Have you ever witnessed a Sefer Torah accidentally fall to the ground?
I have. Three times. As a rabbi’s kid and a rabbi—having spent A LOT of time in synagogues and around Sifrei Torah—three times is not so bad. If you’ve witnessed it, too, then you know it is shocking. That’s why I can tell you about all three times in which I was there when a Torah fell to the ground.
If you were at Daily Minyan Monday morning you would have witnessed it too.
What is the proper response?
Many of us may be familiar with the notion that should we witness a Torah fall we fast for 40 days. It is important to note that it is a day fast, meaning, we can eat when it is dark. Whew! If it was a full-on Tisha B’Av or Yom Kippur fast that would be difficult!
Rabbi David Golinkin, my teacher when I was at the Schechter Institutes in Jerusalem as a rabbinical student, wrote an important Teshuvah on this topic. You can read it here. Bottom line, the fasting custom is not universally accepted nor observed. Rather, the mara d’atra (Halakhic decisor) for a community decides the proper response based on circumstance and context of the community.
In this case, we have decided that we are encouraging those who witnessed the accidental fall of the Torah, and anyone else so moved, to make a contribution to our Etz Hayyim Humash Fund. These contributions will be used to replace or repair our humashim. In addition, to minimize the risk of it happening again, we are immediately re-instituting the role of Gabbayim to our Torah reader. Gabayyim call the aliyot to the Torah, ensure the reading of the Torah, and grasp onto the Attzay Hayyim to hold the Torah in place and prevent accidental falls.
When this happened in Minyan on Monday, many of those present were confused and numbed by the event. And yet, it was also a teachable moment. That, too, is Torah.
—Rabbi Steven Wernick