Every week during the school year I take out the Torah from the Ark in our sanctuary, roll it to the proper column, and help the upcoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah find his or her place in the scroll for the first time. It is a thrilling moment for the student, and for me. Before they begin chanting, I take their non-dominant hand and place it on the dowel, the handle of the scroll, and ask them a few questions. What is the Hebrew word for this dowel? — Eitz Chayim — hopefully, they know the answer. What does that mean in English? — Tree of Life — usually, they get that right. I gently wrap their fingers around it and tell them, “When you are called to the Torah, make sure you hold on to the Eitz Chayim. Because ‘it is a Tree of Life to those who hold it fast, and all who cling to it are . . . ?’”
Now, most students know that the answer is “happy.” Some students go blank from nerves and can’t remember anything. I’ve heard some variations, including “lucky,” “holy,” and, while I wheezed through an asthma attack, one Bat Mitzvah guessed “allergic?”
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