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