Before we delve into the customs regarding Hagbah, let’s first try to understand why we lift up the Sefer Torah at all.
(Ki Tavo 27:26) אָר֗וּר אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹא־יָקִ֛ים אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הַתּוֹרָֽה־הַזֹּ֖את לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת אוֹתָ֑ם וְאָמַ֥ר כָּל־הָעָ֖ם אָמֵֽן׃ – Cursed be he who will not uphold the terms of this Teaching and observe them.—And all the people shall say, Amen.
Based on this verse the Ramban seems to hold that one must show the Torah to everyone in the congregation by showing the Torah to everyone from right to left from front to back.
It is told about the Arizal that when the Torah was held up for all the congregation to see, it was his custom to look closely at the text so that he could read the letters. The Arizal was quoted to say “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.”
But why do we raise our pinky? Like most things in Judaism, there are differing opinions.
Rabbi Yaakov Culi wrote a commentary on the Tanach called Me’am Lo’ez which was extremely popular in the Jewish communities of Turkey, Spain, Morocco and Egypt. This is the only source we have that mentions the custom of pointing the pinky finger towards the Torah, adding that it is customary to kiss the pinky after pointing (Although this is not mentioned in other Halachic sources).
Rabbi Abraham Abele Gombiner (1635-1683), writes in a gloss on the Code, “When one sees the letters, the holiness of the words radiates and imparts holiness to the individual.”
Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, gave the following explanation as to the source of the custom. The Torah lists 10 generations from Noah until Abraham, including Yoktan, who established the largest number of families. (He had 13 sons). Rashi notes that Yoktan merited establishing such a large family due to his great humility (as is apparent from his name – Yoktan has the root katan – meaning little). Rabbi Scheinberg went on to explain that when pointing at the Torah we try to internalise this lesson that studying Torah should go with Humility. As we say in Pirkei Avos:
So too did Hillel state: ‘He who uses the crown [of Torah] will pass on’ (above, 1:13). Meaning that he should not seek fame or recognition himself but it is the obligation of the community to show him honour.
Rabbi Chaim Falagie recounts that there is a custom in which the index finger is used for pointing towards the Torah as opposed to the pinkie. He bases this custom on 6 consecutive statements starting from Tehillim chapter 19: verse 7. Each statement consists of five words corresponding to the numbers of fingers on your hand. The second word of each statement is Hashem corresponding to the second (index finger). In pointing towards the torah with our index finger we are indicating that evert word of the Torah is a Name of Hashem [and can only be seen as ultimate truth]. Rabbi Falagie also points out that for this very same reason, during the wedding ceremony the ring is placed on the index finger to signify that Hashem is the unifying force binding Husband and wife.
Rabbi’s mentioned: (From Wikipedia)
- Rabbi Yaakov Culi – was a Talmudist and Biblical commentator of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who died in Constantinople on August 9, 1732. He belonged to an exiled Spanish family, and was the grandson and pupil of Moses ibn Habib (Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel & the Ottoman Empire).
- Abraham Abele Gombiner (Known as the Magen Avraham) was a rabbi, Talmudist and a leading religious authority in the Jewish community of Kalish, Poland during the seventeenth century.
- Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg – He was the rosh yeshiva of the Torah Ore yeshiva in Kiryat Mattersdorf and Yeshivas Derech Chaim in Brooklyn. He was a posek (decisor of Jewish law), Gadol HaDor, and one of the last living Torah scholars to have been educated in the yeshivas of prewar Europe.
- Rabbi Chaim Falagie