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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Simchat Torah 5776


As we, thank God, once again complete reading the Torah this Simchat Torah [which I translate as “Celebration of the Torah”], it is not obvious why now? Why do we finish reading the Torah on this holiday in particular.

We begin by looking at the one time the Torah itself tells us to read Torah. It is once every seven years on Sukkot.

דברים פרשת וילך פרק לא
Deuteronomy Chapter 31
(10) Then Moshe commanded them, saying, “At the end of seven years, at the designated time of the sh’mittah year, on the holiday of Sukkot;
(י) וַיְצַו מֹשֶׁה אוֹתָם לֵאמֹר מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים בְּמֹעֵד שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה בְּחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת:
(11) “When all of Israel arrives to see the face of Hashem your God, at the place He will choose, read this Torah opposite all of Israel for their ears.
(יא) בְּבוֹא כָל־יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵרָאוֹת אֶת־פְּנֵי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחָר תִּקְרָא אֶת־הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת נֶגֶד כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם:
(12) “Congregate the nation: the men, the women, the children, and the sojourners who are in your gates, so that they will hear and so that they will learn and then they will fear Hashem your God; then they will keep and perform all the words of this Torah.
(יב) הַקְהֵל אֶת־הָעָם הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ וּלְמַעַן יִלְמְדוּ וְיָרְאוּ אֶת־יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְשָׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת:
(13) “And their children who do not know will hear and learn to fear Hashem your God all of the days that you live on the land, that you cross the Jordan there to inherit it.”
(יג) וּבְנֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יָדְעוּ יִשְׁמְעוּ וְלָמְדוּ לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם כָּל־הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם חַיִּים עַל־הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּן שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ: פ

We find a return to Torah reading in the book of Nehemia on the holiday of Sukkot, including the Atzeret. This prompts the people to cry as they discover all the laws they have missed. However, they are encouraged instead to celebrate. For the first time in many years they celebrate Sukkot.
נחמיה פרק ח
Nehemia, Chapter 8
(1) Then the entire nation were gathered like one person in the thoroughfare that was in front of the Water Gate; then they said to Ezra the Scribe to bring the book of the Torah of Moses that Hashem commanded Israel.
(א) וַיֵּאָסְפוּ כָל־הָעָם כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד אֶל־הָרְחוֹב אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי שַׁעַר־הַמָּיִם וַיֹּאמְרוּ לְעֶזְרָא הַסֹּפֵר לְהָבִיא אֶת־סֵפֶר תּוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּה יְקֹוָק אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל:
(2) Then Ezra the Cohen brought the Torah in front of the congregation, from man to woman and all who could understand it through hearing on the first day of the seventh month.
(ב) וַיָּבִיא עֶזְרָא הַכֹּהֵן אֶת־הַתּוֹרָה לִפְנֵי הַקָּהָל מֵאִישׁ וְעַד־אִשָּׁה וְכֹל מֵבִין לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי:
(3) Then he read from it in front of the thoroughfare that was in front of the Water Gate, from the first light until midday, opposite the men, the women, and those who understand; and the ears of all of the nation were towards the book of Torah.
(ג) וַיִּקְרָא־בוֹ לִפְנֵי הָרְחוֹב אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי שַׁעַר־הַמַּיִם מִן־הָאוֹר עַד־מַחֲצִית הַיּוֹם נֶגֶד הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַמְּבִינִים וְאָזְנֵי כָל־הָעָם אֶל־סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה:
(4) Then Ezra the Scribe stood up on the wood pulpit that they made for the matter; and with him stood Matitiyah, Shema, Anaya, Uriyah, Chilkiyah, and Ma’aseyah on his right; and on his left P’daya, Misha’el, Malkiyah, Chashum, Chashbadanah, Zekharyah, and M’shullam.
(ד) וַיַּעֲמֹד עֶזְרָא הַסֹּפֵר עַל־מִגְדַּל־עֵץ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ לַדָּבָר וַיַּעֲמֹד אֶצְלוֹ מַתִּתְיָה וְשֶׁמַע וַעֲנָיָה וְאוּרִיָּה וְחִלְקִיָּה וּמַעֲשֵׂיָה עַל־יְמִינוֹ וּמִשְּׂמֹאלוֹ פְּדָיָה וּמִישָׁאֵל וּמַלְכִּיָּה וְחָשֻׁם וְחַשְׁבַּדָּנָה זְכַרְיָה מְשֻׁלָּם: פ
(5) Then Ezra the Scribe opened the book for the eyes of all of the nation, for he was above the entire nation; and in his opening of it, the entire nation stood up.
(ה) וַיִּפְתַּח עֶזְרָא הַסֵּפֶר לְעֵינֵי כָל־הָעָם כִּי־מֵעַל כָּל־הָעָם הָיָה וּכְפִתְחוֹ עָמְדוּ כָל־הָעָם:
(6) Then Ezra blessed Hashem the God, the Great, and the entire nation answered, “Amen, amen,” while raising their hands; then they bowed and prostrated to Hashem, faces to the ground.
(ו) וַיְבָרֶךְ עֶזְרָא אֶת־יְקֹוָק הָאֱלֹהִים הַגָּדוֹל וַיַּעֲנוּ כָל־הָעָם אָמֵן אָמֵן בְּמֹעַל יְדֵיהֶם וַיִּקְּדוּ וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲוֻ לַיקֹוָק אַפַּיִם אָרְצָה:
(7) Then Yeshua, Bani, Sherevyah, Yamin, Akuv, Shabbtai, Hodiyah, Ma’aseyah, K’lita, Azaryah, Yozavad, Chanan, P’layah, and the Levites helped the nation understand the Torah; and the nation [remained] in their standing.
(ז) וְיֵשׁוּעַ וּבָנִי וְשֵׁרֵבְיָה יָמִין עַקּוּב שַׁבְּתַי הוֹדִיָּה מַעֲשֵׂיָה קְלִיטָא עֲזַרְיָה יוֹזָבָד חָנָן פְּלָאיָה וְהַלְוִיִּם מְבִינִים אֶת־הָעָם לַתּוֹרָה וְהָעָם עַל־עָמְדָם:
(8) Then they read from the book of the Torah of the God distinctly, and gave sense; and they made them understand the reading.
(ח) וַיִּקְרְאוּ בַסֵּפֶר בְּתוֹרַת הָאֱלֹהִים מְפֹרָשׁ וְשׂוֹם שֶׂכֶל וַיָּבִינוּ בַּמִּקְרָא: ס
(9) Then said Nehemiah, the Tirshata, and Ezra the Cohen the Scribe, and the Levite who made the nation understand, to all of the nation, “Today is sanctified to Hashem your God; do not mourn nor cry;” for the entire nation was crying in their hearing the words of the Torah.
(ט) וַיֹּאמֶר נְחֶמְיָה הוּא הַתִּרְשָׁתָא וְעֶזְרָא הַכֹּהֵן הַסֹּפֵר וְהַלְוִיִּם הַמְּבִינִים אֶת־הָעָם לְכָל־הָעָם הַיּוֹם קָדֹשׁ־הוּא לַיקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אַל־תִּתְאַבְּלוּ וְאַל־תִּבְכּוּ כִּי בוֹכִים כָּל־הָעָם כְּשָׁמְעָם אֶת־דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה:
(10) Then he said to them, “Go eat fatty food and drink sweet drinks; then send portions to one who has nothing prepared for him; for today is sanctified to our Lord, and do not be sad for the joy of the Hashem, that is your strength.”
(י) וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם לְכוּ אִכְלוּ מַשְׁמַנִּים וּשְׁתוּ מַמְתַקִּים וְשִׁלְחוּ מָנוֹת לְאֵין נָכוֹן לוֹ כִּי־קָדוֹשׁ הַיּוֹם לַאֲדֹנֵינוּ וְאַל־תֵּעָצֵבוּ כִּי־חֶדְוַת יְקֹוָק הִיא מָעֻזְּכֶם:
(11) Then the Levites quieted the entire nation, saying, “Hush, for today it sanctified; do not be sad.”
(יא) וְהַלְוִיִּם מַחְשִׁים לְכָל־הָעָם לֵאמֹר הַסּוּ כִּי הַיּוֹם קָדֹשׁ וְאַל־תֵּעָצֵבוּ:
(12) Then the entire nation went to eat, drink, to send portions, and to make a great celebration, for they understood the matters that were made known to them.
(יב) וַיֵּלְכוּ כָל־הָעָם לֶאֱכֹל וְלִשְׁתּוֹת וּלְשַׁלַּח מָנוֹת וְלַעֲשׂוֹת שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה כִּי הֵבִינוּ בַּדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר הוֹדִיעוּ לָהֶם: ס
(13) Then on the second day the heads of the families of all of the nation, the cohanim, and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the Scribe, to ponder the words of the Torah.
(יג) וּבַיּוֹם הַשֵּׁנִי נֶאֶסְפוּ רָאשֵׁי הָאָבוֹת לְכָל־הָעָם הַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַלְוִיִּם אֶל־עֶזְרָא הַסֹּפֵר וּלְהַשְׂכִּיל אֶל־דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה:
(14) Then they found written in the Torah that Hashem commanded by the hand of Moses that the children of Israel should dwell in sukkot on the holiday in the seventh month.
(יד) וַיִּמְצְאוּ כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְקֹוָק בְּיַד־מֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יֵשְׁבוּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּסֻּכּוֹת בֶּחָג בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי:
(15) And that they should made heard and pass a voice in all of their cities and Jerusalem saying, “Go out to the mountain and bring olive leaves, leaves of an olive oil tree, leaves of myrtles, leaves of date trees, and leaves of willow to make sukkot as is written.
(טו) וַאֲשֶׁר יַשְׁמִיעוּ וְיַעֲבִירוּ קוֹל בְּכָל־עָרֵיהֶם וּבִירוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר צְאוּ הָהָר וְהָבִיאוּ עֲלֵי־זַיִת וַעֲלֵי־עֵץ שֶׁמֶן וַעֲלֵי הֲדַס וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת לַעֲשֹׂת סֻכֹּת כַּכָּתוּב: פ
(16) Then the nation went out, brought, and made for themselves sukkot, a person on his roof, in their courtyards, in the courtyards of the house of the God, and in the thoroughfare of the Water Gate and the thoroughfare of the Ephramite Gate.
(טז) וַיֵּצְאוּ הָעָם וַיָּבִיאוּ וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם סֻכּוֹת אִישׁ עַל־גַּגּוֹ וּבְחַצְרֹתֵיהֶם וּבְחַצְרוֹת בֵּית הָאֱלֹהִים וּבִרְחוֹב שַׁעַר הַמַּיִם וּבִרְחוֹב שַׁעַר אֶפְרָיִם:
(17) Then the entire congregation that returned from captivity made sukkot and dwelled in sukkot which the children of Israel had not made since the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day; then there was very great celebration.
(יז) וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כָל־הַקָּהָל הַשָּׁבִים מִן־הַשְּׁבִי סֻכּוֹת וַיֵּשְׁבוּ בַסֻּכּוֹת כִּי לֹא־עָשׂוּ מִימֵי יֵשׁוּעַ בִּן־נוּן כֵּן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד הַיּוֹם הַהוּא וַתְּהִי שִׂמְחָה גְּדוֹלָה מְאֹד:
(18) Then he read from the book of the Torah of the God, day by day, from the first day until the last day; then they made a holiday for seven days and on the eighth day an assembly [atzeret] as per law.
(יח) וַיִּקְרָא בְּסֵפֶר תּוֹרַת הָאֱלֹהִים יוֹם בְּיוֹם מִן־הַיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן עַד הַיּוֹם הָאַחֲרוֹן וַיַּעֲשׂוּ־חָג שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי עֲצֶרֶת כַּמִּשְׁפָּט: פ

As a side note, there is a deep connection between Moses and Ezra as teachers of Torah. The Talmud makes Ezra into a second Moses. For me this further cements a connection between the holiday of Sukkot and the reading of the Torah.
תוספתא מסכת סנהדרין (צוקרמאנדל) פרק ד, הלכה ז
Tosefta, Tractate Sanhedrin (Tzukermendal Edition) Chapter 4, Law 7
ר' יוסי אומ' ראוי היה עזרא שתינתן תורה על ידו אילמלא קידמו משה
Rebbi Yose says: Ezra was worthy to have the Torah given through his hand, had not Moses come before him.
נאמרה במשה עלייה ונאמרה בעזרא עלייה נאמרה במשה עלייה שנ' ומשה עלה אל האלהים נאמרה בעזרא עלייה הוא עזרא עלה מבבל
It is said about Moses that he ascended up and and it is said about  Ezra that he ascended. It is said about Moshe that he ascended, as it says, “And Moses ascended to the God.” It is said about Ezra that the ascended, “He Ezra ascended from Babylonia.”
מה עלייה האמורה במשה למד תורה לישראל שנ' ואתי צוה י"י בעת ההיא ללמד אתכם חקים ומשפטים אף עלייה האמורה בעזרא למד תורה בישר' שנ' כי עזרא הכין את לבבו לדרוש בתורת י"י ולעשות וללמד בישר' חוק ומשפט
Just as in the ascension it said about Moses that he taught Torah to Israel, as it says, “And me Hashem commanded at that time to teach you statutes and law,” so too in the ascension said about Ezra he taught Torah in Israel, as it says, “For Ezra prepared his heart to expound on the Torah of Hashem, and to perform and teach in Israel statute and law.”

However, we see in the next two sources that there was not always a set way to read Torah throughout the year. In the first source we see a tradition of moving along further in the Torah each time it is read: Shabbat morning, Shabbat afternoon, Monday, and Thursday. In the second source we see a Western tradition [it is unclear if this means all of Israel, or maybe just some cities there] of taking three years to read the Torah. It is not clear in either of these traditions when a complete Torah reading would finish.
תוספתא מסכת מגילה (ליברמן) פרק ג, הלכה י
Tosefta, Tractate Megillah (Lieberman Edition), Chapter 3, Law 10
From the place where we stop on Shabbat in the morning, there we begin in the afternoon. In the afternoon, from there we begin on Monday. From Monday, there we begin on Thursday. On Thursday: from there on Thursday we begin on the next Shabbat.
ממקום שפוסקין שבת בשחרית שם מתחילין במנחה במנחה משם מתחילין בשיני בשיני משם מתחילין בחמשי בחמשי משם מתחילין לשבת הבאה
Rebbi Yehuda says, “The place where we stop on Shabbat in the morning, there we begin on next Shabbat.”
ר' יהודה אומר מקו' שפוסקין בשבת בשחרית משם מתחילין לשבת הבאה

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף כט עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah, 29b
For the children of the West who finish the Torah in three years.
לבני מערבא דמסקי לדאורייתא בתלת שנין.

Here we also see a tradition of reading the portion about the sacrifices of Sukkot for each day of Sukkot, including the additional eighth day. This may only refer to the additional portion [מפטיר] in regards to the days that are actual holidays, though the language seems to imply this was the entire portion actually read. There is no mention of reading the last portion of the Torah.
תוספתא מסכת מגילה (ליברמן) פרק ג, הלכה ח
Tosefta, Tractate Megillah (Lieberman Edition), Chapter 3, Law 8
On the holiday [Sukkot]: the first of the holiday we read, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth day of this month, a holiday of Sukkot.’” On the second, “On the second day.” On the third, “And on the third day.” On the fourth, “And on the fourth day.” On the fifth, “And on the fifth day.” On the sixth, “And on the sixth day.” On the seventh, “And on the seventh day.” On the eighth, “And on the eighth day.”
ביום טוב הראשון של חג קורין דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר בחמשה עשר יום לחדש הזה חג הסוכות וגו' בשיני ביום השני בשלישי וביום השלישי ברביעי וביום הרביעי בחמשי וביום החמשי בששי וביום הששי בשביעי וביום השביעי בשמיני וביום השמיני

However, the Babylonian Talmud does report a tradition of reading וזאת הברכבה [This is the blessing], the last portion of the Torah, on the additional second day of Sh’mini Atzeret. However, it does not tell us why.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף לא עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah, 31a
On the holiday, on the last day we read, “Every first born,” the commandments, the statutes, and the firstborn. And we conclude the reading with, “Then it was when Solomon finished.”
יום טוב האחרון קורין כל הבכור מצות וחוקים ובכור, ומפטירין ויהי ככלות שלמה.
The next day we read, “And this is the blessing,” and conclude the reading, “Then Solomon stood up.”
למחר קורין וזאת הברכה ומפטירין ויעמד שלמה.

The Ran gives us two reasons [in two commentaries] as to why we read the last portion of the Torah on the second day of Sh’mini Atzeret. The first is connected to finishing the Torah, but the second is as a final blessing for us as we finish the holiday season.
חידושי הר"ן מסכת מגילה דף לא עמוד א
Novella of the Ran, Tractate Megillah, 31a
Nissim of Gerona, 14th Century Spain
The next day we read, “And this is the blessing.” Because of the finishing of the Torah.
למחר קורין וזאת הברכה. משום אסוקי אוריתא

הר"ן על הרי"ף מסכת מגילה דף יא עמוד א
The Ran on the Rif, Tractate Megillah, 11a
The next day we read, “And this is the blessing.” Because that is the end of all of the holidays, we finish with the blessing of Moses, our teacher, who blessed Israel.
למחר קורין וזאת הברכה. לפי שהוא סוף כל המועדות חותמין בברכת משה רבינו שבירך את ישראל:

However, Rav Meir of Rothenburg seems unsure as to why we read “And this is the blessing,” at the end of the holiday. It is possible to read that he is only unsure about why we read the Haftarah that we do, but I think it is a better read his unsurity regarding the Torah reading as well.
הלכות שמחות סימן ה
Hilkhot S’machot, Siman 5
Meir of Rothenburg, 13th Century Germany
And the next day we read “And this is the blessing,” and we conclude the reading, “Then Solomon stood up.” But we conclude with, “Then it was after the death of Moses.” For these I did not hear a reason as to why.
ולמחר קורין וזאת הברכה ומפטירין ויעמד שלמה ואנו מפטירין ויהי אחרי מות משה, באלו לא שמעתי טעם למה.

The Machzor Vitri, out of Rashi’s school, gives us two reasons. One is that Sh’mini Atzeret is an extra great celebration. Therefore we celebrate the Torah on it. Further and similar to our second explanation of the Ran, the last days of the holiday are a blessing from the King. So we read the blessing to us from Moses.
מחזור ויטרי סימן שפה
Machzor Vitri, Siman 385
Simchah of Vitri, 12th Century Rhineland
The ninth day which is possibly the eighth, we read, “And this is the blessing.” In order to connect it to the celebration of the Torah. That we are worthy to complete it on the celebration of the holiday. For the word “celebration” is doubled in the Torah about Shmini Atzeret. Since the celebration of the holiday is great.
יום תשיעי ספק שמיני קורין וזאת הברכה. כדי לסמוך שמחת התורה. שזכו לסיימה לשמחת החג. שכן נכפלה שמחה במקרא בשמיני עצרת. לפי ששמחת החג מרובה.
And further to connect the blessing of the King to the blessing of Moses. For the last day of the holiday was a blessing of the King, and the Sages said that it is separated from the holiday, for it is deserving of a blessing in and of itself.
ועוד כדי לסמוך ברכת המלך לברכת משה. שביום טוב האחרון היתה ברכת המלך כמו שאמרו חכמים שהוא חלוק מן החג שזקוק לברכה בפני עצמה.

To add some complications to the matter, the Siach Yitzchak brings an issue regarding celebrating the Torah on the last day of the holiday. [He quotes this from the Pitchei T’shuva on Orech Chayyim. However, there is no Pitchei T’shuva on Orech Chayyim and I could not find his actual source.] We are not allowed to mix two celebrations. How can we mix the holiday with celebrating the Torah. I did not bring his rather technical solution. And maybe one could answer because the word שמחה [celebration] occurs twice about the last day of the holiday, so it has room for extra celebration. What this source does show is that up until modern times it is still not clear why we celebrate finishing the Torah now.
שו"ת שיח יצחק סימן רלה
Responsa of the Siach Yitzchak, Siman 235
Yitzchak ber Weiss, 19th and 20th Centuries Slovakia
And I found some number of years ago in the Pitchei T’shuva and on the part of Orech Chayyim Siman 669 he write, “We read, ‘And this is the blessing,’ to the end of the Torah. And these are his words, ‘I do not know initially why they put the completion on the holiday. And it is the opposite of that which we said in the first chapter of Mo’ed Kattan, about not mixing one celebration with another.
ומצאתי זה איזה שנים בפתחי תשובה על חאו"ח סי' תרס"ט כותב, קורין וזאת הברכה עד סוף התורה, וז"ל, לא ידעתי אמאי הניחו לכתחלה הסיום על יו"ט, והוא להיפך מהא דאמרינן פ"ק דמו"ק [ט' ע"א], גבי אין מערבין שמחה בשמחה

If I may present my own humble opinion, I think this holiday which has great joy also has a great connection from Moses to Ezra in relearning the Torah and rediscovering our fear and love of God. It is this great time of joy for last years harvest and trepidation of next year’s rain that makes this the perfect time for rediscovering both of those emotions through God’s Torah.

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