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Weekly Halacha

SELECTED HALACHOS RELATING TO PARSHAS BECHUKOSAI

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.


If you will follow my decrees... "Chazak, Chazak V'nischazeik!"

TORAH READING FOR PARSHAS BECHUKOSAI

This week's public Torah reading of Parshas Bechukosai, though seemingly no different from any other, is, in fact, governed by a set of special halachos. Let us take the opportunity to review them:

WHEN IS BECHUKOSAI READ?

Bechukosai is sometimes read together with Behar and sometimes not. Several factors enter into this determination, among them Ezra Hasofer's ordinance that Bechukosai be read at least two weeks (1) before Shavuos. The reason for the two-week hiatus is based on our tradition that Shavuos is considered a New Year, a Day of Judgment for the fruits of the tree. We are careful, therefore, to be finished with Parshas Bechukosai--in which the Admonition, the tochachah and its curses, occupy a central role--before this Day of Judgment and New Year begin (2). For the same reason we are careful to read Parashas Ki Savo, where the other portion of the tochachah is written, at least two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, so that "the old year may be ushered out along with its curses".

WHO IS CALLED TO THE TORAH FOR THE READING OF THE TOCHACHAH?

In the past, deciding whom to call to the Torah for the reading of the tochachah was a serious point of contention. Many people, among them great scholars, felt that being called to the Torah for this portion was a bad omen that would result in tragedy and misfortune (3). Over the years, the situation deteriorated to the extent that a congregant would have to be paid to accept the aliyah (4), and if no one would agree to be "hired", the Torah reading of the week [and of Parashas Ki Savo] was omitted altogether (5). In other communities, shul decorum was shattered while congregants fought and argued as to who, in their opinion, should be punished by being called up for this portion (6). In other communities, the gabbai publicly announced from the bimah that whoever wished to do so should volunteer for the aliyah (7), while in other communities this part of the reading was read by the Torah reader without anybody being called up (8). Most poskim were critical of and dissatisfied with any of these options (9).

Consequently, it has become customary in many shuls for the Torah reader himself to be called (10) upon to read the tochachah. Indeed, even if the reader is a kohen, the aliyos must be rearranged so that the tochachah is included in the aliyah of the kohen. Even when Bechukosai is read together with Behar, it should be arranged that the aliyah for the tochachah will be the last aliyah , so that the Torah reader who is a kohen will be called for the aliyah of the tochachah. (A kohen may be called up to any aliyah past the required minimum of seven.) Although the general rule is that whenever two parshios are connected it is proper to connect them at the fourth aliyah (11), we do not follow this rule in this case (12).

If, mistakenly, the gabbai called a person other than the reader to the aliyah of the tochachah, that person may not refuse the aliyah. Even if he knows that the gabbai had malicious intentions when calling him up, he still may not refuse the aliyah once he has been called up. If, however, he knows in advance that he will be called, he may walk out of the shul before being called up (13).

It is prohibited to "interrupt" during the reading of the tochachah, i.e., the portion cannot be broken into two or more segments to accommodate more aliyos (14). If, however, a mistake was found in the Sefer Torah during the reading of the tochachah, a new sefer should be brought out and the reading continued. In the opinion of several poskim, this is not considered to be an "interruption" because the same person who was called to the Torah remains there (15).

The custom is to read the tochachah in a lowered tone of voice (16). Care must be taken, however, not to read it too quietly, lest it not be heard by the congregation (17).

CHAZAK, CHAZAK V'NISCHAZEIK!

At the end of the parshah, the custom is for the congregation to call out "Chazak, Chazak V'nischazeik!" Several reasons are offered for this custom (18).

The person who was called up for this aliyah should not say chazak. Since he must still recite the final blessing after the Torah reading, some poskim consider reciting chazak as an improper interruption (hefsek) (19).

The custom is that the reader repeats chazak after the congregation. The Sefer Torah should be closed at the time so that it does not appear as if those words are being read from the Torah (20).

Some have a custom to say the word "Chazak" three times since the numerical equivalent (gimatria) of the thrice-repeated chazak--345--is "Moshe" (21).



FOOTNOTES

1 In a unique case (when Rosh Hashana at the beginning of a leap year falls on a Thursday) Bechukosai is read three weeks before Shavuos.

2 Biur Halachah 428:4 quoting the Levush based on Megillah 31b and Tosfos.

3 There are a number of early sources who express this fear-- see Magen Avraham 428:8 quoting Maharil; Kaf Hachayim 428:34 quoting Sefer Chasidim. See also Rama OC 53:19.

4 Chelkas Yaakov 3:174 reports that this was the custom in Belz in Europe.

5 Biur Halachah OC 428:6.

6 In one community the gabbai, a tailor, "punished" a competing tailor with this "honor". The gabbai did not live out the year--heard from Harav Y. Kamenetsky.

7 Rama OC 428:6, according to the understanding of the Machatzis Hashekel. Divrei Yisroel 1:61 testifies that this was the prevailing custom in Hungary.

8 Shoel Umaishiv 5:9.

9 Haelef Lecha Shlomo 63; Minchas Elozar 1:66; Igros Moshe OC 2:35

10 Generally, when the reader himself receives an aliyah, there is no need to call him by his name, since he is standing at the bimah regardless--Rama 139:3 and Mishnah Berurah 8. For unexplained reasons, this is not the custom in many places.

11 Mishnah Berurah 282:5.

12 Mishnah Berurah 428:17 and Biur Halachah.

13 Mishnah Berurah 53:58; 428:17.

14 OC 428:6.

15 Kaf Hachayim 143:38; 428:32. There are dissenting opinions who hold that the reader should continue reading until the end of the tochachah, see Pischei Teshuvah 428:6 and Sheorim Hametzuyanim B'halachah 78:3.

16 Magen Avrohom 428:8.

17 Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 78:4; Kaf Hachayim 428:38.

18 See Maharam Mintz 85. See also Rama OC 139:11 and Pri Chodosh, ibid.

19 See Shulchan Hakriyah OC 139

20 Bein Pesach L'Shvouos pg. 145.

21 Elef Hamogen 669.


Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc. Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross jgross@torah.org.

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra


 






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