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Wednesday, September 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah

    On every other Yom Tov, the parsha next in line is not read. Rather, a section of the Torah which is connected to the Yom Tov is read. On Pesach we read about yetzias Mitzrayim. On Shavuos we read about matan Torah. Simchas Torah, however, seems at first glance not to follow suit. We read V'zos HaBracha, the next and last parsha in line. Why is Simchas Torah different?

    The answer is, of course, that Simchas Torah is not different. V'zos HaBracha has its connections to Simchas Torah as well. In fact, we find in the gemara Megilla 31a that even when the Torah was read in a three year cycle, V'zos HaBracha was still read on the last day of Yom Tov. Abudarham writes that the reason why V'zos HaBracha is read on Simchas Torah is because that was the time that Shlomo HaMelech would bless the nation as seen in Melachim I 8:14. Therefore, we read V'zos HaBracha which includes Moshe's blessing of the tribes before his passing. 

    Meshech Chachma offers a different answer. The time of Shmini Atzeres is a special time for B'nei Yisrael. Over Sukkos we bring 70 korbanos corresponding to the 70 nations. Sukkos holds some significance for the other nations. But Shemini Atzeres symbolizes HaShem's special love for B'nei Yisrael, asking them to stay behind for just one more day as it were (see Rashi Vayikra 23:36). So it is on this day that we read of HaShem's giving the Torah to Bnei Yisrael. The pesukim at the beginning of the parsha (33:2) vezorach mi'Seir lamo, hofia meihar Paran, according to Rashi, refer to HaShem's offering of the Torah to the other nations and their subsequent refusal. Just as Shemini Atzeres symbolizes our separation from all other nations, so too, the beginning of V'zos HaBracha illustrates how we differ from all other nations.

    A reader once pointed out that this idea may also explain the haftarah that is chosen on this day. We read of the start of the independent career of Yehoshua and, significantly for this story, the berachos that HaShem and then the tribes of Reuvein, Menasheh and Gad give to Yehoshua with which the haftarah concludes.  Typically this haftarah should not be read.  The haftarah has to follow the theme of the maftir. The haftarah should have dealt with the theme of Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. But just as the maftir, which details the day's special korban signifies the special bond we have with HaShem, so too the haftarah marks the special relationship of berachah that HaShem hold for His people.

Have a good Shabbos and good Yom Tov.

Eliezer Bulka

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