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The Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah

 

Reb Hershel, the chazan of the shul, decided to ask Rav Goldberg for a “chavrusah” to study the tefilos of Yomim Nora’im in greater depth.

“I understand the basic translation of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ‘Shemoneh Esrei’,” began Rav Hershel. “But, I would like to have a deeper comprehension of the tefilos and piyutim of the Yomim Nora’im davening.”

“Let us begin with the basic themes of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf,” began Rav Goldberg. “As you know, Rosh Hashanah is the only time we have a Shemoneh Esrei of nine berachos. Shabbos or Yom Tov Shemoneh Esrei has seven berachos: the three introductory berachos which are praises of Hashem, the middle beracha in which we mention the special sanctity of the day (kedushas hayom), and the regular, final three berachos. These final berachos are “Retzei,” which is a request that our prayers (and the offerings in the Beis Hamikdash) be accepted, Modim, in which we acknowledge the kindness Hashem performs for us daily, and the beracha for peace (Sim Shalom or Shalom Rav)

“On Rosh Hashanah we add four inserts to the three introductory berachos: Zachreinu is inserted in the first beracha, Mi chomocha av horachamim in the second, and we make two changes to the third beracha. We insert a lengthy prayer ‘U’vechein tein pachdecha’, and we close the berachaHamelech Hakodosh’ rather than ‘Ha’keil Hakodosh’. With the exception of Hamelech Hakodosh, none of the other changes is mentioned in the Gemara (Berachos 12b). This makes a difference in halacha.”

“I believe that one who omitted Hamelech Hakodosh must repeat Shemoneh Esrei,” observed Reb Hershel, “whereas someone who omitted any of the other inserts does not” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 582:1,5).

“Precisely. We paskin that any addition to the tefila not mentioned in the Gemara does not require repeating the tefila if it is omitted. Of these four additions, only Hamelech Hakodosh is mentioned in the Gemara (see also Mishnah Berurah 582:17). For the same reason, one does not repeat Shemoneh Esrei if he omitted U’chesov or Besefer that are added to the last berachos of the Shemoneh Esrei. You should know that there are Rishonim who paskin differently, contending that one must repeat Shemoneh Esrei when omitting any of these additions (R’I quoted by Tur). However, the accepted psak is as you mentioned.”

“There is much discussion among early poskim about adding Zachreinu to the first beracha,” continued Rav Goldberg. “Some of the Geonim were opposed to adding it to the davening (see Tur 582).”

“But what could be wrong with adding it?” asked Reb Hershel. “It’s a beautiful prayer, asking Hashem to grant a year of good life and write us into the Sefer HaChayim (the Book of Life).”

“The first three berachos of Shemoneh Esrei are intended to be praise of Hashem to set the tone for the rest of the davening. There are no requests of any type in the first three berachos. For this reason, Behag and other Geonim took issue with inserting any prayer into these berachos.”

“So why do we include it?” inquired Reb Hershel.

“Rav Hai Gaon and other Geonim contend that a prayer request that is for a public need may be recited during the first berachos. Therefore, they ruled that we recite Zachreinu in the first beracha and U’chesov and Besefer in the last berachos. Furthermore, a source for the practice is found in the following statement of Chazal: ‘Just as the conclusion of the (middle) beracha of Shemoneh Esrei is different on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so to the tefila itself is different. One does not mention (supplications) in the first three and the last three berachos of Shemoneh Esrei except on the two days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. Even on these days, it was permitted only with difficulty’ (Maseches Sofrim 19:8).

“Could you explain why we add such a lengthy insert to the third beracha, a beracha that rarely has anything added?” requested Reb Hershel.

“Yes,” replied the rav. “According to our minhag, this special insert, u’vechein tein pachdecha, is added to all the tefilos on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Indeed, some opinions contend that one should recite it even on the weekdays of the Aseres Yemei Teshuva (Tur 582). Of course, we do not follow this approach, and we recite it only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I personally feel a very close connection to this prayer, based on Klal Yisrael’s current situation.”

“Why is that?” asked Reb Hershel.

“Let us study the prayer. The prayer begins with three paragraphs, with an obvious progression. First, we ask Hashem to place His awe upon all the nations. The result is that all the peoples of the world will live in trepidation of Hashem’s existence and power. This is indeed somewhat unusual. We, the Jews, are asking Hashem to make all the nations of the world yirei Hashem — G-d fearing. We ask Him that they form a United Nations, whose sole purpose is to serve Hashem.”

“Why should we be concerned about whether the non-Jews are G-d fearing?”

“The purpose of the world is that Hashem’s presence should be so obvious that everyone fears Him. Anytime that this is not the case, Hashem’s presence is in Galus. We should feel tremendous loss as long as Hashem’s presence remains hidden. The seforim hakedoshim (holy writings) state that one should recite the words “galei kevod malchuscha,” “Reveal the glory of Your kingdom” with much emotion, ideally, bringing oneself to tears (Yesod Veshoresh Ha’Avoda). This is because we realize how the world should appear, and how far it is from that point now.”

Rav Goldberg continued. “In the next paragraph, u’vechein tein kovod, we add to our previous request. Now that the entire world is completely united in Hashem’s service, we ask Him that His people and leaders be given a special place of honor. This would be the equivalent of the United Nations resolving that Jewish people have a special unique mission, and that the only true leaders are the Gedolei Yisrael. This is exactly what will happen when Moshiach comes and all the nations of the world voluntarily accept his authority.”

“I never thought of it that way,’ admitted Reb Hershel. “In light of current events, the possibility of this becoming the purpose of the organization sounds almost humorous.”

“Only because we fail to accept that Hashem’s salvation can come with the blink of an eye,” explained Rav Goldberg. “As evil as the nations of the world are, Hashem could bring them to teshuva in a moment. The nations would realize the error of their ways, and they would recognize that the Torah and the Jews represent the only goals that one should strive for. This is the first part of this prayer.”

“I can see why you identify so closely with this prayer,” responded Reb Hershel. “When we see how the Jews are treated so shabbily by the nations of the Earth, how Jewish blood has no value in the eyes of the world, and they have the chutzpah to judge us without any basis in human decency!”

“And all this can change in an instant,” replied the Rav. “In actuality, they are making the job easier for Hashem,”

“What do you mean?” asked Reb Hershel.

“The Gemara teaches that in the days of Moshiach, the nations of the world will claim that they have committed no evil and that all the good they did was for the benefit of the Jews. Hashem will prove them wrong and they will accept His judgment (Avodah Zarah 2b). But, based on their current activities, all that is necessary is to open the records and minutes of the United Nations. I can’t imagine what kind of defense they will offer!”

Rav Goldberg continued his explanation. “In the third paragraph, we pray that the tzadikim will celebrate the fact that Hashem’s presence in this world is so obvious, and that all evil will dissipate like smoke.”

“This theme repeats itself in the prayer of Aleinu,” continued the rav, “which we say daily, but figures significantly in the Musaf Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh Hashanah. We coronate Hashem and emphasize how different we are from the nations of the earth.”

“Is this why we ‘fall korim’ and kneel when reciting Aleinu on Rosh Hashanah, but not the rest of the year?” interjected Reb Hershel.

“Precisely,” replied the rav. “However, I want to point out that according to many poskim, there is a difference in custom between ‘falling korim’ at Aleinu on Rosh Hashanah and falling korim on Yom Kippur as part of the ‘Seder Avodah.’ When we ‘fall korim’ at Aleinu, we should place our knees on the floor and bow our heads, but not completely prostrate ourselves. Only on Yom Kippur do we prostrate ourselves completely, when we emulate what was done in the Beis Hamikdash. However, on Rosh Hashanah it is sufficient to demonstrate our total subservience to Hashem by kneeling and bowing. Other authorities contend that on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur one should bow completely prostrate.” (Each community should follow the psak of its rav or custom.)

“In the second part of Aleinu, Al kein Nekaveh,” continued the rav, “we express our hope that the entire world will also reach this recognition — similar to the message of u’vechein tein pachdecha.”

“But, Aleinu is part of Malchiyos, the fourth beracha of Musaf, whereas u’vechein tein pachdecha is part of Kedusha, the third beracha,” asked Reb Hershel. “Shouldn’t the entire theme be expressed in one place?”

“That is a very good question,” responded Rav Goldberg. “Let me explain. The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 32a) quotes a dispute whether Malchiyos is included in the beracha of kedusha (the third beracha) or the fourth beracha which emphasizes the sanctity of the day. Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri contends that Malchiyos is included in kedusha, because Hashem’s sanctity is manifest in His unique dominion (Aruch Laneir). Therefore, the appropriate place to discuss Malchiyos is together with kedusha. Rabbi Akiva rules that Malchiyos should be included with kedushas hayom, since it is the major theme of the day. Although we paskin that Malchiyos is included in the fourth beracha, this is not because we reject Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri’s concepts. We accept the idea that Hashem’s unique monarchy is a manifestation of his Kedusha. Therefore, we add u’vechein tein pachdecha to the beracha of Kedusha.”

The rav continued, “Returning to the insertion of the prayer of uvechein, the word uvechein reminds us of the words spoken by Esther as she entered King Achashveirosh’s inner chamber (Tur Orach Chayim 582). In the words of Megilas Esther, ‘u’vechein avo el hamelech asher lo kadas,’ – ‘And, with this I will approach the king, which is against the law.’ When we daven, there is an element of ‘lo kadas,’ against the law. If we were to measure our sinfulness, we would not be permitted to daven. We do not approach Hashem to pray on the basis of our own merit, because we are deficient. Rather, we pray only on the basis of Hashem’s kindness.

“Thus we compare our request to Esther’s statement, ‘And, with this I will approach the king, which is against the law.’ Esther acknowledged that she had no ‘right’ to pray. Yet, she did so, anyway. In the same vein, we ask Hashem to accept our tefilos, even though we have no claim that He should.”

“You mentioned the theme of Malchiyos and the three special berachos recited in Rosh Hashanah Musaf,” Reb Hershel began to ask. “What is the origin of this triple theme?”

The rav replied, “The Gemara states ‘Said the Holy One, blessed is He, ‘Recite before me on Rosh Hashanah Malchiyos, so that you will coronate me; Remembrances, so that you will be remembered before me for good; and with what? With the Shofar!’ (Rosh Hashanah 16a). Based on this source, Chazal established three special berachos in the Musaf Shemoneh Esrei to observe these themes. In each berocha, we recite ten pesukim, three from Chumash, three from Kesuvim, three from Nevi’im and then a final concluding pasuk from Chumash. The ten pesukim recited as part of Malchiyos all reflect Hashem’s dominion, the ten of Zichronos all mention that He remembers and is concerned about what we do, and the ten of Shofaros all refer to the shofar. As one reads the pesukim of Malchiyos, one should think, ‘With these words I coronate Hashem as King.’ While reciting Zichronos one should acknowledge that all one’s deeds are recorded and reviewed by Hashem’s besdin (Yesod Veshoresh Ha’Avodah). When reading the pesukim of Shofaros, one should think through all the wondrous events that have happened in Jewish history that were punctuated by the blowing of the shofar, including Akeidas Yitzchok, Matan Torah, the conquest of Yericho. We should yearn to hear the blowing of Shofar that will accompany the arrival of Moshiach. ‘Vehayah bayom hahu yitaka beshofar gadol,’ ‘And it will be, on that day, that the great shofar will be sounded.’”

“But, the last pasuk of Malchiyos is Shma Yisrael, which makes no mention of Hashem as king?” queried Reb Hershel.

Shma Yisrael is the ultimate coronation of Hashem as king. Parshas Shma is referred to by Chazal as the passage whereby one accepts kabalas ol malchus Shamayim, the yoke of the Kingship of Heaven (Mishnah, Berachos 13a). In the same vein, the Gemara states that one who has in mind that Hashem is King over everything above and below and all four directions of the world has satisfied the requirements of kavanah (Berachos 13b).

“I have a question,” asked Reb Hershel, “the specific tefilos that we say on Shabbos or Yom Tov are not required min haTorah. Even the poskim who rule that davening is a mitzvah min haTorah contend that only one tefila a day is min haTorah, and that the details of the requirements are only mi’derabanan. So, how can the Gemara state that Hashem said that we are to recite three themes of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, when the details of our tefilos are required only mi’derabanan?”

“You are raising a very important question,” replied the rav, “that was asked many hundreds of years ago. The Ritva (Rosh Hashanah 16a) asks why the Gemara says that ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said,’ when there is no commandment of the Torah to say Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros.”

The rav continued, “Indeed, although there is no direct commandment in the Torah about Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, there is an indirect reference. Rashi (Bamidbar 10:10) derives from the verse, ‘And you shall blow the trumpets… and they will be for you a remembrance before your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d’ a reference to Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros. These references are called ‘asmachta,’ meaning that there is a hint in the pasuk, although it is not a mitzvah.”

The rav proceeded to explain, “Ritva explains that it is inaccurate to explain ‘asmachta’ as using a pasuk to remember a ruling Chazal introduced. Asmachta is a source for a practice that Hashem wants us to perform, although he did not require it. My Mashgiach, Rav Dovid Kronglas, zt”l, used to explain the difference between asmachta and mitzvah in the following way:

“A man is thirsty and wants his son to bring him a cup of water. There are two ways the man can convey this message to his son. He can ask him, ‘Please bring me a cup of water’ or he can tell him, ‘I am thirsty.’ In both instances, the son knows that he should bring his father a cup of water. In the first instance, the son was commanded to bring his father water, and, in the second instance, he was not. However, in both instances, a decent person brings a cup of water.

“Similarly, a mitzvah is similar to the first scenario described above, while an asmachta is similar to the second. The asmachta means that Hashem showed us in His Torah that He wants us to mention Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, and to internalize these messages. However, Hashem did not command us to do it. Chazal commanded us to recite these pesukim. Thus, although one who recites the Musaf is technically fulfilling a mitzvah mi’derabbanan, he is carrying out Hashem’s desires.”

“Therefore,” pointed out Reb Hershel, “one who davens the prayers of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros with proper emotion is fulfilling a very high level of Hashem’s mission for us on Rosh Hashanah.

“Thank you very much for your time, Rav Goldberg. I know that my tefilos will have more of a focus, based on a deeper understanding of the themes of the various parts of the tefila. I can only hope that I am a worthy representative for the congregation, and that our tefilos are accepted.”

Double Parshiyos and the Leap Year

Question #1: When is it a good idea to have doubles?

Question #2: Disproportionate readings

Why are the last four parshiyos of the Torah so short? Would it not make sense that the weekly readings be more evenly divided?

Question #3: Why does is take them so long to catch up?

Sometimes the weekly reading in Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz are a week apart for months on end. Why don’t we coordinate things better?

Answer

Most doctors and other health professionals agree with the Rambam’s assessment that taking a double portion is not good for our health. Nevertheless, in most calendar years, our policy is to have several weeks of the year when we read a double parsha, and this is definitely good policy; otherwise, we would have difficulty completing the Torah every year and making a Siyum HaTorah on Simchas Torah. This year 5774 adds an unusual feature, in that there is only one parsha doubled the entire year, and that is not until the very last week of the year – almost as if we need to break the no-hitter in the ninth inning. Although this happened exactly three years ago, the time before that this happened was almost thirty years ago — back in 5744/1983/4, and we will not see this phenomenon again for another 21 years. Those who deplore long Shabbos davenings, and those curious to find out why this year was so singular – stay aboard.

There are a total of seven potential “double parshiyos,” meaning parshiyos that can sometimes be read as one reading on a Shabbos, but we rarely double them all in the same year. The reason for the doubling of most parshiyos is to accommodate the extra Shabbosos that are missing in a common (non-leap) year, which is a month shorter than a leap year; but, this is not the only reason for doubled parshiyos. Since the doubling of most parshiyos is to accommodate the four extra weeks of the leap year (or the four missing Shabbosos of the common year, depending on whether you look at the year as half-full or half-empty), four of the doubled parshiyos are at the end of Sefer Shemos or in Sefer Vayikra (Vayakheil-Pekudei; Tazria-Metzora; Acharei-Kedoshim and Behar-Bechukosei) – all of them falling between Adar, the new month added because of a leap year, and Shavuos.

Why do we want to “catch up” in time for Shavuos? This is so that we can fulfill a decree of Ezra, as presented in the Gemara:[1]

Ezra decreed that the Jews read the curses of the Tochacha in Vayikra before Shavuos and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah. [The Gemara then queries:] Why? In order to end the year together with its curses! [The Gemara then comments:] We well understand why we read the Tochacha of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah because the year is ending, but why is that of Vayikra read before Shavuos? Is Shavuos the beginning of a year? Yes, Shavuos is the beginning of a new year, as the Mishnah explains that the world is judged on Shavuos for fruit.” Tosafos (ad loc.) explains the Gemara to mean that the tochacha should be completed two weeks before each “New Year,” to allow there to be one Shabbos as a buffer between the Tochacha and the beginning of the year.[2] Therefore, the parsha of Bechukosei, which includes the tochacha, should be read at least two weeks before Shavuos, thus necessitating combining the parshiyos in a way that we complete them and are able to read Bamidbar before Shavuos. As a result, in most years there is one Shabbos between the tochacha of Bechukosei and Shavuos, when we read Parshas Bamidbar. In some leap years, there are two Shabbosos between Bechukosei and Shavuos; in those years, Naso is also read before Shavuos.

There are three other “double parshiyos” that do not come out during this part of the year, and each has its own reason for doubling the parshiyos, a reason that is unrelated to whether it is a leap year.

The “Double Parsha of the Exile”

Chukas-Balak is a double parsha that exists only outside Eretz Yisrael. I once heard it jokingly refered to as “Parsha Sheniyah shel Galiyus,” The Double Parsha of the Exile, a takeoff on the halachic term “Yom Tov Sheini shel Galiyus,” the second day of Yom Tov that is observed outside Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the two days of Yom Tov in chutz la’aretz is the reason for combining Chukas and Balak into one parsha. When Shavous falls on Friday, its second day is on Shabbos, and, therefore, the communities of the exile read Aseir te’aseir in Parshas Re’eih, because it discusses the Yom Tov, whereas in Eretz Yisrael the next week’s parsha, Naso, is read, since it is no longer Shavuos. When this phenomenon occurs, the Jewish communities of Eretz Yisrael and of the Golah are reading different parshiyos for four weeks, from Parshas Naso through Parshas Chukas, with Eretz Yisrael always reading the parsha a week earlier, until the Golah “catches up” on the Shabbos that falls on the 12th of Tamuz, by reading both Chukas and Balak on one Shabbos, while in Eretz Yisrael they read only Parshas Balak. Thus, the following week, both communities read Parshas Pinchas.

The doubling of Matos and Masei

There are two other parshiyos, Matos and Masei, which are almost always read together, and are separated only when the year requires an extra Shabbos reading, as it did this year. Although we treat Matos and Masei as separate parshiyos, we should really view them as one long parsha (making the combination the largest parsha in the Torah), that occasionally needs to be divided to accommodate the need for an extra Torah reading.

In the occasional years when Matos and Masei are read separately, Parshas Pinchas falls before the Three Weeks — and we actually get to read the haftarah that is printed in the chumashim for Parshas Pinchas, Ve’yad Hashem, from the book of Melachim. In all other years, Parshas Pinchas is the first Shabbos of the three weeks, and the haftarah read is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is appropriate to the season. The printers of chumashim usually elect to print Divrei Yirmiyahu as if it is the haftarah for Parshas Matos, and then instruct you to read it on most years, instead, as the haftarah for Pinchas. What is more logical is to label this haftarah as the one appropriate for the first of the three weeks, and to print both after Pinchas; one for the occasional year when Pinchas falls before the 17th of Tamuz, and one for the far more frequent year when it falls after, and instruct people that when there is a haftarah to be read just for Parshas Matos, that they should read the second haftarah printed after Parshas Pinchas. But, alas, the printers do not usually consult with me, but look at what other printers have already done.

When do they go alone?

In what years are Matos and Masei separated? Only in leap years and only when there are no parshiyos doubled together from Simchas Torah until the week before Rosh Hashanah. (I will explain shortly why Parshas Netzavim is treated differently.) There are two types of leap years that require Matos and Masei to be separated:

(1) A leap year that begins on a Thursday.

A leap year adds an extra month, which is thirty days, not 28. Thus, a leap year sometimes adds five extra Shabbosos, not just four, and there is a need to add an extra reading. This occurs when a leap year begins on a Thursday. In calendar jargon, these years are called החא and השג, which both mean that Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday. In these years, to accommodate the extra Shabbos, the parshiyos of Matos and Masei are separated. As we can imagine, this is not a very common occurrence – a leap year that begins with Rosh Hashanah on Thursday. However, not only did this happen this year, but it also continued an interesting and quirky streak: This was the fourth leap year in a row to begin on a Thursday. Leap years 5765 (the eighth year of the current cycle), 5768 (the eleventh year of the current cycle), and 5771 (the fourteenth year of the current cycle) all began on Thursday. Thus, Matos was separated from Masei this year for the fourth time in ten years. This streak is broken, finally, in the next leap year, 5776, when Rosh Hashanah occurs on a Monday, and Matos and Masei are again combined. At this point, one will have to get used to long davenings in the middle of the summer, since the next time that Matos and Masei are separate is not until 5795, the secular year 2034, which means that 21 years will pass before Matos and Masei are again read on separate Shabbosos.

(2) What I have said until now is accurate only if you are outside Eretz Yisrael. There is one other situation in Eretz Yisrael in which the parshiyos of Matos and Masei are read on separate weeks, because, otherwise, there are simply not enough readings for every Shabbos of the year. When Rosh Hashanah of a leap year falls on a Tuesday, or in some leap years, even when it falls on a Monday, Eretz Yisrael has to read every possible separate parsha from Rosh Hashanah until the next Rosh Hashanah to accommodate all the Shabbosos of the year. In these years, in Eretz Yisrael, there are no doubled parshiyos, and, therefore, Matos and Masei are separated.

Why is this dependent on being in Eretz Yisrael? The year is the same length no matter where you are, and there seem to be just as many Shabbosos in Eretz Yisrael as there are outside?

The difference is that in these years, the Eighth Day of Pesach, Acharon shel Pesach, falls on Shabbos. On this Yom Tov day, observed only outside Eretz Yisrael, the special Yom Tov reading in chutz la’aretz is Aseir te’aseir, whereas in Eretz Yisrael this Shabbos is after Pesach (although the house is still chometz-free!), and the reading is Parshas Acharei. Thus, in chutz la’aretz there is a need to double a parsha, and, according to what is today common practice, that parsha is Matos and Masei.

The practice I just mentioned however creates a very unusual phenomenon:

The subsequent Shabbos, the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are already reading Parshas Kedoshim, whereas outside Eretz Yisrael the reading is Parshas Acharei. The communities outside Eretz Yisrael ignore the opportunity of doubling up parshiyos Acharei and Kedoshim, Behar and Becholosai and Chukas and Balak, all of which are doubled together upon other occasions, and wait until the very last parsha of Bamidbar to combine Matos with Masei. Thus, the disparity between Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz lasts for over three months, until Parshas Masei, which, as I mentioned above, outside Eretz Yisrael is doubled into Matos-Masei. By the way, this phenomenon is fast approaching. Hebrew year 5776, to be here in two years, follows this pattern, so those who return to chutz la’aretz after spending Pesach in Eretz Yisrael will find that they have missed a parsha. Unless, of course, they decide to stay in Eretz Yisrael until the Nine Days.

The Long Wait to Double

This leads to a very interesting question: Why is the disparity between Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz allowed to last for such a long period of time? There are three potential doubled parshiyos that are passed before one gets to Parshas Matos – all weeks in which those in chutz la’aretz could combine two parshiyos in order to catch up.

As you can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question, which is indeed raised by one of the great sixteenth-century poskim, the Maharit (Shu’t Volume II # 4). He answers that Shavuos should ideally fall between Bamidbar and Naso, and that combining either Acharei with Kedoshim, or Behar with Bechokosai would push Shavuos until after Parshas Naso. Indeed, in these years, this is what happens in Eretz Yisrael, but there is no option there, since there are simply not enough Shabbosos for all the parshiyos. In chutz la’aretz, since one can have the readings occur on the preferred weeks, we delay the combined parshiyos until after Shavuos.

However, the Maharit notes that this does not explain why the parshiyos of Chukas and Balak are not combined, although he notes that the Syrian communities indeed follow this practice — that is, on leap years when Acharon shel Pesach falls on Shabbos, they combine parshiyos Chukas and Balak, but read Matos and Masei on separate weeks, as is done in Eretz Yisrael.

To explain why the parshiyos of Chukas and Balak are not combined in other communities, the Maharit concludes that once most of the summer has passed and the difference is what to read on only three Shabbosos, we combine Matos with Masei, which are usually combined, rather than Chukas and Balak, which are usually separate.

NetzavimVayeilech

We have now explained the reason for every time we read a double parsha, with one important and anomalous exception – the two tiny parshiyos of Netzavim and Vayeilech. Tosafos already asks why we often combine the two huge parshiyos of Matos and Masei, and in the very same year, read the two tiny parshiyos of Netzavim and Vayeilech on separate weeks. His answer is based on his explanation to the Gemara that we quoted earlier:

Ezra decreed that the Jews read the curses of the Tochacha in Vayikra before Shavuos and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah. [The Gemara then queries:] Why? In order to end the year together with its curses, which Tosafos understood to mean that the tochacha should be completed two weeks before Rosh Hashanah to allow a week as a buffer between the tochacha and the beginning of the year.

That buffer parsha is Netzavim, which must always be read on the last Shabbos of the year; but, ultimately, this means that only a small part of the Torah is left to be read between Rosh Hashanah and Simchas Torah. This small part left is divided into three small parshiyos, Vayeilech, Haazinu, and Vezos Haberacha. Vezos Haberacha is, of course, read on Simchas Torah, and Haazinu on the last Shabbos of the cycle, which is either Shabbos Shuva or the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, if there is one. Thus, whether Vayeilech merits its own Shabbos or is combined with Netzavim depends on only one factor: if there is more than one Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos. When there are two such Shabbosos, Vayeilech is read on Shabbos Shuva, and Haazinu the week afterwards. When there is only one Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos, Vayeilech is combined with Netzavim on the week before Rosh Hashanah, and Haazinu is read the week of Shabbos Shuva.

Conclusion

From all of the above, we see the importance that Chazal placed on the public reading of the Torah and of completing its cycle annually. It goes without saying that we should be concerned with being attentive to the words of the Torah as they are being read, and that the baal keriah should make every effort to read them accurately.

 

[1] Gemara Megillah 31b; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 13:2

[2] The Levush explains that without the week as a buffer, the Satan could use te Tochacha as a means of prosecuting against us on the judgment day

Holding the Torah Upright

According to some rishonim, the mitzvah to raise the Torah (hagbahah) is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo.

Question #1: Holy Roller

“I was in a shul, and when they took out the sefer Torah, they opened it and carried it all around the shul, showing everyone with a yad where the beginning of the keri’ah is. I had never seen this before, and was wondering if this is a common practice. Is it mentioned in halachic sources, or does it simply manifest someone’s enthusiasm?”

Question #2: Reversing the Trend

Is there any halachic basis for the custom on Simchas Torah of reversing the sefer Torah so that the writing faces away from the magbiah?

Answer: Needing a Lift

The mitzvah of hagbahah is to raise the sefer Torah and show it, so that everyone in the shul can see the writing of the sefer Torah. The prevalent, but not exclusive, tradition among Ashkenazim is that this mitzvah is performed after each sefer Torah is read, whereas the exclusive practice among edot hamizrach (Jews of Middle Eastern and Sefardic descent) is that this lifting is performed prior to reading from the Torah. Among the edot hamizrach, some open the sefer Torah and lift it up immediately upon removing it from the Aron Kodesh, whereas others first bring the sefer Torah to the shulchan and then perform hagbahah, prior to calling up the kohen for the first aliyah (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). Some even perform hagbahah both before and after the reading (ibid.; Kaf Hachayim 134:17) As a matter of curiosity, it is interesting to mention that some Chassidim and Perushim in Eretz Yisrael observe the practice of the Sefardim and perform hagbahah before the Torah is read. When following this procedure, the magbiah does not sit down with the sefer Torah after he has completed his job, but places it down on the shulchan from which it is read.

As we will soon see, both customs – performing hagbahah before the reading and performing it after the reading – can be traced back to antiquity.

The earliest description of hagbahah

The earliest extant description of the procedure of hagbahas haTorah is found in Masechta Sofrim, as follows:

“One must raise the sefer Torah when reciting the words Shema Yisrael… and then raise it again upon reciting Echad Elokeinu Gadol Adoneinu Kadosh Shemo… Immediately, [the person performing the mitzvah] opens the sefer Torah to a width of three columns and lifts the sefer Torah — showing the writing to all the people standing to his right and his left. Then he moves the sefer Torah in a circular motion before him and behind him — because it is a mitzvah incumbent on all the men and women to see the text of the sefer Torah, to bow, and to say Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael” (Masechta Sofrim 14:11-14).

What are the sources for the divergent customs?

As noted by the Beis Yosef and the Gra, the Masechta Sofrim describes performing hagbahah before keri’as haTorah. Nevertheless, the venerated practice of the Bnei Ashkenaz is to do hagbahah after we read the Torah (see Darkei Moshe 147:4; the practice is quoted at least as early as the Sefer HaItur, who lived over eight hundred years ago). This custom is based on the Gemara (Megillah 32a) that states, “After ten people read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll up the Torah,” which refers to hagbahah and implies that it is performed after the Torah has been read. Similarly, a different passage of Gemara (Sotah 39b) mentions that the person reading the haftarah should be careful not to begin until the rolling of the Torah is complete. This implies that the hagbahah and subsequent rolling closed of the Torah is performed immediately prior to the haftarah, and not before the Torah is read.

Two places in Shulchan Aruch

This difference in practice resulted in an anomalous situation. Because the Tur was an Ashkenazi, he included the laws of hagbahas haTorah after the reading of the Torah, in Chapter 147 of Orach Chayim. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch, who follows Sefardic practice, mentions hagbahas haTorah before the rules of the reading of the Torah in Chapter 134:2, yet he also discusses the laws of hagbahas HaTorah where the Tur placed the halachah in Chapter 147. As a result, the halachos of hagbahas haTorah are located in two different places in Shulchan Aruch, some in Chapter 134, others in Chapter 147, with the laws of keri’as haTorah sandwiched between.

Why do Ashkenazim do hagbahah afterwards?

Logically, it would seem that we should display the text of the sefer Torah prior to reading the Torah, so that people observe the section that is about to be read, as, indeed, the Sefardim do. Why do Ashkenazim delay displaying the words of the Torah until after the reading is concluded?

The authorities present the following basis for what seems to be an anomalous practice: In earlier generations, there were unlettered people who mistakenly assumed that it was more important to see the words of the Torah during the hagbahah than it was to hear the reading of the Torah. As a result, many of these people would leave shul immediately after the hagbahah and miss the reading. Therefore, the practice was introduced to postpone the hagbahah until after the reading was concluded — which now caused these people to stay in shul and hear the reading of the Torah (Shiyarei Keneses Hagedolah 134:2, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 134:17).

Are there any other ramifications to this dispute?

Indeed, there is another interesting ramification that results from the Ashkenazic practice of delaying the hagbahah until after the reading is concluded. Should one notice a pesul in the sefer Torah that does not require taking out another sefer Torah, but precludes reading from this sefer Torah until it is repaired, one should not recite the words Vezos HaTorah and Toras Hashem temimah when being magbiah the sefer Torah (Kaf Hachayim 134:17, quoting Shu’t Adnei Paz #13).

What is the proper way to do hagbahah?

A sefer Torah is written on sections of parchment that are stitched together. The person who is performing hagbahah should make sure that the stitching is in front of him before he lifts the Torah, so that if the sefer Torah tears from the stress of the lifting, the stitching, which is easy to repair, will tear and not, G-d forbid, the parchment itself (Megillah 32a, as explained by the Tur; see esp. Aruch HaShulchan 147:13; cf., however, how Rashi explains the Gemara).

“Reading” the Torah

When the sefer Torah is raised, each person in shul should try to actually read the letters of the sefer Torah. This causes a bright, spiritual light of the Torah to reach him (Arizal, quoted by Magen Avraham 134:3). Some have the practice of looking for a word in the sefer Torah that begins with the same letter as their name (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). In most Sefardic communities, someone points to the beginning of the day’s reading while the sefer Torah is held aloft for all to see. Some congregations consider this a great honor that is given to the rav or another scholar (Kaf Hachayim 134:13). This may be the origin of the custom that some people have of pointing at the sefer Torah during hagbahah (cf. Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, Parshas Ki Savo, 27:26).

In order to make sure that everyone sees the text of the sefer Torah, some Sefardic congregations have the magbiah carry the open sefer Torah around the shul to display its holy words to every attendee (Kaf Hachayim 134:13).

In which direction is the Torah held?

The usual Ashkenazic practice is that the magbiah holds the sefer Torah with its writing facing him. Some congregations have the practice that, on Simchas Torah, the sefer Torah is lifted in the reverse way, so that the writing is away from the magbiah. Most people think that this is a “shtick” as part of the Simchas Torah celebration, but this is not halachically accurate.

The Bach (147) contends that the original approach was to hold the sefer Torah with the writing visible to the people — as we do on Simchas Torah. This is because when the magbiah lifts the sefer Torah the way we usually do, his body blocks the view, and for this reason, the Maharam and other great Torah leaders held the Torah with its text away from them when they performed hagbahah. Presumably, the reason this practice was abandoned is because it is much more difficult to do hagbahah this way, and there is concern that someone might, G-d forbid, drop the sefer Torah while doing it. Nevertheless, in places where the custom is to perform hagbahah this way on Simchas Torah, the reason is to show that on this joyous occasion we want to perform hagbahah in the optimal way.

The more the merrier!!

The above-quoted Masechta Sofrim requires that the magbiah open the sefer Torah three columns wide. The authorities dispute whether the magbiah may open the sefer Torah more than three columns. In other words, does Masechta Sofrim mean that one should open the sefer Torah exactly three columns, or does it mean that one should open it at least three columns, so that everyone can see the words of the Torah, but that someone may open it wider, should he choose? The Magen Avraham (134:3) suggests that one should open it exactly three columns, although he provides no reason why one should not open the sefer Torah more, whereas the Mishnah Berurah says that it depends on the strength of the magbiah — implying that if he can open it more, it is even better. It is possible that the Magen Avraham was concerned that opening the sefer Torah wider might cause people to show off their prowess and cause the important mitzvah of hagbahas haTorah to become a source of inappropriate pride — the exact opposite of the humility people should have when performing mitzvos.

Lift and roll!?

Most people who perform the mitzvah of hagbahah roll open the sefer Torah to the requisite width and then lift it, whereas others unroll it while they are lifting it. Which of these approaches is preferred?

The Shaar Efrayim discusses this issue, and implies that there is no preference between the two approaches, whereas the standard wording of Masechta Sofrim is that one should unroll the sefer Torah first.

Reciting Vezos HaTorah

When the sefer Torah is elevated, everyone should bow and recite the pasuk Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael (Masechta Sofrim 14:14). Indeed, the Chida cites sources who hold that since Chazal mention saying Vezos HaTorah, it has the status of a davar shebekedushah and can be said even if one is in the middle of birchos keri’as shema (Kenesses Hagedolah, quoted by Birkei Yosef 134:4). Subsequently, the Chida wrote a lengthy responsum in which he concluded that reciting Vezos HaTorah does not have the status of a davar shebekedushah, and therefore should not be said in a place where it interrupts one’s davening (Shu’t Chayim She’al 1:68).

Vezos HaTorah should be said only while facing the words of the sefer Torah (Be’er Heiteiv 134:6, quoting several earlier sources). If one began reciting Vezos HaTorah while facing the writing of the sefer Torah, one may complete the pasuk after the text of the sefer Torah has been rotated away from one’s view (Shaar Efrayim).

In many siddurim, after the sentence Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael, five words are added: Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe (Bamidbar 9:23), as if this is the continuation of the verse. Many halachic authorities question adding the words Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe, since these words are from a different passage of the Torah (Aruch Hashulchan 134:3). Others are concerned for a different reason, because these last five words are not an entire verse and they question the practice of reciting partial verses of the Torah. Indeed, many old siddurim do not quote this addition, and many halachic authorities contend that one should not recite it.

Who should be honored with hagbahah?

The Gemara (Megillah 32a) states “Ten people who read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll the Torah,” which refers to the mitzvah of hagbahah, since the magbiah rolls the Torah both prior to displaying it, and when he closes it, afterwards. The Baal HaItur quotes two opinions as to whom the “ten people” refers. Does it mean the attendees of the current minyan, and that the greatest of this group should be the one who is honored with the mitzvah of lifting and displaying the Torah? Or, does it means according the honor of lifting and displaying the Torah to the greatest of the ten people who were involved in that day’s reading (the seven who had aliyos, the maftir, the baal keriyah, and the person who recited the Targum after each pasuk was read, which was standard procedure at the time of the Gemara).

The halachic authorities rule according to the first approach, that one should honor the greatest person in the shul (Gra; Mishnah Berurah 147:6). They also refer to another practice, which was to auction off the mitzvah of hagbahah to the highest bidder (Tur; Shulchan Aruch). However, where the hagbahah is not auctioned, one should provide the honor to the greatest Torah scholar in attendance (Machatzis Hashekel). The prevalent practice of not necessarily offering hagbahah to the greatest scholar is in order to avoid any machlokes (Shaar Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah). Nevertheless, in a situation where no machlokes will develop, one should certainly accord the mitzvah to the greatest talmid chacham who can properly perform hagbahah. Whatever the situation may be, the gabbai is responsible to give hagbahah only to someone who is both knowledgeable and capable of performing the mitzvah properly.

The importance of performing hagbahah correctly

The Ramban, in his commentary on the verse, Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah (Devarim 27:26), explains that this curse includes someone who, when performing hagbahah, does not raise the sefer Torah in a way that everyone in the shul can see it properly. Apparently, there were places that did not perform the mitzvah of hagbahah at all out of concern that someone will be cursed for not performing hagbahah properly (Birkei Yosef, Shiyurei Brachah 134:2; Kaf Hachayim 134:15; Encyclopedia Talmudis, quoting Orchos Chayim). Although I certainly do not advocate eliminating the mitzvah of hagbahah, a person who knows that he cannot perform the mitzvah correctly should defer the honor, and the gabbai should offer the honor only to someone who fulfills the mitzvah properly.

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This Torah Article is Dedicated

Leilui Nishmas
Devorah bas Yaakov ע”ה
Olga Simons
By Her Granddaughter

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