Perhaps the most underappreciated honor that one can receive in shul is to do hagbaha - raising the Torah for the entire congregation to see.
Some people don’t appreciate being honored with hagbaha, because, unlike being called up for an aliyah, hagbaha is not a “talking part.” Some young men however, become very excited with the opportunity to do hagbaha, relishing the opportunity to display their bulging muscles to the entire congregation. You can tell who those people are because they try to open the entire Torah at once while raising it to the rafters.
I often think about a hagbaha incident from my youth, when we davened in the Poilisher Shteeble on the Lower East Side. For some inexplicable reason, Ezra, a man whose hands shook, was given the honor of doing hagbaha. As expected, as soon as Ezra lifted the Torah it wobbled menacingly, and everyone around the bimah rushed to steady it. An annoyed Ezra called out, “I got it! I got it!” My father and I still laugh about that incident.
During this time of year, hagbaha can be somewhat challenging because all of the weight of the Torah is shifted to one side. During the weeks before Simchas Torah when the final parshios of the Torah are read, all of the weight is on the right side. Then, during the weeks after Simchas Torah when the first parshios of the Torah are read, all the weight is on the left side.
There is a symbolic message in the challenging hagbahos of this time of year. The end of the Jewish year is the season of repentance, when we seek to reset ourselves spiritually, and recommit ourselves to the ideals of Torah and serving Hashem. It is immediately followed by our recommencement of our yearly cycle of Torah learning and reading. During this time, we remind ourselves that Torah study, commitment, and observance is not merely for when everything is evenly balanced and relatively easy. It also includes unyielding acceptance, even when life seems unbalanced, and pressures pull us in one (or opposite) directions. Our task is to be able to metaphorically do hagbaha - raising and looking upwards towards the open Torah - even then.
Rav Elimelech Biderman similarly notes that this message is demonstrated in our daily taking of the Four Species on Sukkos. Halachah dictates that until one recites the blessing, one holds the esrog upside down with the pitum facing downwards. This symbolizes that whenever one is in a situation where things seem upside down, or out of whack, when things are as people say, “mitten pitum arup - when the pitum is facing the ground,” even then one must recite a brachah. Doing so demonstrates one’s faith that everything is for the good and exactly how G-d wants it to be. In that merit, hopefully everything will be transformed to what seems good to us as well.
There is an old beloved Yiddish Sukkos song called “ah sukkele.” In a moving tune it relates how the father built a flimsy sukkah for his family to use during the beloved holiday. But then a storm came, and winds pounded the sukkah, threatening to rip it apart. The man’s son turns to his father in fear and asks if the sukkah can withstand such winds? The father reassuringly replies that the sukkah has been withstanding terrible winds and tempests for two thousand years. It will unquestionably withstand this storm as well.
During the seven days of Sukkos, we celebrate the lives of seven of our greatest leaders, the ushpizin, who are called the seven shepherds of Klal Yisroel. By reminding ourselves and contemplating their timeless contribution to our people, we welcome their presence and essence into our sukkah.
The ushpizin teach us how to serve Hashem, even when things are not pleasant, easy or convenient. Each one of them transcended numerous challenges and struggles throughout their lives. It is their moments of triumph over adversity and personal pain that we celebrate and try to internalize during Sukkos. It is the fact that they served Hashem even when things weren’t balanced and the proverbial esrog was upside down.
As we roll the Torah for the end back to the beginning, and as the weight shifts from one side to the other, our hope is that we can proclaim, “I got it! I got it!” - even at those times when our hands are shaky and we feel unbalanced.