[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times]
There is no question that “Ivdu es Hashem BeSimcha – Serve Hashem in joy” is a paramount Mitzvah. Indeed, the Satmar Rebbe writes that it lies at the very foundation of all of the Taryag Mitzvos (Divrei Yoel Parshas Lech Lecha, first piece). Humor, for many people, is an important tool in developing that Simcha – joy.
There is, however, a time and place for everything.
One cannot and one may not violate severe prohibitions – all in the name of humor.
A recent YouTube video has crossed the line in its attempt at humor and has caused a horrific bizayon haTorah – literally.
Essentially, the piece, in an effort to create a humorous video, depicts someone who has difficulty lifting the Torah almost dropping it. He goes home to work out and eventually comes back to do the Hagbaah, but this time does an effective job. The only thing is that the second time he was not called for Hagbaah, but for Shlishi.
The problem with the video is fourfold:
1] It is using a real genuine Sefer Torah for a different purpose – this degrades the Sefer Torah which is clearly forbidden by Halacha.
2] The first scene also has the person pretending that he cannot hold the weight of the Torah and swings it to and fro as if it was a “close call” and almost falls. This is also a disgraceful use of the Sefer Torah and is forbidden
3] The video also depicts the horrific abuse of the gartel of a sefer Torah, where it is actually used to wipe the brow of the actor, rachmana litzlan, to make the point that he is nervous in the act of Hagbaah.
4] The video was filmed in a shul that demands a certain level of sanctity and decorum rather than frivolous behavior.
NATURE OF THE VIOLATION
The nature of debasing a Sefer Torah is a debate among the Acharonim. The Pri Magadim in his Mishbetzes HaZahav 153:1 writes that disgracing a Sefer Torah is actually a full Torah prohibition. The Daas Kedoshim (282) who argues holds that it is a Rabbinic violation – not a Biblical one. The Pri Magadim, however, does not identify which Torah prohibition is being violated. This author would like to suggest that it is either “lo saasum kain lashem elokecha” or “ki dvar Hashem baza.”
The Talmud Yerushalmi in Yuma (7:1) explains that only on Yom Kippur was a sefer Torah brought to the Kohain to lain from. At all other times, the Yerushalmi indicates, it is forbidden to bring a Torah to others as it is degrading to the Torah to bring it to someone else. The Shulchan Aruch codifies this idea in OC 135:14 that a Sefer Torah is not to be brought to a prison in which to lein from it even on Rosh hashana or Yom Kippur. There, of course, it would have been a Mitzvah to lein from it, but it is a dishonor to the Sefer Torah – how much more so here.
The Zohar in Parshas Acharei Mos (71b) is even more stringent on the matter. The Zohar forbids the transfer of a Sefer Torah from one shul to another. This is on account of it being an act of disrespect to the Sefer Torah itself. By the same token we do not bring a Sefer Torah to anywhere where it will not be leined from for at least three times.
EXAMPLES OF SHAMING A SEFER TORAH R”L
The notion of respecting a Sefer Torah is found in numerous areas and in other halachos as well.
The Rosh in tractate Megillah (3:13) indicates that the reason why we do not lein from the Haftorah while the Sefer Torah has not been rolled is because it is a bizayon – disrespectful and shameful for the Torah to be opened while they are reading from a Navi. If it is a bizayon for the Torah to be opened while doing a lesser Mitzvah – how much more so is it a bizayon for a Torah to be opened while filming a comedy skit!
Similarly the Tashbatz Vol. III #98 writes that there is a bizayon HaTorah when the Torah is to be read and one leaves the room even just between the verses. We see clearly that merely leaving the Torah is considered a degradation of the Torah.
The Shulchan Aruch writes that when wrapping a Torah the gartel must be swung around the Torah rather than moving the Torah around the gartel – because of Bizayon for the Sefer Torah. This is yet another halacha that shows how careful we must be in the use of a Sefer Torah.
The Kav HaYashar (chapter 54) writes that when a sefer is opened and there is something that gives off a stench in the room – the sefer should be closed. This is true by regular Seforim – how much more so regarding a Sefer Torah.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE NOW
There is no question that this video should be removed from YouTube at once. The very existence of it shames the Torah and undermines the proper veneration that we must have for our Holy Torah. The producers of the video clip should certainly use their talents to bring joy to Klal Yisroel, but they should do so in ways that do not undermine our Torah values, and they should retract the video and explain that it was removed on account of the fac that the Sefer Torah, gartel, and the shul were treated improperly. This can make a Kiddush Hashem out of the affair.
KIDDUSH HASHEM IS GREATER THAN CHILLUL HASHEM
There is a fascinating passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin (6:7): Rabbi Abba Bar Zamina said in the name of Rav Hoshiah: Greater is a Kiddush Hashem then a Chillul Hashem.
The obvious question is that this statement is patently obvious. Of what need was there for Rabbi Hoshiah to state it? One possible answer is that Rabbi Hoshiah was teaching us a profound insight in matters of Chillul Hashem. If someone made a grave error that causes a chillul Hashem, it is not too late for him. He can rise to the occasion and walk it back or make up for the deed that was done.
Rabbi Hoshiah is presenting us that when someone does such an action, when he undoes the action that he had previously violated – then a great Kiddush Hashem has occurred. This Kiddush Hashem that man was endowed with the ability to change and undo a wrong he may have committed and that this is what Hashem wants of us, is actually greater than the original Chillul Hashem – the desecration of Hashem’s Name that he had originally initiated.
The producers should really consider this matter carefully and remove the offending video immediately. Although much work and effort was obviously made in producing it, they know deep down that it is the right thing to do.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org