Saturday, October 15, 2016

Readings for Monday, Monday, October 17 thru Tuesday, October 25, 2016 Sukkoth through Simchat Torah

Readings for Monday, Monday, October 17 thru Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sukkoth through Simchat Torah


(Shabbat Readings for October 22, 2016 are included in this posting.)
Starting with the first day of Sukkoth and ending with Simchat Torah we are confronted by a veritable riot of Torah readings with a reading for each day of the holiday.  The readings are all off-cycle.  In other words they are not part of the regular weekly order.  This is one of those cases of the more you study, the more you need to know.  To understand the terminology of the Torah readings, you need to understand the structure of the holiday period (See Themes below).

Torah (Traditional)
The readings are identical for the first two days of the holiday.  We use two scrolls, one for each set of readings.

October 17  First Day Sukkoth

First Scroll Vayikra or Leviticus (22:26-23:44)
The reading describes the observance of the Festival of Sukkoth.

Second Scroll Bamidbar or Numbers (29:12-16)
The reading describes the sacrifices to be offered on Sukkoth.

Haftarah 14:1-21 Zechariah
Zechariah was one of the last of the prophets.  He was among those who returned from the Babylonian Exile.  In this portion Zechariah described the destruction that was visited upon those who had attacked and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, which was the site for performing the sacrifices.  Eventually, according to the prophecy, these defeated nations will see the error of their ways and will come to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkoth (14:16).

October 18 Second Day Sukkoth

First Scroll Vayikra or Leviticus (22:26-23:44)
The reading describes the observance of the Festival of Sukkoth.

Second Scroll Bamidbar or Numbers (29: 12-16)
The reading describes the sacrifices to be offered on Sukkoth.

Haftarah 8:2-21 First Kings
The portion describes the dedication of the First Temple in the reign of King Solomon.  The ceremony lasted two weeks, the second week of which coincided with the holiday of Sukkoth.

Chol Hamoed or Intermediate Days
The readings for the four days of Chol Hamoed or the Intermediate Days of Sukkoth all come from Bamidbar (Numbers).  Each reading contains a description of the sacrifice that was to be brought on that day of the holiday.

October 19 Chol Hamoed Day 1

29:17-25 Bamidbar (Numbers)
The reading describes the sacrifices to be brought on this day of Sukkoth.

October 20, Chol Hamoed Day 2

29:20-28 Bamidbar (Numbers)
The reading describes the sacrifices to be brought on this day of Sukkoth.

October 21, Chol Hamoed Day 3

29:23-31 Bamidbar (Numbers)
The reading describes the sacrifices to be brought on this day of Sukkoth.

Torah Readings for Shabbat

October 22 Shabbat Chol Hamoed

First Scroll 33:12-34:26 Shemot (Exodus)
The reading describes the events following the destruction of the Golden Calf.  Moshe climbs the mountain a second time where he gets a second copy of the commandments.  God reassures Moses that the covenant has been renewed.  The strength of the people of Israel will be tied to their loyalty to God’s teachings.

Second Scroll 29:23-38 Bamidbar (Numbers)
The reading describes the sacrifices to be brought on this day of Sukkoth.

Haftarah 38:18-39-16 Ezekiel
Ezekiel is one of the more famous prophets known best for the Valley of the Dry Bones and the hymn that begins “Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the sky.  And the big wheel runs by faith and the little wheel runs by the grace of God.”  The reading describes the sacrifices to be offered on that day of the holiday.  The prophecy includes a description of an apocalyptic war against Gog, King of Magog.  This is the ultimate battle between good and evil, in which good triumphs and it will be fought during Sukkoth.

October 23 Hoshana Rabbah or The Great Hoshana

29:26-34 Bamidbar (Numbers)
The reading describes the sacrifices to be brought on this day of Sukkoth.

October 24 Shemini Atzeret Atzeres) or Eighth Day of Assembly

First Scroll 14:22-16:17 Devarim (Deuteronomy)
The first reading deals with tithing.

Second Scroll 29:35-30:1 Bamidbar (Numbers)
The second reading describes the sacrifices offered on that day.

Haftarah 8:54-9:1 First Kings
The reading describes the final day of the ceremonies marking the end of the dedication of the First Temple by King Solomon.  This event coincides with Shemini Atzeres.  Just as Solomon sent the people home filled with joy, so we are supposed to find joy in the Eighth Day of Assembly.  In Israel the prophetic portion is Joshua (1:1-18), the portion read elsewhere on Simchat Torah.

October 25, Simchat Torah

First Scroll

Vezot Haberacha (And this is the blessing)

33:1 - 34:12 Devarim (Deuteronomy)
Vezot Haberacha is the final sedrah in the book Devarim (Deuteronomy) and, therefore, in the Torah.  The sedrah takes its name from the first two Hebrew words in the reading.  “And this is the blessing (Vezot Haberacha) wherewith Moshe, man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.”  It is the only sedrah in the weekly cycle that is not read on Shabbat.  It is always read on Simchat Torah, the holiday celebrating the completion and the beginning again of the Torah cycle.  The sedrah has two parts.  Chapter 33 contains Moshe’s blessing of the tribes.  Chapter 34 describes the death of Moshe.  Rabbi Hertz provides the image of Moshe walking through the camp on his way to Mt. Nebo, stopping as he goes, to bestow the blessing on each tribe.  Unlike the Song in last week’s sedrah, the Blessing is full of hope and optimism.  Any attempt at explication of the Blessing would be longer than the Torah reading itself.  But here are a few points of interest:
1.     Bereshit (Genesis) ended with Jacob blessing his sons.  Devarim ends with Moshe blessing the descendants of Jacob’s sons.
2.     Moshe does not mention the tribe of Simeon.  Interestingly enough Simeon does not get a separate blessing from Jacob either.  His blessing is inter-twined with Levi.  Commentators have offered a variety of reasons for this omission.  It should be noted that in Bereshit, Simeon is the brother who is left behind in Egypt when the rest of Jacob’s sons return to Canaan.
3.     The second verse of chapter 33 reads, “…The Lord came from Sinai, And rose from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran….”  According to some commentators, this is a reference to God having offered the Torah to all the nations of the world before the Israelites accepted it.  Seir was the land of Esau’s descendants and Paran was the land of Ishmael’s descendants.  In other words, the Torah is the source of our blessings and we are blessed as long as we keep the Torah.  Yes, one last time we see the theme of Judaism being based on Torah.
Chapter 34 is the stark description of Moshe ascending Mt. Nebo, viewing the Promised Land and meeting death.  One interesting question is who wrote 34:8-11?  Since it describes the world after the death of Moshe, did somebody else, possibly Joshua, write it?  Did Moshe himself write at the direction of God who knew the future?  Of course this question is meaningless if you accept the idea that the Torah was all written much later and is not contemporaneous with the events described.  Verse nine establishes Joshua as the successor of Moshe.  Verse 10 establishes the pre-eminence of Moshe.
But what does verse 12 mean?  The first part of the verse, “and in all the mighty hand” is interpreted as a reference to Moshe receiving the Ten Commandments while “and in all the great terror” is interpreted as a reference to Moshe breaking the first set of Tablets.  Why would a sedrah about the Blessing end on what seems to be such a sour, negative note?  Rabbi Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, uses the commentaries of Rashi, to show that the breaking of the tablets is not a sour, negative action and that the breaking of the tablets helps to provide a tie between the sedrah and Simchat Torah.  At the risk of oversimplification, the argument is as follows.  When the Israelites received the first set of tablets, they were a righteous people because they had not sinned with the golden calf.  When Moshe saw them with the golden calf, he saw them as apostates and apostates according to Jewish teaching are unworthy of the law.  Therefore, he shattered the tablets, even though he did not know if God would approve of such an action.  (They were, after all, God’s tablets, not Moshe’s.)  After forty days, God seemed to be signaling some level of approval since that was when he called Moshe back for the second set of tablets.  The second set of tablets was of greater merit than the first because they were a signal of repentance and a return to God’s ways.  The bond between God and the righteous is strong.  But the bond between those who return and God is even stronger because it has survived even when we have turned away from God.  The Torah is the guide that lets us return to and re-unite with God when we transgress.  Furthermore, “Simchat Torah means rejoicing with the Torah and also means rejoicing of the Torah.”  In other words we rejoice with the Torah, but by observing and studying the Torah, the Torah rejoices with us.
It took forty days for God to indicate some approval for the shattering of the tablets.  But it took forty years, from Sinai to the death of Moshe, for God to place His ultimate seal of approval on Moshe’s act.  Moshe showed courage when he broke the tablets.  He also showed great faith because he had to have believed that something even greater would follow.  (For a fuller explanation, see Torah Studies, pages 342 - 348.)

Second Scroll 1:1-23 Bereshit (Genesis)
The reading describes the events of the first five days of creation.  The reading is consistent with the theme of Simchat Torah, the holiday on which we end the Torah reading cycle and start the cycle all over again.

Third Scroll 29:35-30:1 Bamidbar (Numbers)
This is the same portion that is read on Shemini Atzeret and describes the sacrifice of the day.

Haftarah 1:1-18 Joshua
The Man and the Book:  The Book of Joshua is the first book in the second part of the TaNaCh called Neviim or Prophets.  Along with Judges, Samuel and Kings, Joshua makes up the section of Neviim known as the Former Prophets.  Together these books provide a historic narrative that runs from the death of Moshe to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E.  Authorship of the book is ascribed to different individuals including Joshua, Eleazar (the son of Aaron) and Pinchas (the grandson of Aaron).  The Book of Joshua follows logically from the material read at the end of Devarim.  Basically, the book of Joshua describes the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites.  There are those who contend that instead of the Pentateuch we should have the Hexateuch made up of the Five Books of Moshe and of Joshua.  While Moshe may have died before the opening lines of Joshua are read, the constant use of his name gives this concept a philosophic as well as historic basis for consideration.  Joshua is a book of completion.  The book ends with death of Joshua who dies at the age of 110.  The text then references the burial of Joseph’s bones.  Joseph also died at age 110.  In other words, the book ends with a reference to the man who started the cycle by taking us out of Canaan (Joseph) and to the man who completed the cycle by conquering Canaan (Joshua).  The book also marks the completion of Moshe’s work.  Moshe took us to the borders of the Promised Land.  But it was Joshua who completed the work of Moshe by conquering the Promised Land.  Hence it is a book of completions in the plural.
We know little about the personal life of Joshua.  He is the son of Nun and a member of the tribe of Ephraim.  The text gives him no family.  It is only in legend that he marries Rahab, the reformed harlot who provides him with daughters, but no sons.  Actually, Joshua first appears in the Torah as the one whom Moshe commands to select men to fight against the Amalekites.  In other words, from the start, Joshua appears as a warrior and as Moshe’s first lieutenant or aid de camp.  It is Joshua who ascends part of the way to the top of Sinai with Moshe and Joshua who comes back down with him at the time of the Golden Calf.  It is Joshua, along with Caleb, who disputes the claims of the other spies and urges the Israelites to enter the Promised Land.  Despite all of this, when it comes time to choose Moshe’s successor, Moshe only asks God to choose a worthy person.  He does not ask that Joshua get the job.  Rather, Joshua is chosen by God as Moshe’s successor.  Moshe is the sun.  Joshua is the Moon.  Moshe is called the servant of the Lord.  Joshua is called the disciple of Moshe.  It is an interesting contrast in the roles and personae of the two men.  Joshua is an enigmatic, troubling figure.  He has drawn the attention of writers as diverse as Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz whose monographs are the source of much of the material you read here.
Joshua is portrayed as a man of the Torah.  He is the second link in the tradition cited in Pirke Avot.  In the opening chapter of his book, God tells him that his success will be dependent on faithfully adhering to the Torah.  Joshua is the political/military leader.  But in the Torah, he is told that he will consult with the High Priest before he takes action.  The reality is that Joshua and his book are about war; bloody nasty war.  This is his claim to fame.  He is so good at it that modern Israeli military leaders looked to Joshua for advice on tactics and leadership.  He was the original “follow me” commander.  Joshua is a masterful military leader.  But from the modern perspective, is warfare something that we Jews want to be good at doing?  Since waging war means a suspension of our normal moral values, how do we as modern Jews justify it?  Moreover, why did Joshua not protest against it?  Just as Abraham challenged God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, why didn’t Joshua challenge God to give the Israelites the Promised Land without slaughtering the inhabitants?  If you believe some of the Midrash, the ancient Israelites may have felt some of this same ambivalence since he died alone.  At the end of his life, Joshua showed himself to be a gambler and a leader confident in the success of his life’s work.  He seems to be giving the Israelites a chance to back out on the covenant.  “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served…or the gods of the Amorites; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (25:15).  The people promise to cast out other gods and reaffirm their loyalty to God.  While our forefathers committed us to the Torah at Sinai, the episode here reminds us that each generation must actively re-commit itself to the Torah and all that goes with it.  Joshua is a complex, troubling figure.
The Message:  The portion begins with God announcing the death of Moshe.  It quickly follows with a restatement of the Covenant made with the forefathers and God’s anointing of Joshua.  “As I was with Moshe, so will I be with you (1:5).”  Appropriately for a haftarah read on Simchat Torah, God also reminds Joshua that the Torah will be the key to his success.  “Do not deviate from it (i.e., Torah) to the right or to the left that you may succeed wherever you go.  You shall contemplate it day and night in order to observe, to do, all that is written in it.” (1:7-8).  While Joshua is thought of as the great warrior, his success does not rest on his skills as a general.  Rather, his success rests on Torah.  As the sages say, we study so that we may do.
Theme-link:  The haftarah for Simchat Torah and for this sedrah is the first chapter of the book of Joshua.  The Torah portion ends with the death of Moshe and Joshua assuming the mantle of leader.  So it is logical that the haftarah would pick up the story line and describe the first days of Joshua’s leadership.

Kohelet (Hebrew) or Ecclesiastes (English)
Traditionally Kohelet is read on Shabbat Chol Homed during Sukkoth
The Book:  The Book of Ecclesiastes is read on Shabbat during Sukkoth.  Ecclesiastes is found in the third section of the TaNaCh, which is called Kethuvim or Writings.  Ecclesiastes is one the Five Scrolls or Megilloth, each of which is read on a particular holiday.  The one you are probably most familiar with is the Scroll of Esther which is read on Purim.  The Hebrew name for Ecclesiastes is Kohelet which is mistranslated as “preacher.”  Actually it is a form of the Hebrew word for Assembly.  The Hebrew name of the book comes from the second Hebrew word in the first sentence of the first chapter, “The words of Kohelet, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”  This opening sentence describes King Solomon and he is traditionally viewed as the author of the text.  However, the language and tone of the work make that claim somewhat doubtful.  Thus other commentators contend that the work was composed during the third century B.C.E. which means it was written after the Jews had returned from the Babylonian Exile and built the Second Temple but before the days of the Maccabean Revolt.  There was considerable debate as to whether Ecclesiastes should be included in the TaNaCh.  The School of Hillel prevailed in this matter and this depressing tome of Wisdom Literature became one of the twenty-four books of the Bible.
The Message:  Do not expect these brief comments to unlock the mysteries of Ecclesiastes.  According the learned commentators of The Soncino TaNaCh, “A large part of the perennial fascination of the book derives from the baffling problems that encompass it.  Who was its author?  When and where was it written?  What is its message?  Endless have been the efforts to unravel these mysteries.  The final and absolute words yet remain to be said in answer to these questions.”  The book is only twelve chapters long and lacks a real organized structure.  Rather it is pastiche of repetitious examples of the author’s central them:  “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (1:2).
The author has apparently led a long life, where he has sampled much of the good things life has to offer.  But in the end, nothing really matters because everybody dies and death negates everything.  Unlike other books in the TaNaCh this view of life is both cynical and cyclical.  Life is boring.  Consider some of the following quotes from this seemingly rambling text.  “One generation goes and another comes, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun sets, only to rise again.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Men may say of something:  ‘See, this is new!’ - but it existed long ago before our time.  There is one fate for man and beast; as the one dies, so the other dies…All go to one place; all are from the dust and return to the dust.  Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward?”  “There is a time for everything:  a time to be born and time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and time to heal; a time to break down and time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to repel; a time to seek and a time to discard; a time to keep and time to throw away; a time to rend and time to mend; a time to keep silent a time to speak; a time to love and time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.”  (While some of you know this as rock song by the Byrds, I can assure you that Pete Seeger beat them to the punch.)  “Dead flies make the perfumer fetid and putrid; so does a little folly outweigh wisdom and understanding.”  “Wisdom is better than strength; nevertheless, the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard."  But in the end, the author reminds us to “fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man.  For God shall bring every work into the judgment concerning every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil” (12:13-14).
It is this final bold statement, which runs contrary to theme of the rest of the book that made the case for including Ecclesiastes in the TaNaCh.  Those who attributed this book to King Solomon may not have been so far off the mark.  Solomon had great wisdom but that did make him wise.  After fulfilling what he saw as his obligations to the Lord (building the Temple, etc.), he set out to enjoy life’s more physical pleasures.  In the end neither wisdom nor hedonism brought him joy.  Only at the end of his life and at the end of his book, did he realize that keeping the commandments and trusting in divine judgment were the only keys to a meaningful life.
Theme-Link:  According to Rabbi Wayne Dosick, “Ecclesiastes is read on Succoth because Succoth is the fall harvest festival, when the land gives up its produce and the harvest is done.  Succoth celebrates…the never ending cycle of life.”  Ecclesiastes is unique among the writings of the TaNaCh because it emphasizes this cyclical message by stating that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  Yet it reminds us that everything has a purpose and a place in the Divine scheme since, “to everything there is a time and a time to every purpose under heaven.”  It is one of the five scrolls, each of which is read on a specific holiday.  The pessimistic tone of Kohelet stands in stark contrast to the joy of this thanksgiving festival.

Themes (This is a once over lightly intended to help you understand the readings from the TaNaCh and enjoy the week-long festivities.  It is impossible to cover it all because there is so much to these joyous events.)
Sukkoth is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals.  It is the Holiday of the In-gathering.  The crops have all been harvested.  Now was the time to say thank you for a bountiful harvest.  In early times it must have been an observance of central importance.  In Hebrew, Sukkoth is referred to as Ha Chag or in English The Holiday.  According to the commandments in the book of Devarim, Sukkoth was the holiday on which everybody was to hear the entire Torah read in public.  When Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur gained more stature, Sukkoth became part of what really was a two-week long holiday season.  Sukkoth was a seven day holiday on to which was added an additional day (Shemini Atzeret - The Eighth Day of Assembly) making it an eight day observance and then a ninth day.  The ninth day is Simchat Torah (see below).  The first two days of Sukkoth are full holidays complete with all the strictures about refraining from work and other business activities.  There are special holiday services.  The lulav and etrog are blessed (except on Shabbat) and Hallel is recited.  Erev Sukkoth, we begin to “dwell in the Sukkah” something we will continue doing for the entire eight days.  The next four days are Chol Hamoed (the profane time of the festival) or Half Holy Days.  Some of the strictures about work and business are lifted.  Hallel is still recited.  The lulav and etrog are still blessed.  The Torah is read, but only from one scroll.  The seventh day of Sukkoth is called Hoshana Rabbah.  The day is named because we recite a set of prayers called Hoshana, which means, “please save.”  The theme is penitential, almost a mini Yom Kippur.  Just as on the High Holidays, the Cantor wears white, the curtain in front of the Ark is white and the coverings on the Torah scrolls are white.
The Hoshana are recited as part of seven-part procession around the synagogue much as you would find on Simchat Torah but without the joy.  There are those who begin Hoshana Rabbah by staying up all night to read Psalms.  The eighth day is called Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly.  It is a full holiday complete with two scrolls and a haftarah.  In some respects it is viewed as a separate holiday and “Shehecheyanu” is recited.  Also, the lulav and etrog are no longer used.  According to some, Ezra added this eighth day to keep the people in Jerusalem one day longer so that they might hear more Torah.  After all, they would be leaving for their homes and would not be back until Pesach, a half year later.  Some of the customs connected with this holiday were later shifted to Simchat Torah.
It is a mitzvah to build this temporary booth and dwell in it.  Most people try and eat their meals in one.  According to tradition, one starts building the Sukkah as soon as one gets home from the final Yom Kippur Service.  Regardless of all of the literature on the subject nobody really knows what the origin of the Sukkah is.

Lulav and Etrog
The Lulav is a binding of four types of branches - palm, olive, myrtle and willow.  The Etrog is a yellow citron.  There is a special blessing made over these items and they are shaken according to a special formula.  (This is not the place for an in-depth discussion of these items.)

This a special set of psalms (113-118) recited on holidays and Rosh Chodesh.  During Sukkoth, Hallel is recited on all days of the holiday.  Considering all of the Torah readings, this helps to make the mornings services during Sukkoth some of the longest of the year.

They are not worn at the beginning of the festival or at the end.  There is a debate as to whether they should be worn on Chol Hamoed.  My understanding is that some Ashekanzim wear them, but Chasidim and Sephardim do not wear them.

Yizkor, the service for remembering the souls of the departed, is recited on Yom Kippur and all three of the major festivals - Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkoth.  With death, people are no longer able to perform acts of righteousness (i.e., give Tzedakah) or offer up prayers.  In our prayers, we promise to give Tzedakah in the name of the departed because had they lived they would have done so.  On the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, we were commanded to come to Jerusalem, but not to come empty handed.  In other words, bring an offering.  The concept of bringing an offering shifted to bringing Tzedakah; hence the connection between Yizkor and the three festivals.

Sukkoth and the Shoah
October 14 1943 (15th of Tishrei, 5704) Sukkoth
1943 (15th of Tishrei, 5704):  Leon Feldhendler and Jewish Soviet officer Aleksandr Pechersky, interned at the Sobib√≥r death camp since September, instigate an inmate revolt and escape, during which 11 German SS guards and two or three Ukrainian SS guards are killed.  Two hundred of 600 Jews in the camp are killed by gunfire and exploding mines; among them is 33-year-old Dutch painter Max Van Dam.  Of the 300 who escape, only 100 are recaptured; many of the remaining 200 escapees join Soviet partisan forces.  Of these, only 50 to 70, including Pechersky, will survive the war.

October 7, 1944 (20th of Tishrei, 5705) Sukkoth Chol HaMoed
1944 (20th of Tishrei, 5705):  An uprising begins at Auschwitz.  Sonderkommando Jews from Poland, Hungary, and Greece, who are forced to transport gassed corpses to crematoria at Auschwitz, attack SS guards with hammers, stones, picks, crowbars, and axes.  They also blow up one of the four crematoria with explosives smuggled into the camp from a nearby munitions factory.  Russian POWs throw an SS man alive into a crematorium furnace.  The SS fights back with machine guns, hand grenades, and dogs. 250 Jews are shot outside the camp wire.  An additional 12 who escape will later be found and executed.  In a final note of cruelty four female prisoners Ella Gartner, Roza Robota, Regina Safir and Ester Wajsblum were hanged in the women’s camp of Auschwitz for their role in smuggling the explosives into the camp.  For more see;

Simchat Torah
Simchat Torah is a post-biblical holiday.  It probably had its origins in the Babylonian Exile when the Jews of Babylonia adopted the custom of reading the Torah on an annual cycle.  Others say that Simchat Torah is really the second day of Shemini Atzeret.  Regardless, by the end of the Middle Ages (16th century), the holiday as we know was an integral part of the two-week holiday season.  Simchat Torah is a joyful holiday.  It is the only holiday when the Torah is read at night.  Before the Torah reading, all of the scrolls are taken from the ark and paraded seven times around the sanctuary.  In many synagogues and temples, children join in the processions carrying flags and singing songs.  Even the most serious of Jews “cut loose” for Simchat Torah.  When carrying the Torah Scrolls around the sanctuary people have been known to “dance with the Torah” as an expression of their love for God’s Law and as a sign of thanksgiving that they have had an opportunity to study for yet another year.  In its own way, Simchat Torah may be considered as “the New Year for the Torah.”  In the days following the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jews living in Palestine followed a triennial cycle, so a holiday celebrating the annual completion of the Torah would have been inappropriate.  In Israel, the celebrations we connect with Simchat Torah are part of Shemini Atzeret.  In the United States, many Conservative Synagogues and Reform Temples follow a triennial cycle.  But Simchat Torah is too popular a holiday for anybody to consider its discontinuance.

Three Scrolls
Three scrolls are used on Simchat Torah.  From the first scroll we read Devarim 33 & 34, which concludes the annual cycle.  From the second scroll we read Bereshit (1:1-2:3), which starts the annual cycle.  From the third scroll we read Bamidbar (29:35-30:1) which describes the sacrifices for Shemini Atzeret.  Since Simchat Torah is a post-biblical holiday, there were no sacrifices for this event.  At the same time, many of the ceremonials now connected with Simchat Torah were originally part of Shemini Atzeret.

Special Aliyot
The next to the last Aliyah for Devarim is the children’s Aliyah.  All of the children are called to the Torah.  They are led in reciting the blessings over the Torah by one of the leaders of the congregation.  A large tallit is usually held over the heads of all of the youngsters during the ceremony.  This serves as a reminder of yet another facet of the continuation of studying the Torah.  Not only must we continue to read it throughout the year, but also we must study it with our children so that they will continue to study from one generation to the next.  The last person called to the Torah when finishing Devarim is known as the Chatan Torah, Bridegroom of the Torah.  The person called to the Torah for the reading from Bereshit is known as Chatan Bereshit, the Bridegroom of Genesis.

Shalom - Welcome to the World of Sukkoth

Here are a few helpful hints about the Sukkah (the Booth), things to be done it and the blessings to be recited.

What do we do in the Sukkah? - According to the Torah, there is an obligation to “dwell” in the Sukkah.  Dwelling includes eating, talking, singing, snoozing, reading, relaxing, entertaining, and more.  The Sukkah is one of the few Jewish practices that involves the entire body in the mitzvah experience.  Other Jewish observances that involve the entire body are immersing in the mikvah, a ritual pool, and wrapping oneself in a tallit a, prayer shawl.  Among these mitzvoth, dwelling in the Sukkah wins for connecting the entire body with a mitzvah for the greatest duration.  Stepping into a Sukkah provides a physical framework for understanding the all-encompassing nature of God’s presence.

What do we eat in the Sukkah? - While there is nothing like opting to sit in the Sukkah while sipping a cup of hot coffee in early morning cool, coffee is not a food that Jewish law would require one to eat in the Sukkah, at least according to most Jewish legal opinions.  Baked grains - cookies, cake, cereal, pasta, toast - are Sukkah worthy.

It's Raining, It's Pouring - There is a specific mitzvah to eat in the Sukkah, especially the first night.  Even if the rest of the meal will be eaten inside because of wet weather, it is worthwhile to recite the Kiddush blessing over the wine and the hamotzi blessing over the challah in the Sukkah.

Rabbi Moses Isserles’s (1530-1572) guideline for when to move a Sukkoth meal inside:  Remain in the Sukkah if the amount the Sukkah is leaking during the rain would not cause a person to leave his or her home. (

Jewish legal writers rely on the axiom that the Torah is a “way of peace” to support their opinion that if eating in the Sukkah causes one to be preoccupied with discomfort one should not eat in the Sukkah.  Yet there are tales told of rabbis and their families who were so desirous of drinking in the holiness of the Sukkah that neither rain nor snow forced them into their warmer homes.

Based on kabalistic teachings, when Jews spend time in the Sukkah, God is spending His time there.  It is as if the Almighty has invited us to enter His holy palace and to sit at His table and share in His goodness.  Perhaps this is why Sukkah is one of the few good-deeds we perform with our entire body.  We are literally immersed and bathed in the spiritual energy.  Look over your head and see the sky allowing, as it were, heaven to descend through your ceiling and infuse your Sukkah.

The Talmud says that in the days of the Messiah, all Jews will dwell together in one gigantic Sukkah.  This underscores the need for Jewish unity.  Perhaps this is the reason why on Sukkoth we take the four species - Etrog, Lulav, myrtle and willow - bind them close together, and wave them in all directions.  We declare that all Jews are part of the same unit.  And we pledge to discover how all these parts can work together to accomplish our lofty goals.

We hope you enjoy your Sukkah.  Essen (eat), shmuze (talk), shloft (sleep) - and learn a little Torah.  Bring out your nice dishes and relish in the splendor because for one entire week, this is the house where you and your Creator will dwell together.

Whenever we sit in the Sukkah and eat food made of grain, besides the ordinary blessings we say the following blessing:

Baruch ata Adonoy, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu bi'mitzvo-sav, vi'tzivanu lay-shave ba-sukkah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His mitzvot, and instructed us to sit in the Sukkah.

On the first evening of Sukkoth, we add the following blessing.  Some say it when they are sitting in the Sukkah for the first time even it is not on the first night:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, she-he-cheyanu v'kimanu v'higianu laz'man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, the Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

The Lulav and the Etrog

The Lulav Is the Green Bunch of Green Branches; the Etrog is the Yellow fruit that looks like a lemon.

While the Sukkah hut gives the Sukkoth holiday its name, this festival has two other main symbols: the lulav and etrog.  A lulav is a slender palm branch that is held together with two willow branches and three willow branches.  An etrog is a citron that looks mostly like a misshapen lemon but smells like heaven.  The branches and fruit are waved each day Sukkoth, except on Shabbat, in a specific manner for a variety of reasons.

The mitzvah to take a lulav and etrog together on Sukkoth comes from the Torah.  “On the first day you shall take the product of the beautiful (hadar) tree, branches of palm trees, thick branches of leafy trees, and willows of the brook and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).

Other translations name the thick branches of leafy tees as “braided branches.”  Myrtles are known as braided branches because their branches are thick with leaves that grow in sets of three.  Each set overlaps the one above it, creating the appearance of a braid.

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Jewish people used lulav and etrog on the first day.  Only the Kohanim who served in the Temple used the lulav and etrog for the rest of the holiday.  Once the Temple was destroyed, the rabbis decreed that all Jews should wave the lulav and etrog all seven days as a remembrance of Temple days.

Holding and Shaking the Lulav & Etrog - Recite the Blessing First

(Hint: The important thing is to hold them and bless them.  Most of us have problems with shaking in the right direction.)

Stand facing the east (or whatever direction is toward Jerusalem from where you are).
Take the etrog in your left hand with the stem (green tip) up and the pitam (brown tip) down.  Take the lulav (including the palm, myrtle and willow branches bound together) in your right hand.  Bring your hands together and recite the blessing below.

After you recite the blessing, turn the etrog so the stem is down and the pitam is up.  Be careful not to damage the pitam!  With the lulav and etrog together, gently shake forward (East) three times, then pull the lulav and etrog back in front of your chest.  Repeat this to the right (South), then over your right shoulder (West), then to the left (North), then up, then down.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu
Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us

al n'tilat lulav.  (Amein)
to take up the lulav.  (Amen)

Other Blessings

Blessing Before Washing Hands - Transliteration, English Translation

Washing Hands
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzeevanu al n'teelat yadayim.
Blessed are you Lord, our God ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, to wash our hands.

 Blessing Over Bread - Transliteration, English Translation


Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, ha'motzi lechem min ha'aretz.
Blessed are you Lord, our God ruler of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Alternative Grace after Meals, Hebrew Transliteration
B'rich rahamana malka d'alma mareih d'hahy pita.

Copyright October, 2016 Mitchell A Levin

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Torah Readings for Saturday, October 8, 2016 Shabbat Shuvah (Sabbath of the Return) Vayeilech

Torah Readings for Saturday, October 8, 2016

Shabbat Shuvah (Sabbath of the Return)
Vayeilech (And he went)
31:1-30 Devarim (Deuteronomy)

Vayeilech is the ninth sedrah in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy).  The sedrah takes its name from the first Hebrew word in the first sentence of the portion.  Due to a quirk of linguistics, the first Hebrew word is the second English word and vice versa.  “Moshe went (Vayeilech) and spoke these words to all of Israel.”  Vayeilech contains only thirty verses and is the shortest of them all.  When it is read alone, Vayeilech is the sedrah for Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Return also called Shabbat T’Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance.  This is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Moshe has finished the third and final discourse.  According to some commentators, this is the last day of Moshe’s life.  To better appreciate the sedrah, close your eyes.  Envision Moshe walking through the camp, stopping and visiting with each tribal group much as somebody would do if he or she were leaving a large gathering to go on a long trip.  While we have not finished with the Torah, we have finished with the commandments.  Vayeilech contains the last two commandments bringing us to a full complement of 613 Mitzvoth.

612.       The obligation of the entire Israelite community to assemble every seven years to hear the Torah read publicly (31:10-13).
613.       The commandment that each Jew should write a Torah scroll during his lifetime (31:19).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin as edited by this author.

In verses 1-6 and verse 14, Moshe’s departure is stated in obvious language.  He is still upset about not going into the Promised Land, but this time there is no arguing or blaming as we saw earlier.  This is consistent with the behavior of a dying man who has made peace with himself.  Moshe set standards on how to live and how to die as well.  He is Moshe Rahbeynu, Moses the Teacher, in the truest sense of that term.  Beginning with verse 7, we see Moshe advancing Joshua as his successor.  This transition is consistent with what seems to be a Jewish passion for bringing order to what seems like a chaotic universe.  The concept of lineage is extremely important in establishing intellectual and religious credibility as can be seen, for example, in the opening verses of the Pirke Avot, the Sayings of the Fathers.

The sedrah contains only two commandments and they both concern the Torah.  Moreover, these are the last two commandments in the Torah.  Placement would seem to be an indication of importance.  The first commandment has to do with the public reading of the Torah, the second with the need to write one.  Interestingly, we appear to have expanded the public reading aspect.  This probably began with Ezra the Scribe after the return from the Babylonian Exile.  According to some, it was really Ezra who began the real work of democratizing the Torah and making it available to all of the Israelites.  At any rate, we have gone from reading the Torah once every seven years to reading it three times a week as well as on festivals and holidays.  At the same time we appear to have lessened the writing requirement.  The requirement for fulfilling the command about writing a Torah has gone from writing a whole scroll, to writing one letter, to purchasing books of Jewish learning.  Of course, many congregations have taken advantage of this and have used the purchase of a letter, or a line or a sedrah as a fundraising activity for the repair or purchase of a Torah.  We should also note that women as well as men were to hear the reading of the Torah.  Obviously from Moshe’s point of view, our modern practice of educating women is the right thing to do.  One can see from the text that the Torah is at the core of Judaism since it was to be placed just outside of the Holy Ark.  There are some interesting commentaries on the significance of placing the scroll of the law just outside of the Ark, which contained the Tablets.  If you accept the view that the words on the Tablets are the unique utterances of God, then the physical positioning of the Torah outside of the Ark may carry the image of the Torah as the bridge or pathway for man to reach up to the Divine and the Divine to reach down to man.

Starting with verse 16, God tells Moshe that the Israelites are going to sin and suffer accordingly.  In verses 27 and 29, Moshe repeats this.  How do we square this with the message of choice or free will that we read in the previous sedrah?  Moshe is basing his prophecy on past performance.  But we do not have to be prisoners of our past.  There is great deal written about this apparent contradiction in concepts.  Rabbi Akiva says, “Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given; and the world is judged by grace, yet all is according to the amount of work.”  (Pirke Avot, III: 19)  Rabbi Hertz says that this verse “is among the most important in the Avot and lays down a fundamental doctrine of practical religion…God’s foreknowledge and the freedom of man’s will are reconcilable; so are God’s mercy and justice in His dealings with man.”

Where is God?
Verses 17 and 18 have been challenging for commentators over the centuries.  The concept of God hiding his face has taken on an even more troubling manifestation since the Holocaust.  If you want to pursue this topic, I suggest you might try The Trial of God by Elie Wiesel.  Since this is set in the seventeenth century Ukraine, it is obvious that this issue transcends the Holocaust.  I heard the following story.  Supposedly it actually happened.  God was put on trial in one of the camps during the Shoah.  This was done by the observant, not the scoffers.  They had difficulty finding a defense attorney for God.  The trial lasted three nights.  At the end of the trial, the court found God guilty.  After announcing the verdict, the chief rabbi stood and announced, “Gentlemen, it is time to say the evening prayer.”  In other words, you may be angry with God.  But you cannot stop believing in Him.  Issues like this and Predestination versus Free Will may be a form of Intellectual Chukat.  In other words, they are issues that will not really be resolved until the coming of the Moshiach.

Torah as the Foundation for a Modern Jewish State
Micah Odenheimer finds the command that the Jewish people gather every seven years to hear the reading of the Torah should serve as the blueprint for a modern Jewish state.  In a Jewish state i.e., Israel, the ethical teachings of the Torah should infuse all aspects of statecraft.  In other words, in a modern Jewish state religious leaders would work to ensure the existence of institutions designed to guard against income disparity that would guarantee the well-being of the weak as well as the strong and would have leaders who behave in the best possible manner.  Odenheimer decries the fact that the so-called Religious leaders of Israel have traded this role of meaningful ethical arbiter for a few political crumbs such as a Religious Ministry that gives them control, in the narrowest sense of the term, of things like marriage ceremonies, rules for divorce, and who can pray where at the Western Wall.

Shabbat Shuvah - Sabbath of the Return
The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah or the Sabbath of the Return.  Shabbat Shuvah is part of the Ten Days of Penitence.  In Judaism, we repent by turning or returning to God and his Torah.  On Rosh Hashanah we ask to be written into the Book of Life.  On Yom Kippur, we ask to be sealed in the Book of Life.  According to some, Shabbat Shuvah gives us an opportunity to show that we are in fact turning or returning.  Therefore, we are worthy of God’s mercy, which will take us from being written to being sealed.  The special haftarah reading described below further emphasizes this motif.

Hosea 14:2-10
Joel 2:11-27
Micah 7:18-20

The Men/The Book:  This is the haftarah for Shabbat Shuvah or the Sabbath of the Return.  It is usually read when Vayeilech is not combined with another sedrah.  Customarily, the haftarah is supposed to come from the book of one prophet.  However, the writings of these three prophets are included in one book called Trei Asar or The Twelve.  These twelve prophets are also known as the Minor Prophets because their literary output is smaller than that of the Three Major Prophets.  According to the Talmud, the writings of the twelve prophets were gathered in one volume out of fear that otherwise they would be lost.  Hosea was the first and most prolific of the Minor Prophets.  He preached in the Northern Kingdom during the end of the eighth century B.C.E. and the first half of the seventh century B.C.E.  He died some time before the exile of the Ten Lost Tribes in 721 B.C.E.  He is best known for his marriage to the harlot, Gomer.  This marriage provided the literary motif for much of Hosea’s writings.  The Israelites were the unfaithful wife, Gomer, while God was the long-suffering “husband” who would redeem His errant spouse.  Each day, when we don the Tefillin, we are reminded of Hosea’s preachings.  When we complete the final wrapping around the middle digit and across the hand, we say, “I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy.  I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and you shall know the Lord.”  (2:21-22).

Joel is the second of the Minor Prophets.  His writings consist of a mere four chapters.  Since there is no biographical information available about him, we can only speculate as to when he lived and prophesied.  Some commentators contend that he lived in the Southern Kingdom since he mentions Judah and Jerusalem but not the Northern Kingdom.  The famine he mentions would indicate he was a contemporary of Amos.  His mention of the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem reminds the reader of the words of Amos and Isaiah which would mean that he lived during the seventh century B.C.E. prior to the destruction of either of the two kingdoms.  There are commentators who believe that these writings are a product of more than one author and were produced during the early days of the Second Temple.  Those of you who are Debbie Friedman fans will recognize Joel’s most famous lines, “Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions.”  (3:1).  In other words, “youth shall have the knowledge of age, and age the enthusiasm of youth.”  As Rabbi Hertz points out, this “rejuvenation of the soul and renewal of the spirit” is the main purpose the Ten Days of Penitence.

Micah was born in Judah, but addressed his prophecies to both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  Micah was a contemporary of Amos, Hosea and Isaiah.  The prophecies of Micah must have been well known in ancient times, since Jeremiah refers to them in his preachings.  Micah may have been the first prophet to warn the Jews that possession of Jerusalem would not save them from divine punishment.  In other words, he was the first to prophesy the possible destruction of the City of David and the Temple itself.  Unlike some of the other prophets, those in power heeded Micah’s words of warning.  King Hezekiah was moved by Micah’s preaching to pray to God for a reprieve from impending destruction.  Micah is best known for the line “It hath been told thee o man what is good and what the Lord doth require of thee:  Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”  But he also authored words that are more often credited to his famous contemporary, Isaiah.  “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”  (4:2).  “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation.  Neither shall they learn war any more.”  (4:3).

The Message:  Hosea begins by calling upon the Israelites to return to the ways of God.  God will accept the penitent Israelites nurturing them in all their needs.  Joel calls for a day of fasting from which none are exempt.  As Plaut puts it, in Joel’s vision, the people will return to God, which will cause God to return to Israel.  Micah closes with an image of an ever-forgiving God who will keep faith with His people as he promised the Patriarchs He would.

Theme-Link:  The connection is with the calendar and not with the weekly portion.  The haftarah is read on the Sabbath of the Return which falls during the Yamim Nora’im or the Days of Awe.  These are the Ten Days of Penitence that start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur.  So it is fitting that each prophet should invoke a High Holiday related motif in his preaching.  The haftarah begins with the word Shuvah or Return as in “Return (Shuvah) O Israel, to the Lord your God” (Hosea 4:2) which is a fitting beginning for a haftarah chanted on Shabbat Shuvah.  The portion from Joel begins with a High Holiday motif - “Blow the shofar in Zion, Sanctify a fast, call a Solemn Assembly.…”  (Joel 2:15).  The portion from Micah includes the following, “You will cast off (Tashlich) all their sins into the depths of the sea.”  (Micah 7:19).  This reference later gave rise to the ceremony of Tashlich, or Casting-off Sins that began some time during the Middle Ages.

Copyright, October 2016, Mitchell A. Levin