Torah Service Customs: A Matter of Respect
Since the early second century, the Torah has been largely neglected by the Body of Messiah. Kehilat Sar Shalom affirms the view expressed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The Torah defines sin and points us toward righteousness and godliness. We believe that the Torah needs to be recognized as God’s eternal standard of righteousness, and desire to see its restoration to its place of prominence and authority within the believing community. We further believe and acknowledge that the Torah, God’s instruction, is a symbol of Yeshua, who is the Living Word.
Over the years, we have been asked to explain the customs and traditions that are associated with our Torah service. Many of these customs are ancient and the exact origin and time cannot be determined. But the common thread is an issue of respect.
One of the most common questions asked is why we turn toward the Torah as it being walked around the sanctuary. This part if the service is commonly known as the Torah Processional or Hakafah. The definition of Hakafah means to “surround, encircle, circuit, circumference, spread and encompass”. This is exactly what we do with the Torah as we walk “around” the sanctuary. And as we do this, we turn and face the Torah as it walked around of respect and honor for the Word. This gives extra meaning to us as Messianic believers since we believe that the Torah is a symbol of Yeshua, who is the Living Word. Some of the other customs that you may see are people bowing or touch the Torah with their hand or Bible and bringing it to their lips to kiss it and some may point to the Torah while it being lifted up for the congregation to see.
And for you word buffs, let’s take a deeper look at word Hakafah . The Shoresh (root) of the word is Nun Koof Feh . As you know, in Hebrew each word has a myriad of meanings. As I stated before, it does mean to ‘surround, encircle, circuit, circumference, spread and encompass’. But there are some less expected meanings. The word also means; ‘to bring near, to bore into’ and it even means ‘to collect fruit from the crown of a tree’.
Those meanings resonate deeply within me. Not just the surface meaning of ‘to bring the Torah near’ but to bring us near to Torah and our Yeshua; the Living Word. I love that the word also means to bore into and to collect the fruit of Torah. It challenges us to bore into Torah to find the growth. It calls us to climb to the crown of the Tree of Life and taste that sacred fruit. Indeed it points to our relationship with Torah and ultimately our personal and intimate relationship with our Messiah Yeshua.