“The Lord bless you and protect you.” (Numbers 6:24)
Reading from the Torah is an exacting skill because it must be precise; no errors are permitted. To ensure the reader’s accuracy, two gabbaim (an Aramaic term for community wardens; singular is gabbai) stand on each side of the shulchan, or table, and follow closely. If the reader makes a mistake in pronunciation, the gabbaim are responsible for making the correction which the reader then must repeat. This ensures the Torah is read exactly the same way all over the world, linking the Jewish people together.
Now, there is no particular reason for the gabbaim to stand by the shulchan to do this. They could just as easily sit in the first row. The final verse in Parashat Naso (the longest parasha, or portion, in the Torah) offers a lovely interpretation why the gabbaim stand where they do.
Naso says, “When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim…” (Num. 7:89). This describes the fulfillment of God’s promise to do the same in Exodus 25:22. The choreography of the Torah-reading ritual reenacts both these verses every week: the two gabbaim are the two cherubim facing one another and the chanted words of the Torah become God’s voice, rising from above the Ark.
We usually think behaving “in God’s image” refers to acts of honesty, kindness, and generosity. The Torah reading ritual reminds us physically acting out the words of the Torah counts, too.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom