The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.For final rulings, consult your Rav.
TORAH READING for PARASHAS BECHUKOSAI
This week's public Torah reading of Parashas 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 ha-Sofer's ordinance
that Bechukosai be read at least two weeks(1) before the festival of
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 Parashas 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 all 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 (acharon), so that the Torah reader who is a kohen will be
called for the aliyah of the tochachah. Although the general rule is that
whenever two parashiyos are connected, it is proper to connect them at the
fourth aliyah(11), we do not follow the 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
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
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
CHAZAK! CHAZAK! V'NISCHAZEIK!
At the end of this parashah, as with every parashah that completes the
reading of an entire Chumash, the custom is for the congregation to call out
"Chazak! Chazak! V'nischazeik!" Several reasons are offered for this
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 the same as that
1 In a unique case (when Rosh Hashanah at the beginning of a leap year falls
on a Thursday) Bechukosai is read three weeks before Shavuos.
2 Beiur Halachah 428:4, quoting the Levush based on Megilah 31b and Tosfos.
3 There are a number of early sources who express this fear, see Magen
Avraham 4 28:8 quoting Maharil; Kaf ha-Chayim 428:34 quoting Sefer Chasidim.
See also Rama O.C. 53:19.
4 Chelkas Yaakov 3:174 reports that this was the custom in Belz in Europe.
5 Beiur Halachah O.C. 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.
7 Rama O.C. 428:6, according to the understanding of the Machatzis
ha-Shekel. Divrei Yisrael 1:61 testifies that this was the prevailing custom
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 Beiur Halachah.
13 Mishnah Berurah 53:58; 428:17.
14 O.C. 428:6.
15 Kaf ha-Chayim 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 She'arim Metzuyanim b'Halachah 78:3.