By Rav David Silverberg
In Parashat Ki-Tavo, Moshe conveys to Benei Yisrael the command to conduct a special ceremony upon entering Eretz Yisrael at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, proclaiming a blessing upon those who fulfill the Torah and a curse upon those who disregard it. Moshe presents a list of curses that were proclaimed, specifying different transgressions whose violators should be cursed, and these were to be followed by a corresponding list of blessings for those who observe the specified laws. This list of curses concludes, “Cursed is he who does not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them” (27:26).
The Ramban cites the Talmud Yerushalmi (Sota 7:4) as presenting several different interpretations of the phrase, “who does not uphold the words of this Torah.” The final explanation he cites is that it speaks of a “chazan” – an appointed official in the synagogue – who fails to position the Torah scroll in a manner that ensures it would not fall. Surprisingly, the Ramban explains the Yerushalmi’s comment somewhat differently, as referring to what we commonly call “hagbeha” – lifting the Sefer Torah to show the congregation the sacred script. According to the Ramban’s reading of the Yerushalmi, it understood this verse as proclaiming a curse upon one who lifts the Torah improperly, such that the text is not visible to everyone present in the synagogue.
It seems likely that the Ramban’s comments need to be understood on a symbolic level, as pointing to an improper “hagbeha” as an allegorical image representing something far more grievous, that warrants a “curse.” Indeed, Rav Chaim Elazary, in his Mesilot Chayim, suggests that the meaning of “hagbeha,” and of the requirement to make the text visible to everyone in attendance, is to convey the message that the Torah is relevant to, and obligatory upon, everyone. The Torah is lifted and put into the clear view of all the congregants to show them that they all, without exception, are bound by the Torah’s laws and guidance. The Torah applies to all of us, regardless of one’s background, level of knowledge, circumstances or stage of life. Lifting the Torah in a manner that makes the script visible to only some synagogue members symbolically sends the message that the Torah is relevant to only some of us but not others. The Ramban’s comments alert us to the gravity of this misconception, and of the gravity of even unwittingly giving this impression. We must do everything we can to show the Torah to all types of Jews, to make it clear that the Torah is, always has been, and always will be, relevant to them all, without exception, guiding each and every one of us along the path that we should follow at all stages throughout our lives.
Originally appears on VBM