Did you ever notice that when the Torah is lifted up in the synagogue, some people raise their pinky finger and point to the Torah? It’s not my custom personally, but there are a lot of people who do that. They point to the Torah using their pinky finger. The obvious question is: Why the pinky?
There are a bunch of different answers given. But here’s an explanation that I came up with which ties in to both the Purim story and to this week’s Torah portion of Tzav, and has a relevant life message every week of the year.
In the Megillah, Chapter 6, the king couldn’t sleep and asked that the book of chronicles be read to him. He ends up hearing the story of how Mordechai saved his life from a poisoning attempt, and that Mordechai was never rewarded for this. Just then Haman comes to see the king, to request that Mordechai be hung, but before he has a chance to say a word, the king asks him advice on how the king ought to honor someone special. Haman, thought this was about him, so he told the king that this man ought to be dressed in royal garments and ride the king’s own horse, and be led and paraded through the streets… and then the king burst his bubble and told Haman to go do this very thing to honor Mordechai! This is a turning point of the Megillah. It’s the beginning of Haman’s downfall.
The Talmud adds an interesting story that may explain the pinky pointing at the Torah. Here’s what the Talmud adds:
Haman had no choice but to obey the king’s wishes, so very reluctantly he went to get Mordechai. Haman found Mordechai leading the Rabbis in a Torah study class. Haman later asked, “What were you discussing?” Mordechai explained, We were learning the laws of “Kemitzah”. This comes from this week’s Torah portion of Tzav.
What is Kemitzah? When a person brought a flour (as in dough) offering to the Temple, the Kohain would take a fistful of flour, shake off the pinky and thumb, and the flour remaining inside the three clenched fingers was brought as an offering.
Haman listened to all this, and then he said bitterly: It appears that your measly and miniscule 3-fingers of flour overcame my 10,000 talents of silver (which he offered the king for the Jews destruction).
Haman’s bitter (for him) observation is perhaps the reason why some people point a pinky at the Torah when it is raised. Holding the pinky high reminds us of Torah’s strength. It reminds us of the Kemitzah, how a few fingers of flour in observance of a Mitzvah can outweigh and overcome huge sums of money and power. V’Zos HaTorah – This is the Torah! we say as the Torah is held high – we recognize the power and impact of each and every letter and word, each and every Mitzvah. No matter how small or insignificant they may appear they have lasting power and they are what keep our people alive despite the Hamans in each generation.
Whether your custom is to point the pinky at the Torah or not, this is a powerful message and lesson for all of us. Remember Haman’s insightful observation: Your fistful of flour outweighed all my thousands of pieces of silver!
Friends, this is the inner mystical Jewish significance of the Hawaiian Shaka wave. The protruding pinky and thumb with three folded middle fingers. To Jews this isn’t the Shaka, this is the Kemitzah symbol, this is the symbol of Jewish strength, of Jewish courage, of Jewish hope. It’s the power of a little that goes a long way. It emboldens us when we may feel weak and small in the face of overwhelming numbers or seemingly insurmountable problems. This is the symbol of Torah’s great strength in times of challenge and adversity.