- Question: [Sunday, 8th Elul 5782]
In the Hayom Yom for the 4th of Elul we read that when receiving an Aliyah to the Torah and reciting the blessings, the person saying the blessing is to look towards his right. Why is this done, and why do I see many other people doing the opposite and turning to the left?
The Chabad custom, as written in Hayom Yom and as ruled by some Achronim, is to turn the head towards the right side, away from the Torah scroll, while saying the blessings. The custom of others follows the ruling of the Rama to turn their head towards the left side. The reasons and sources behind each custom will be elaborated below.
Explanation: Some Poskim rule that one is to look away from the Torah scroll while saying the blessings in order so it does not appear is if one is reading the blessings from within the Torah scroll which would make the Torah scroll be invalid. Now, the question is raised as to which side one is to turn his head. The Rama, in a rare instance, documents his own personal opinion, and writes that one is to turn his head to the left. The reason for this, explains the Magen Avraham, is because this is considered the right side of G-d who is opposite the person and represented by the Torah scroll. Thus, in order to precedence to the right side of G-d we therefore turn to our left. A similar law can be found regarding the movement of the bows by Sim Shalom of Shemoneh Esrei, that we first bow towards our left being that G-d is standing opposite us, and therefore this is considered bowing towards G-d’s right. Other Poskim however question this comparison, and rather explain the reason of turning to the left is because one should turn towards the Baal Korei who stands towards the left of the Olah. Other Poskim, however argue and rule that one should turn towards his right, as is always the rule that one should always turn to the right side. This is in addition to the fact that by turning to the right side one turns away from the Torah scroll and hence emphasizes more the idea that the blessings are not written in the scroll. Some suggest that the difference in custom is based on the side that the Olah stands; if he stands to the left of the Baal Korei then he is to turn to his left away from the Torah scroll, and if he stands to the right of the Baal Korei as is the custom today then he is to turn to his right, away from the Torah scroll. Other Poskim completely argue on the entire premises that one is required to turn his head away during the blessings being that in any event the Torah scroll is closed while the blessings are recited. Practically, the Chabad custom is to turn to the right, but only slightly seemingly suspecting also for the second opinion who does not require this to be done.
Sources: Poskim who rule that one is to turn his face away from the Torah scroll while saying the blessing: Rama 139:4; Kol Bo, brought in Beis Yosef 139 Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that one is not to turn his face away from the Sefer Torah during the blessing and is to leave the Sefer Torah open. [Taz 139:4 in name of Bach; Maharikash 139:6; Piskei Maharash Melublin 67; Nehar Mitzrayim 4; See Aruch Hashulchan 139:13] Poskim who rule that one is to turn his face to the left: Rama 139:4; M”A 139:8; 123:3; See Aruch Hashulchan 139:13 Poskim who rule that one is to turn his face to the right: Makor Chaim of Chavos Yair 139; Aruch Hashulchan 139:13; Sefer Haminhagim p. 13; Shulchan Menachem 1:260; Rav SZ”A in Halichos Shlomo Piskeiy Teshuvos 139 footnote 62; See Chikrei Haminhagim 2:190-193; See Piskeiy Teshuvos 139 footnote 62
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