February 28, 2024 |

Lift Right Left

Ever have hagba (or know someone who had hagba) around this time of year? It's a good time to be a righty, as a full chumash worth of parchment is disproportionately wrapped around the right spindle of the sefer Torah. After this week, your left hand will need to only pick up Haazinu and Vezot Habracha, which while sometimes difficult to understand, are not terribly wordy.

Finally, several honey-dipped slices of challah later, we rewind all the back to the Beginning, and on Simchat Torah, it's southpaw season again.

This transition from left (traditionally weak) to right seems somehow harmonious with the progress of the Jewish people during this time. Starting from bereshit, we read tale after tale of the youngest or weaker one winning. Seth (younger brother Kayin & Hevel) is the ancestor of humanity. Yitzchak, younger brother to Yishmael, receives the bracha, only to pass it on to HIS youngest, Yaakov, who (could you guess?) switches his hands -- not to lift the Torah backwards on simchat Torah -- but to give the younger of Yosef's sons the coveted blessing.

Is Aharon the leader who takes us out of Egypt? No, it's his (younger and speech-disabled) brother. The books of Bereshit and Shmot are descriptions of a family and people who chronically pass leadership to the younger (and symbolically weaker) candidate. And it is done intentionally: Bereshit says that Yaakov "sikel et yadav". "Sikel" is a strange word, triggering echoes of "tiskul-frustration" and "sechel-smarts". Whether Yaakov frustrated his hands' natural inclination to favor the strong, or used "smarts" to figure out who really deserved it, his blessing of Ephraim over Menasheh is a clear example of disrupting the ordinary flow. These early Jews didn't follow the way "things are done"; they were creating something from nothing and wrote the rules themselves.

And so our "minority" lefty hagbah honoree gets to do the heavy lifting for that part.

But as the Torah continues, we start to sound a lot like some of the other nations. We build a golden calf to worship because, well, it was the thing to do back then. "Give us a king", we cried, so that we could be like the other nations. We begged to spy out the land, because, that was conventional wisdom before attacking. Not at all illogical, but no longer counting on the blessing given to the weak.

And so we finish the Torah, over the next few weeks, with a change of leadership, a plan of attack in the Promised Land, a Code of Law, a judicial branch of seventy elders, a central place of worship -- in short, a budding nation. And perhaps this is the necessary flow: A start-up company makes its own rules as it goes along, and before you know it Microsoft has gone from a renegade group of programmers fighting the establishment to BEING the establishment.

Let's enjoy a few weeks of the stability that Devarim ends on, with a clear line of succession, a plan for the future, and Moshe's peaceful passing. Before you know it, we'll be back to favoring the minority. And the lefties can have hagbah.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Some of my best friends are lefties. My 2-year-old is undecided.


Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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