Question: I would like to get your opinion on something that has been bothering me for a long time. I am afraid to do hagba (lifting the Torah scroll). I have only done it once in my life ( with a really small Sefer Torah). I should be strong enough but I just have such a fear that I will drop it. I will usually duck out of shul when it’s time for hagbah so that the Gabbai won’t approach me for it and if I do get asked I always refuse which is embarrassing. I would appreciate any advice you could give me as to how to get over this fear.
Generally speaking, hagba is not for everyone. One shouldn’t feel the need to duck out of shul or to feel embarrassed to decline hagba. However, if the avoidance stems from anxiety and lack of confidence rather than inability, it is advisable to confront this fear.
The most successful method to overcome anxiety as well as low confidence is through gradual exposure. This means to slowly practice the activity in progressively greater doses as you gradually build your confidence. On the surface, Hagba may not seem as conducive as other activities to break into components for gradual practice. However, with some creativity it can be done. The art of gradual exposure is to discover the factors that will allow you to break up the hagba task into a gradual progression. As will be explained below, these factors include weight of the Sefer, circumstances in the Shul, time of year, and presence of supportive companion
The weight among Sifrei Torah can vary widely depending on the height of the sefer, wood used for the atzei chaim (handles), and thickness of the parchment. There are also varying levels of pressure to perform the hagba well depending on the amount of people in the Shul as well as your level of familiarity with the mispallelim (congergants). In addition, within each Sefer Torah, the middle parshios (Torah portions) where the Torah is equally balanced is generally easier than those at the beginning at the end. Finally, having a trusted friend with you can help you by providing emotional support as well as physical backup (if necessary) during the actual hagba.
The above factors should be taken into account when deciding which Shul would be most appropriate to begin practicing hagba. A good place to start would be one with some or all of the following variables: a lighter sefer, a smaller shul where you feel comfortable in, the right time of year, and the presence of a trusted friend. Once in this shul, you can either ask the gabbai to allow you to do hagba or just hang near him during the time that someone is called for hagba. After successfully achieving it under these conditions, you should try to gradually expose yourself to more and more difficult conditions, thereby building your confidence and decreasing your anxiety.
If you feel that beginning to practice in Shul where others are observing you cause too much pressure, you can attempt lower pressure options. A way to accomplish gradual exposure outside Shul is to begin with simulating hagba. Begin by practicing with similar materials such as a shtender or by tying two heavy sticks to a heavy board. Keep practicing in this manner until you feel comfortable to move on. Another option, which warrants a shaila to determine its appropriateness, is to practice in an empty Shul with a real Torah. If utilizing this option, you should do so together with an experienced hagba person who can coach you and ensure that you are doing it well. Here too, you can keep practicing until you feel totally confident to do so in real life.
May you be mikayem all the interpretations of the brocha of Boruch Asher Yokim Es Hatorah Hazos.
Originally appeared in Yated Neeman