Which Right is Rite
Rabbi Moshe Donnebaum
|Every movement in our lives, no matter how trivial and unimportant it may seem, is
governed by halacha. This world is termed Olam Ha'ma'aseh - the World of Action - because
literally every action is governed by rules and regulations. The purpose of these
regulations is evident from the well-known mishna, where Rabbi Chanania ben Akashia says,
"The Holy One Blessed is He, wished to confer merit upon Israel, therefore He gave
them Torah and mitzvos in abundance as it is said, "Hashem desired for the sake of
[Israel's] righteousness, that the Torah be made great and glorious." 1
Chazal say, "Kol pinos sheato poneh, lo yehe ela derech yamin", literally, all turns that you make, should only be to the right. 2 Indeed, this dictum (which we shall call the rule of "turning to the right") is one of the general principles that underlie the performance of mitzvos. This principle applies to various areas of halacha, both mitzva and custom. 3 The Poskim discuss and debate the parameters of this rule - the situations in which it applies, and how, precisely, it is performed 4 - and we will endeavour to give the reader a brief overview.
Origins of the rule
The Mizbeach (altar) had a ramp on its south side, and in order to perform the avoda, (service) in the Beis Hamikdash, the kohen would ascend up this ramp. The procedure is described in the Mishna: "All those who ascend to the Mizbeach ascend toward the right and go around and descend on the left."5 That is, after ascending the ramp, 6 the kohen turned towards the southeast corner of the mizbeach, located to his right, encircle the Altar in a counter-clockwise fashion, making a series of four right hand turns. Since the kohen always faced the Altar as he was circling it, even though he was moving in a counter-clockwise direction, he always moved to his right. Hence the rule: Whenever you turn, turn to the right. A baraisa 7 derives the rule from verses 8 describing the Yam shel Shlomo, the basin serving as a mikva for the kohanim, built by Shlomo Hamelech. 9
As simple and straightforward this rule may seem, in regard to encircling the Mizbeach, its application in relation to other mitzvos is a source of major controversy among the Poskim. The precise impact of "turning to the right" differs depending on the practical application in question. There are four different scenarios of turning while performing a variety of mitzvos (or minhagim, customs) where the rule of "turning to the right" is applicable. After listing these four variations, we will consider the different views among the Poskim concerning the definition of the "turning to the right" rule, and its application in each situation.10
Four Variations of Turning
Type A: Encircling another object, for example, encircling the Bima during the Hashanos, Hakafos, and removing the Sefer Torah from the Aron and carrying it to the Bima.
Type B: Moving one's hand (in front of one's body) in the performance of a mitzva while remaining stationary, for example, lighting the Chanuka menora11.
Type C: Revolving one's self around in a full circle while remaining in one place, for example, the kohanim during Bircas Kohanim. Does one revolve in a clockwise direction or a counter-clockwise direction.
Type D: Revolving an item around oneself while remaining stationary, for example, the waving of the lulav in four directions, according to those who follow the custom of the Maharil.12
The Different Opinions
The majority of the Rishonim13 explain the rule of "turning to the right" at its simplest level: any turning done in connection to a mitzva, should be done to the right. Therefore, when lighting Chanuka lights (Type B) one begins with the candle to the far left and continues toward the right. Encircling another object (Type A) would be in a counter-clockwise direction, identical to the kohen encircling the mizbeach. When revolving oneself (Type C) or an item in a full circle, (Type D), turning towards the right would require circling in a clockwise motion. This is also the view of the Shulchan Aruch.14
However the Levush15 is of a contrary opinion. "Turning to the right" requires one to turn towards the right immediately, enabling the commencement of the mitzva to be on the right. Hence, with regard to Chanuka lights (Type B) one would begin lighting the candle on the far right, and continue towards the left. The Taz also agrees with the Levush in this instance.16 However, with regard to revolving oneself (Type C) or an item in a full circle (Type D), the Levush and the Taz differ. The former maintains that one should revolve in a counter-clockwise fashion,17 whereas the latter agrees with the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch: one should revolve in a clockwise manner.18
The Chasam Sofer has a different approach to this issue.19 Citing a Gemara in Yoma 20 which discusses the order of the matonos (sprinklings) on the mizbeach hazahav, he derives the concept of finishing on one's right.21 As mentioned above, when encircling the mizbeach, the kohen would face the mizbeach for the entire circuit. Thus, when returning from the last corner (the southwestern one) to the ramp, the kohen would be turning and finishing on his right. Similarly, argues the Chasam Sofer, when revolving oneself in one place (Type C) the final turn back to the original position would be to the right. The same, he says, applies to performing a mitzva in front of oneself from side to side, such as lighting Chanuka lights (Type B). By beginning at one's left and continuing to the right, one thereby concludes the mitzva on his right. However when revolving an item around oneself while standing stationary (Type D), one should turn counter-clockwise, in order to finish the mitzva on his right. Although turning in a clockwise motion would mean commencing to the right side, since this would mean than one concludes to one's left, the counter-clockwise turn is preferred.
With regard to the direction of lighting the Chanuka lights, other issues may affect the general rule of "turning to the right". 23
A unique aspect of Mitzvas Ner Chanuka, 24 is the prescription of multiple levels of performing the mitzva. The Baraisa 25 enumerates these levels, and Shulchan Aruch 26 rules accordingly. Mehadrin, those who pursue mitzvos, have one light each night for each member of their household; mehadrin min hamehadrin, those who most fervently pursue mitzvos, begin by lighting one light on the first night, and continue by increasing the number of lights from one to eight, corresponding to the number of days of Chanuka which have already passed.27 During the actual nes of the Chanuka oil, as each day passed and the menora miraculously continued to be lit, the miracle became greater. The addition of an extra light with each passing day, symbolizes this aspect of Chanuka. (The common custom among Ashkenazic Jewry is to follow the mehadrin min hamehadrin approach, where every member of the household kindles an extra light on each succeeding night.)28
Since it is the extra light added each evening that symbolizes the greatness of the miracle, it is this new light that should be lit first on each subsequent night, immediately after pronouncing the brachos. Some Poskim29 view this consideration as a factor overriding other considerations in the order of lighting, taking precedence over, for example, the rule of lighting within a tefach of the doorway.
Encircling of the Bima
Encircling the Bima in our Mikdash Me'at, in shul during the Hakafos of Hoshanos and Simchas Torah, or, more commonly, taking the Sefer Torah to the Bima and returning it to the Aron Hakodesh, are comparable to the kohen encircling the mizbeach during the zerikas dam of the korbanos, (that is, Type A) and therefore would require a counter-clockwise circuit. Although from the perspective of the congregants situated in front of the Bima, turning to their right would mean circling the Bima in a clockwise manner, nevertheless the poskim30 explain that since the "encircling of the Bima" only begins after an about face, when the congregants are facing the Bima, the rule of "turning to the right" only takes effect from that time. Similarly, when removing the Sefer Torah from the Aron Hakodesh, the rule of "turning to the right" only takes effect once facing the Bima, not while facing the Aron Hakodesh. This also necessitates a counter-clockwise circuit around the Bima.
There seems to be a dispute among the Poskim, however, with regard to the initial about face (when removing the Sefer Torah from the Aron Hakodesh, or when the congregants in the front of the shul turn around to commence the Hoshanos Hakafos). 31 Does one turns to the left where he will ultimately begin his Hakafa or to does he turn to the right, as all turns are to the right?32
Another application of encircling the Bima is when one is called up to the Torah. The Terumas Hadeshen33 says that one should take the shortest route when being called up to the Torah, and the longer one when returning to his place thereafter, thus making a full circle. The Beis Yosef 34 understands this ruling of the Terumas Hadeshen to apply when the shortest route involves a turn to the left. The rule of turning to the right only applies in a case where both routes are equivalent in distance. The Chasam Sofer, 35 however, sees the Terumas Hadeshen as referring to a case where both routes are to his right, in which case he takes the shorter way. But when only one route goes to the right, it takes precedence over another, shorter, route. 36
Opening the Paroches
An interesting application of the rule turning to the right is with regard to the opening the Paroches (curtain) of the Aron Hakodesh. Simply, this is a mitzva one performs from side to side; while remaining stationary like the lighting of the Chanuka candles (Type B). Accordingly, those who follow the view of the Shulchan Aruch (and Chasam Sofer) that one lights the Chanuka lights from left to right, should do likewise with the Paroches. However, in practice, this is not the case. Many, if not most, Ashkenazic communities open the Paroches from right to left, although the custom with regard to Chanuka is to follow the Shulchan Aruch and light from left to right. 37
Hagbaha38 involves turning around while holding the open Sefer Torah, enabling all congregants to see the script of the Sefer Torah. 39
With the exception of the Levush, according to the views cited earlier, one would expect to turn a continuous full circle, in a clockwise direction. However, the Shulchan Aruch 40 rules that the proper order is to turn to the left and then to the right, to the front and then to the rear, seemingly disregarding the general rule of turning to the right. The Shulchan Aruch's ruling is based on that of Maseches Sofrim. 41 Nevertheless, many have the custom to perform hagbaha in a full, continuous circle. 42
A universal custom practiced in nearly all communities is the minhag of turning around during Kabbalas Shabbos 43, to face the back of the Shul 44 to represent one turning to greet the Shabbos bride as she enters, thus ushering in the arrival of Shabbos. There are a variety of customs regarding the precise turning motion that one employs45. However, the correct procedure for turning depends on the views mentioned earlier.
1 Makkos 23b.
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