Source."

Also, The Me'am Lo'ez is the only source that mentions the custom of pointing the pinkie finger towards the text, adding that it is customary to kiss the pinkie after pointing. However, this is not a universal custom, and is not mentioned in other halachic sources.

In reply to our inquiry as to the source of this custom, Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, gave the following explanation: The Torah lists the ten generations from Noah until Abraham, including Yoktan, who established the largest number of families. Rashi notes that Yoktan merited establishing so many families due to his great humility, as his name indicates (from the root katan - little). Rabbi Scheinberg went on to explain that when pointing at the Torah we take this lesson to heart and we point with our smallest finger — the pinkie — to indicate that we should reach out to try to gain understanding of the Torah with the utmost humility and thus merit to succeed in this aspiration.

Rabbi Chaim Falagie expounds on a second variation of the custom in which the index finger is used for pointing towards the Torah rather than the pinkie. He bases this custom on six consecutive statements in Tehillim, the first of which is, "The Torah of Hashem is perfect reviving the soul...". Each one of these statements is composed of five words, corresponding to the number of fingers of one hand. The second word of each statement is Hashem corresponding to the second, namely the index finger. In pointing towards the Torah with the index finger we are indicating that every word of the Torah is a Name of Hashem. For that same reason, Rabbi Falagie points out, during the wedding ceremony the ring is placed on the index finger to signify that Hashem is the unifying force binding husband and wife.

The significance and the symbolism that our Sages attach to every finger and to each part of our body is most instructive. Rabbeinu Bechaye discusses the utility of each organ and in particular the fingers, each of which serves to facilitate one of the five senses. The pinkie finger is associated with the sense of hearing and we may conjecture that this is related to the custom of pointing towards the Torah with the pinkie.

Sources:
  • Nachmanides — Ramban on the Torah — Devarim 27:26
  • Tractate Sofrim 14:14
  • Shulchan Aruch -- Orach Chaim (134:2); and Ba'er He'tev 6
  • Devarim 4:44
  • Sha'ar Hakavanot (Sefer Torah — Drush 1)
  • Bamidbar 9:23
  • Me'am Lo'ez -- Devarim (27:26).
  • Bereishet 10:26-29
  • Lev Chaim (Responsa) -- Orach Chaim (167:6).
  • Tehillim 19:8-10
  • Rabbeinu Bechaye — Vayikra 8:23

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