The Torah Service

The drama of the service draws upon imagery from Israel's history of wandering in the Sinai wilderness to the worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.

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At this point, prayers are recited for the health and welfare of the congregation, for the country in which the congregants live, the State of Israel, and world peace. Psalm 145 and its introductory verses, called Ashrei, is recited, and then the Torah is lifted up in preparation for the final parade around the sanctuary. As the Torah is raised, the prayer leader sings, "Let them praise the name of God, for His name alone has been exalted" (Psalm 115:18). The congregation then responds, "His glory is above the earth and heaven. And God will have exalted the pride of His people, causing praise for all of his pious ones, for the people of Israel who are close to Him, Halleluyah!" As the Torah is marched around the sanctuary a final time, the congregation sings Psalm 29 on Shabbat, or Psalm 24 on a festival or weekday. Each of these psalms speak of God's glory and might in the world.

As the Torah is returned to the ark, but before the curtains or doors are closed, the verses are chanted, "Whenever the ark was set down, Moses would say: Lord, may you dwell among the myriad families of the people of Israel" (Numbers 10:36). The verses continue, "Return, O Lord, to Your sanctuary, You and Your glorious ark. Let Your priests be clothed in triumph and let Your faithful sing for joy" (Psalm 132:8-10). Once again, the biblical language referring to the ark of the covenant in the Torah and the Temple in Jerusalem is dramatically appropriated by the Rabbis to refer to the ark of the Torah, continually reinforcing the image that the life of Torah and synagogue is a continuous fulfillment of the revelation at Sinai, the march through the wilderness, the conquest of the land, and the worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.

As the ark is closed, the congregation sings, "It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and all of its supporters are happy" (Proverbs 3:18) and "Help us turn to You, and we shall return. Renew our lives as in days of old" (Lamentations 5:21). This conclusion of the service, however, provides a reality check. As much as the life of the synagogue and the Torah service create a sense of Israel's history existing in the present, the Temple in Jerusalem and the unity of the people that it symbolized is still absent, and Israel awaits its restoration.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.