Reviewing the Parsha
Question #1: When do I start?
When do I begin my weekly reading of the parsha?
Question #2: Which commentary?
Which Torah commentary is the most important to study every week?
Question #3: Which system?
Is it better to read each posuk of the Torah twice, followed by its translation, and then proceed to the next posuk? Or perhaps, it is preferable to follow the stops that are in the Torah itself, the sesumos and pesuchos, and read the pesukim as a group, repeat them, and then read their translation? Or, perhaps, it is even better to read the entire parsha from beginning to end, repeat it, and then read the translation of the entire parsha?
The Gemara (Brachos 8a) teaches that every man is required to read through the entire parsha every week, twice, and also to study its translation. This is called shenayim mikra ve’echad targum, whose abbreviation is the same four letters that spell the word Shemos, the name of this week’s parsha. Some authorities expand this into a longer mnemonic based on the roshei teivos, an abbreviation that is a play on the first two words of this week’s parsha, “ve’eileh shemos”, these are the names [of the Children of Israel who arrived in Egypt], as “Vechayov adam likros haparsha shenayim mikra ve’echad targum (Levush, Orach Chayim 285:1).
The original passage of this Gemara includes many innuendoes. “A person must always complete his parshi’os — twice the Scripture and once its translation — together with the community [im hatzibur], even Ataros and Divon [names of places in Eretz Yisrael, see Bamidbar 32:3], since whoever completes his parshi’os with the community has his days and years lengthened” (Brachos 8a-b).
There are numerous questions on this short passage of Gemara. Among them are:
Why emphasize that a person “must always” do this? Were we not told that he must “always” do this, would we think that sometimes you may ignore this mitzvah? Something dependent on our preference to perform it or not is, by definition, not an obligation. Perhaps the Gemara’s phrase,“must always,” is coming to exclude the idea that shenayim mikra ve’echad targum is not an absolute obligation, but dependent on circumstances, comparable to mitzvos such as mezuzah, which is required only if you live in a house with doors, but does not require living in a house with doors to observe the mitzvah. Someone who lives in a tent or an igloo is not obligated to build himself a house in order to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah.
The Gemara expresses the obligation of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum as le’olam yashlim adam parshi’osav. There are many words in Hebrew for reading or studying. Yet, the Gemara ignores all these choices and, instead, uses the Hebrew word yashlim, “he should complete.” What are Chazal emphasizing with this verb that we would not understand should it have written instead “yikra,” “yilmod,” “yeshanein” or any of several other choices?
With the community
The Gemara explains that the requirement is to complete parshi’osav im hatzibur, literally, “his passages (or Torah reading) together with the community.” This appears to be redundant – are not the weekly Torah readings what the community will be reading this week?
The passage of Gemara in which the mitzvah of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum is taught adds to its discussion. It continues by telling two anecdotes of Rav Bibi (this is a real name, not a nickname for Binyamin Netanyahu), the son of the famous Abaya (as in Abaya and Rava). The first story is that Rav Bibi had fallen behind in his weekly reading and wanted to catch up what he had missed on Erev Yom Kippur. He was stymied in his attempt to do so, upon discovering that there is a mitzvah min haTorah to celebrate Erev Yom Kippur with festive meals, thus taking away from the time he needed to finish up all his missing parshi’os.
The acharonim, the later commentators, suggest several reasons why Rav Bibi wanted to finish before Yom Kippur. Some suggest the following: Rav Bibi was Abaya’s son, and therefore he was of the descendants of Eili Hakohen, upon whom there is a curse that they not live long. Therefore, he wanted to accomplish the mitzvah of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum, which includes a special blessing that it lengthens one’s years, so that he would be granted on Yom Kippur many extra years (Iyun Yaakov; see also notes of Ya’avetz on this passage of Gemara).
Others demonstrate from Rav Bibi’s approach that it is perfectly acceptable to complete shenayim mikra ve’echad targum anytime before Simchas Torah, when the annual cycle of reading the Torah is completed (Hagahos Maimoniyos, Hilchos Tefillah, end of Chapter 13). We will soon see that this position is disputed.
Continuing the passage of Gemara: Having discovered that this solution of completing shenayim mikra ve’echad targum on Erev Yom Kippur was not practical, Rav Bibi decided that next year he would get ahead of the game and prepare the parshi’os a few weeks in advance. This approach was rejected when Rav Bibi was told that this is not an acceptable way to observe the mitzvah. An elderly scholar quoted Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who commanded his own sons that the mitzvah requires “completing your parshi’os with the tzibur,” and “neither earlier nor later” (Brachos 8b).
The Gemara states that one must recite “targum,” usually assumed to mean the specific Aramaic translation of the Torah authored by Onkelos. However, the word targum can also mean “translation,” and is occasionally used to mean what we would call a commentary. Even Targum Onkelos is, at times, closer to a commentary than a translation; this is certainly true regarding the other two Aramaic targumim to the Torah that have survived, Targum Yonasan and Targum Yerushalmi.
Tosafos (Brachos 8a, s.v. Shenayim) quotes, but disagrees with, those who understood that someone unfamiliar with Aramaic can fulfill this mitzvah by reading a translation of the Torah in a language with which he is familiar. Tosafos objects, because there are aspects of understanding the Torah that we would never know without the Targum’s commentary, and that fulfilling the mitzvah of shenayim mikra ve’echad Targum requires reading, specifically, the targum and not any translation of the Torah portion in a familiar vernacular.
This dispute is recorded among halachic authorities, regarding whether one fulfills the mitzvah of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum by reading the parsha twice and then studying it with Rashi, particularly if an individual does not understand the pesukim any better by reading an Aramaic translation. The Tur (Orach Chayim 185) rules that one fulfills the mitzvah by reading either Targum Onkelos or Rashi, since both explain the verses according to Chazal, and this approach is followed by the Shulchan Aruch. I once heard from Rav Shimon Schwab that reading the chumash translation of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, similarly, fulfills the “targum” part of the mitzvah, since it is a translation of the pesukim that follows Chazal.
The Shulchan Aruch and most later authorities conclude that it is preferable to read both the Targum Onkelos and Rashi. Other authorities rule that when Targum Onkelos does not translate a posuk, but only repeats the Torah’s words, the posuk should be studied with one of the other targumim (Yonasan or Yerushalmi) that do translate those pesukim (see Tosafos, Brachos 8b s.v. Va’afilu). When available targumim simply repeat the words of the Torah, the early authorities dispute whether one is required to repeat the posuk three times.
What is the goal of the mitzvah of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum? This appears to be a dispute between early halachic authorities.
Is this a takanah whose purpose is to insure that every member of the Jewish people be fully familiar with the Torah she’biksav, the Written Torah? Some authorities contend that, indeed, the goal is for every Jew to be fully familiar with the parsha and know what it means.
An introduction is required to explain what appears to be a different reason for the mitzvahof shenayim mikra ve’echad targum. After the Jews had erred in Refidim (Shemos 15:22-25), Chazal deduced that the cause for this backsliding had been the lack of study of Torah for three consecutive days. To guarantee that this not recur, Moshe Rabbeinu required reading the Torah every Monday, Thursday and Shabbos, to insure that three days not go by without the Torah being read in public. Thus, our practice of reading the Torah constitutes the earliest takanas chachamim of Jewish leadership.
Chazal also established that the entire Torah be completed on a regular basis by reading consecutive portions on Shabbos. Initially, the readings of the Torah did not require, or even allow for, a baal keri’ah (often mistakenly called baal korei). Each individual was expected to be so well-versed in the written Torah that he would be able to read it, without any preparation. Thousands of years after the takanas chachamim of reading the Torah was instituted, in the era of the rishonim, the custom of having a prepared baal keri’ah developed. According to the Rosh, the problem was that the community was not fulfilling its mitzvah when people who were unprepared read the Torah in a completely unacceptable fashion. This forced the community to designate someone to prepare the Torah reading in advance.
Thus, many authorities maintain that the original takanah of Shabbos Torah reading included, or was later expanded to include, a requirement that everyone be prepared to read any part of the Torah that he might be called upon to read. This takanah is the mitzvah of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum, which included a requirement to review the targum of the weekly reading.
Are there any halachic differences between these two approaches? It appears that there are. According to the second approach, it is required to complete shenayim mikra ve’echad targum before the Torah is read, so that you are prepared, should you be called up for an aliyah.
However, we see that Tosafos disputes this ruling, since he states that it is preferable to complete shenayim mikra ve’echad targum before you begin your Shabbos meal, although, if not completed by that time, it can be completed afterward. Tosafos bases this opinion on a Midrash in which Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi) instructed his sons, prior to his passing, not to eat bread before completing shenayim mikra ve’echad targum. Obviously, Tosafos has no concerns that you must complete shenayim mikra ve’echad targum before the Torah reading begins. In his opinion, the mitzvah of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum is to encourage ongoing adult self-education, by requiring each individual to study the weekly Torah reading, on his own time.
Perhaps this will explain why the Gemara writes that a person “must always” study shenayim mikra ve’echad targum during the week that the community is reading the parsha. Since the goal is Torah study, what difference does it make when an individual completes his annual study of the Torah? Perhaps he can study the entire year’s reading once a year, as Rav Bibi was initially planning? Or, perhaps, he can prepare the parsha well in advance, as Rav Bibi later thought to do? Therefore, the Gemara stresses that, notwithstanding that the goal of the mitzvah is to review the Written Torah annually, you must review it during the week that the community is reading it.
On the other hand, we find another approach tothe takanah of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum. The Hagahos Maimoniyos (Hilchos Tefillah, end of chapter 13) quotes from the Ra’avan (#88), an early rishon, that the entire mitzvah of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum applies onlyto someone who will not be able to hear the reading of the Torah on Shabbos. Obviously, the Ra’avan understands the words of Chazal, “le’olam yashlim,” to mean “a person should always make sure to complete” the parsha, even when there are extenuating circumstances preventing him from completing it the way he usually does, by hearing the reading of the Torah.
The Hagahos Maimoniyos, the Beis Yosef and others (Rambam, Mahari Bruno, Mahari Weil, She’yarei Keneses Hagedolah) dispute the halachic conclusion of the Raavan, contending that the obligation of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum devolves upon everyone, even those who will be able to hear the weekly reading. Nevertheless, they may agree that the emphasis “a person should always make sure to complete” includes those who will not hear a Torah reading. This explains the peculiar wording that a person should complete his parshios together with the tzibur. I will present shortly yet another possible explanation of this wording.
With the community
The Gemara required that shenayim mikra ve’echad targum be performed “together with the community [im hatzibur].” We see from the story of Rav Bibi and the teaching of Rav Yehoshua ben Levi that this means during the week that the tzibur is reading this parsha, and we see further that, according to one opinion, it should be completed before the kerias haTorah of that week begins. But, exactly, when can we start? Tosafos rules that once the Torah of the next week’s parsha was read at mincha, on Shabbos, it is considered im hatzibur to begin the next parsha. The Radbaz agrees with Tosafos, and is inclined to rule that it is better to begin shenayim mikra ve’echad targum immediately after mincha on Shabbos. This demonstrates that, when one week’s parsha ends, we focus immediately on the next week’s reading, similar to what we do on Simchas Torah when we begin reading Bereishis immediately after completing Devarim (Shu’t Haradbaz #288). For the same reason, the custom at a siyum is to begin the next learning project immediately upon completion of the mesechta or other learning project that generates the siyum.
The Radbaz also quotes an opinion not to begin shenayim mikra ve’echad targum until Sunday morning. In his conclusion, he defers to this approach.
Other authorities prefer that shenayim mikra ve’echad targum be read on Erev Shabbos, after midday (Magen Avraham quoting Shelah). It is interesting to note that some authorities contend that the optimal way to fulfill shenayim mikra ve’echad targum is to read the two times of the parsha from a sefer Torah, on Friday morning (Arizal and Taz, see Sha’arei Teshuvah 285:1). These opinions may hold that the primary reason for the mitzvah is to prepare the leining, should you be called to the Torah.
Is it better to read each posuk of the Torah twice, then its translation, and then proceed to the next posuk? Or, perhaps, it is better to follow the stops that are in the Torah itself, the sesumos and pesuchos, and read the pesukim as a group, repeat them, and then read their translation? Or perhaps it is preferable to read the entire parsha from beginning to end, repeat it, and then read the translation of the entire parsha?
Among the earlier authorities, we find each of these three approaches mentioned. The Vilna Gaon, who contends that you should read from one pesucha or sesumah to the next, also accepts stopping where the topic changes, even when it is not a pesucha or sesumah. Apparently, he divided the parsha and read parts of it each day after davening, completing it on Friday (Ma’aseh Rav #59).
The Arizal, apparently, followed the third opinion to read the entire parsha twice and then the entire targum.
The Mishnah Berurah concludes that you may follow any of the three opinions. However, it is unclear whether he holds that you may switch from one opinion to a different one. He may hold that you should always follow one opinion, consistently, although the Aruch Hashulchan (285:7) expressly rules that you may switch from one approach to another.
I want to note that I know of no opinion that holds that you should observe shenayim mikra ve’echad targum by reading the parsha aliyah by aliyah or by stopping at the chapter stops (unless it is a pesucha or sesumah or where the topic changes). The reasons why these are not considered proper stopping places are obvious. The chapter stops are not Jewish in origin. When the Christians appropriated our Tanach for their purposes, they instituted chapter breaks (and also devised many new divisions among the seforim), for their convenience. Although most poskim find no prohibition in using these chapter breaks as a convenient way to locate and refer to pesukim, many gedolei Yisroel were opposed to using them at all. They are often clearly in the wrong place and certainly have no halachic significance.
The breaks between aliyos, also, do not constitute halachic stops, for any purpose. Originally, there were few standardized stops (other than parshas Haazinu, the reading on Rosh Chodesh and some yomim tovim,and a few other places). There are halachic rules as to how long each aliyah must be, and where it is and is not permitted to stop. Other than those rules, the individual receiving an aliyah decided where he chose to stop, as long as he allowed enough parsha for the number of aliyos to be called up that day.
However, this system created a lot of havoc and machlokes. In response, a few hundred years ago, an individual printed chumashim in which he chose where each aliyah should end and distributed them for free; his goal being to curtail the machlokes that the previous system engendered. Most of our “commonly held” practices for aliyos start from this time, but they do not have halachic significance. As a matter of fact, the Vilna Gaon was opposed to using them (Maaseh Rav #132).
Germane to explaining why Chazal required a translation as part of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum, I want to share an insight that I discovered while preparing this article. Stopping to think through the correct translation of a posuk makes us focus on all the nuances of the original. Thus, not only does shenayim mikra ve’echad targum force us to review the Torah regularly, it expands our horizons, because we study it in a vernacular with which we are more familiar.