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40 Day Fast

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Topic: Fasting, After Torah Falls

Leo wrote:

What are you supposed to do if a Torah falls? Someone told me they were in the room with a Torah on a table and someone else was showing it to children. One side of the Torah rolled off the table and onto the floor. They said that the Torah itself was OK, but they asked if I know what people are supposed to do - should one person fast for a day, 40 people for a day, or one person fast for 40 days? Or is this a "bubba maisa" (tall-tale)?

Dear Leo,

It's no "bubba - maisa."

Maybe you've heard about the kid who told his mother, "Mom, you know that 3,000 year old vase you always worry about that I'll break it ... Well Mom, your worries are over!"

The Torah is a very holy object. To drop a Torah Scroll indicates a certain lack of care and realization of its sanctity - you'd be careful showing some children your 6th dynasty Ming vase, wouldn't you?

When someone does something wrong, certain acts can lessen his accountability. Such an act is called a "Tikun." A Tikun usually follows a rule known as mida kneged mida - meaning that it is related conceptually to the transgression. Fasting 40 days helps atone for the disrespect shown to the Torah, which was given in 40 days. Since everyone present sensed the enormous disgrace and degradation, they too would need to fast.

Now, this forty day fast would not have to be 40 days in a row, and would only include the daylight hours, but not the night before.

Nowadays, people are not as hale and hardy as they used to be. Instead of fasting, therefore, everyone present would give Tzedaka (charity) instead.

In your case, the Sefer Torah did not fall completely to the ground - rather, only one side fell. I asked Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, about this, and he said that since the Sefer Torah did not fall completely, it's not as bad as if it had fallen completely; Tzedaka should be given, however, since the Sefer Torah was nonetheless dishonored.


  • Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 3:3.

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