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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.

4 Responses to Torah Service Customs: A Matter of Respect

  • -richard says:

    In the Messianic service what is being represented by the Torah in the procession? Is it the law of Moses, The first testament, both testaments, just what?

    • RabbiNeal says:

      The Torah is the Word of God. We read in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And 1 Peter 1:23 tells us, “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” Through these passages, we see that Yeshua is the living word, hadavar hachai in Hebrew. Therefore, the Torah in the procession doesn’t represent either the law of Moses, the first testament, or even both testaments. The Torah represents Yeshua, the living word.

  • pETE sOUDAR says:

    Dear Rabbi:

    When did the tradition of Hakafah (torah processional) begin? is the history known about when this tradition became a regular part of the torah service? In particular, do we know if this tradition was practiced in second temple times, particularly during mashiach yeshua’s three year earthly ministry?

    I apologize if this comes out in all capital letters. I’m not yelling intentionally…these came out all capitals even when i was sure “caps lock” was turned off.

    I look forward to your response.

    • RabbiNeal says:

      Shalom, Pete.

      It is generally accepted that the tradition of the Torah processional began about the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. When the scrolls of the law were rediscovered after the exile in Babylon, they began to read it in public. That was most easily done to the mosts people on the market days of Monday and Thursday. So they would carry the scrolls from their permanent location to the marketplace. As time went on, people began to follow the scrolls during the walk, and this was the predecessor of the modern hakafah. Today, with the permanent location of the scrolls being only a few feet to a few dozen feet away, the procession around the congregation is meant to remind of the time when it wasn’t quite so easy.

      Blessings!
      Rabbi Neal

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