Question: Why does everyone hold up their pinkie and point it toward the Torah during the part of the service when the Torah scroll is held up for all to see?
Answer: There is no law recorded in Shulchan Aruch (Jewish Code of Law) that mandates pointing with any finger towards the Torah when it is raised up before the congregation. The Shulchan Aruch only states that it is a Mitzva for all men and women to see the written text of the Torah, to bow, and to say, “This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel.” The prevalent custom is to continue with another verse, “by G-d’s command, through Moshe”. One is only to make this statement upon seeing the actual words on the parchment, preferably seeing the words and being able to read them from where he’s standing. (I use my Bushnell binoculars…just kidding).
The finger pointing is not based on any passage in the Talmud, nor is it to be found in earlier Talmudic commentaries or the classic commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. (There is a Midrash which mentions a similar custom.)
I did find one contemporary authority that suggests that every time the Torah mentions the word “Zeh” or “Zos” (“this”) it means a vivid perception that one can point to with his finger and declare with conviction. When the Jews witnessed the miracles of the splitting of the sea, and the open revelation of G-d’s power, they declared “Zeh Kayli” (“this is my G-d”), and Rashi explains that they were exposed to such miraculous wonders and lofty levels of prophesy that they were able to point” at G-d and declare “This is my G-d.” Similarly, one of the 13 Principles of Faith necessary for one to be true to the dictates of the Torah is to believe that the transmission of the Torah from Moshe till today is the very same Torah without any mutations or inaccuracies. When the Torah scroll is lifted up for all to see what is written inside, we declare with conviction, “This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Jews”. We point with a clarity and conviction that these are the very same words and letters, surviving thousands of years without any mistakes or different versions.
So why the pinky? (Or is it pinkie? Check out my other column, “Ask the English professor”.) Congratulations! You stumped the rabbi. I have some theories, but nothing I can prove. It’s been one thing I just can’t put my finger on. I’ll have to let it slip through my…never mind.
Rabbi Shlomo Soroka
Director of Learning and Education
Saint Louis Kollel, stlkollel.com