Israel’s Vision Expressed in Hakafot

How giving out honors in the synagogue can be a lesson in social responsibity.

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Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90


In last week’s article, I dealt with the critical necessity of establishing a vision for the State of Israel. With God’s help I will continue exploring this issue, but for now I will just mention briefly that the vision of the Jewish people is to reveal, according to the Torah’s instruction, the sacred value of everything in the world, and thus guide, elevate, and perfect it – “to perfect the world in the kingdom of God”.

This vision can be revealed only in Eretz Yisrael – the Holy Land – where ‘the eyes of God your Lord are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year’, and where any effort contributing to its development is an absolute mitzvah. The land where heaven and earth can be unified; where it can be revealed how emunah (faith) and Torah add life and blessing to the world; and from where blessing will extend to all countries and peoples, who will learn how to guide their lives according to the values of emunah, Torah, and morality.


The Allocation of Hakafot as an Expression of Values

Since this is a personal column, I will share with you, my readers, how we allocated the hakafot (dancing with the Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah) this year in Har Bracha, as members of the community celebrated Simchat Torah together with the Yeshiva students, in the presence of nearly 1,000 participants – men, women, and children. This allocation of hakafot expresses the vision I previously mentioned.

Usually, the honor of carrying the Torah scrolls (around the synagogue, in a seven-part ceremony called hakafot) is given to distinguished individuals – Torah scholars, community leaders, and notable donors – which of course, is fitting. But in this year’s allocation of hakafot, we thought to express the values which convey an all-embracing, Torah worldview.

The Evening Hakafot

In the first hakafa, typically, we honored the rabbis, for Simchat Torah is first and foremost, their day of joy – because the Torah comes first, just as the Ark, which contained the tablets and the Torah, was situated in the Holy of Holies.

In the second hakafa, teachers were honored. This entails an important chiddush (novelty), because the status of teachers, who hold all our future in their hands, needs to be elevated. Therefore, we decided they would precede the other Torah scholars and yeshiva students, donors and other distinguished community leaders.

In the third hakafa, we honored those engaged in construction – from owners of construction companies, building-site managers, architects and engineers, to construction workers, electricians, and all others involved in building our holy land with their hands. This also expresses an important message about the importance of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land). Thank God, we had numerous people to honor – almost all of them graduates of our yeshiva. Seeing as there were so many of them, we had to pass the ten Torah scrolls that had been brought to the yeshiva from the various synagogues from one person to the next, in order to honor all of them. Fortunate are those who saw them dancing fervently with the Torah, surrounded by the entire congregation – admiring and honoring their work.  

In the fourth hakafa, we honored employees of high-tech and other advanced technology industries – the vanguard of the Israeli economy, which helps fortify the status of the State of Israel in the international arena. From out of our Beit Midrash (learning hall) of Yeshiva Har Bracha, they embarked to gain a profession within the framework of the ‘Shiluvim’ program, which combines Torah and academic studies. Thank God, they are diligent workers, set fixed times for Torah study, and raise splendid families. Once more, in order to honor each one of them, we had to pass the Torah scrolls from one person to another. How fortunate are we, and how good is our portion!

In the fifth hakafa, we honored those who work in business and finance, bank employees, lawyers, and the like. This is also a chiddush -- for they must also be connected to the Torah, to set fixed times for Torah study, and be honest and good people. Without them, it is impossible to perfect the world. Therefore, it is extremely important to give them a hakafa as well, so that all their dealings will be l’shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven).

On the sixth hakafa, we honored chatanim (grooms), namely, anyone within his first year of marriage, or students who are engaged to be wed. This also conveys an important message about the sanctity of marriage and family. And, thank God, every year we are blessed with several couples who choose to live and build their homes in Har Bracha.

On the seventh hakafa, of course, we honored our cherished yeshiva students, for they are the future of all -- from their ranks come the rabbis and teachers, the builders of the country and its economy, and the future grooms raising blessed families. They are also youthful, and still have the energy to dance on the seventh hakafa.

The Daytime Hakafot

In the first daytime hakafa, rabbis are usually honored once again, but this time we honored avrachim (young, married Torah students) who are learning in order to grow in Torah, and alongside them, students in the ‘Shiluvim’ program studying for a Masters or Doctorate degree in the sciences. This allocation had two objectives : First, if someone might have thought that as a result of recent debates concerning the issue of yeshivot and avrachim, the status of those diligently studying to grow in Torah had, God forbid, been diminished – clearly, they take precedence.

True, in our yeshiva, we do not have many avrachim, because only the most competent students are allowed to continue learning in kollel, without having to embark into the field of education or the ‘Shiluvim’ program (a framework in which approximately 70 yeshiva graduates choose to study for an academic degree, combined with several hours of yeshiva studies).

Secondly, alongside the avrachim, we honored their friends studying in university with the aim of helping to develop science, in keeping with the teachings of the Gaon of Vilna that secular wisdom is a vital adjunct to the Torah, and to the extent that one lacks knowledge in secular wisdom, conversely, he lacks one hundredfold in Torah wisdom. And, as is well known, there is a danger of detachment between the worlds of Torah and science; therefore we chose to unite them together in the first hakafa. God willing, out of their devotion for Torah, they will always remain connected.

In the second hakafa, we honored the teachers once again, because although we had previously honored them with the second hakafa in the evening, they deserve even more honor, for they bear the burden of educating the next generation. In spite of this, a member of the community who happens to be the principal of the regional girl’s school insisted on honoring men who are husbands of teachers as well, because they also participate in bearing the burden, so they were also permitted to carry the Torah scrolls – in the merit of their wives, who are engaged in sacred work.

The third hakafa honored olim (immigrants). Occasionally, those of us born in Israel fail to appreciate individuals who left their birthplace and language, and chose to make aliyah to Israel. But their merit is immense. Together, immigrants from the four corners of the world carried the Torah scrolls – from the U.S.A., South America, Russia, Ethiopia, France, England, and other countries. In their actions, they express the realization of the words of the Prophets in the most superior way; it is important to remember and mention this. And not only have they immigrated to Israel, but they continued ascending to the frontline of Jewish settlement – Har Bracha.

The fourth hakafa was devoted to piyutim (liturgical poems) from Eastern and North African countries, seeing as in our community there are Yerushalmi and Moroccan style prayer groups, and on Simchat Torah, everyone celebrates together, to fulfill the verse: “Israel camped opposite the mountain – as one person, with one heart”. And, Baruch Hashem, the entire community, from all backgrounds, is acquainted with the piyutim, and participates in them with great joy.

The fifth hakafa was dedicated to Yemenite piyutim, seeing as we have quite a respectable Yemenite prayer group in the community, as well as in the Yeshiva, and they also participate in the hakafot.

The sixth hakafa was devoted to soldiers, namely, those in the regular army and officers in reserve duty, to express the sacred value of the army, which fulfills two important mitzvoth equivalent to the entire Torah – yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), and protecting the Jewish people.

On the seventh hakafa, comparable to the evening, the beloved yeshiva students were honored, for they possess all the virtues collectively.