Reading for Simchat Torah
Yom Tov Readings
FROM THE TORAH
Measured Patterns of Sharing
TENTH OF PRODUCE AND FIRSTBORN OF LIVESTOCK
Separate a tenth of all of the produce of your grain, wine and oil, from year to year, to consume in the place which the Eternal shall choose as the habitation of His Name, along with the firstborn of your herd and your flock, in order to learn to fear the Eternal your God always. If that place be too far from you for transport, as a result of the blessing of the Eternal your God, then convert them into money which you shall carry physically to the place and there spend it on whatever you wish—of the herd, of the flock, of wine, of shaychar—for you and your household to enjoy before the Eternal your God.
However, you must not overlook the Levite within your gates, who does not have an inherited portion like you. So, at the end of every three years, leave the entire tenth of your produce in your gates for the consumption and satisfaction of the Levite, as well as for the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are within your gates. For this the Eternal your God will bless you in all that you achieve.
SHEMITTAH AND YOUR NEEDY BRETHREN
At the end of seven years you shall effect a remission (shemittah) of the claim of a creditor upon his fellow or his brother, a remission authorized by the Eternal. You may still demand payment of a foreigner. However, there should be no needy among you, for the Eternal will bless you in the Land which He is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you would obey the Eternal your God to keep to observe all of this Mitzvah that I am commanding you this day. You shall cause many nations to give pledges, but you shall not need to give a pledge; you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you.
Now if there should be, among your brethren in any of the gates of your Land, which the Eternal your God is giving to you, one in need, do not harden your heart or close your hand from him, but open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need. It would be wrong of you, in addition, to deny him a loan because of the proximity of the seventh year, the year of remission. If you do, he could well cry out against you to the Eternal, and you would be guilty of sin. Rather, even so, should you provide him without hesitation, and the Eternal your God will bless you for this in all that you do. To the extent that the needy will not cease to be in the midst of the Land, I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your Land.
SEVENTH YEAR OF A HEBREW SLAVE
Your Hebrew slave, male or female, who was sold to you and works for you for six years, you shall set free in the seventh year. Do not send him away emptyhanded, but provide him from your flock, from your threshing-floor, and from your wine-vat. Provide him of the blessings you have received from the Eternal your God. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Eternal your God redeemed you. Therefore I command you this rule today.
If your Hebrew slave prefers to remain with you, considering his attachment to you and your household and his good treatment, then drive an awl through his ear to the door, and the slave, male or female, becomes your servant for ever. But, otherwise, do not hesitate to free your Hebrew slave, who has provided you with twice the value of what you would have paid a hired servant for six years, and the Eternal your God will bless you in all that you do!
Every male firstborn of your herd and of your flock shall you sanctify to the Eternal your God. Do not work your firstborn ox, and do not shear your firstborn sheep. You and your household shall eat it, from year to year, before the Eternal your God, in the place that He shall choose. But do not sacrifice it to the Eternal your God if it has a serious defect such as lameness or blindness; instead eat it in your gates, the unclean and the clean of you alike, as you would eat the gazelle or the deer. But do not eat its blood: pour it out on the ground like water.
PESACH AND MATZOT
Keep the month of Aviv to observe Pesach to the Eternal your God, who brought you out of Egypt in that month at night. For the Pesach you shall sacrifice to the Eternal your God from flock and herd in the place where He shall choose to establish His Name (cf. Exodus 12:21-25). Do not eat with it anything leavened. For seven days you shall eat with it Matzot (Unleavened Bread), bread of affliction, as in haste you departed from the land of Egypt, so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life. Let no leaven be seen by you in all of your territory for seven days, and let none of the meat that you sacrifice in the evening remain overnight to the morning of the first day.
You may not sacrifice the Pesach in any of the gates which the Eternal your God gives to you, but only in the place where He shall choose to establish His Name. There shall you sacrifice it, in the evening, at sunset, precisely the time of your departure from Egypt; there shall you cook it and eat it. Then, in the morning, turn around and return to your tents. After you have eaten Matzot for six days, on the seventh day you shall hold a sacred convocation to the Eternal your God and do no work.
Count for yourself seven weeks, from when the sickle is first applied to standing grain, and observe a festival of Shavuot (Weeks) to the Eternal your God, your freewill offering in accordance with how the Eternal your God has blessed you. Rejoice before the Eternal your God—you, your son and your daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite who is within your gates, and the stranger, orphan and widow, who are in your midst—at the place where the Eternal your God shall choose to establish His Name. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, so shall you maintain and observe these laws.
Observe for yourself the festival of Sukkot (Booths), for seven days, when you gather in the produce of your threshing-floor and wine-vat. Rejoice in your festival—you, your son and your daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, and the stranger, the orphan and the widow, who are within your gates—and observe the festival for seven days (cf. Numbers 29:35 in Maftir below) before the Eternal your God in the place where He shall choose (cf. Leviticus 23:42), as the Eternal your God shall bless you in all of your produce and in all of the work of your hands, and you shall be only happy!
SUMMARY OF THREE APPEARANCES
Three times in the year shall every male appear before the Eternal your God in the place that He shall choose: on the festival of Matzot, on the festival of Shavuot, and on the festival of Sukkot. Let him not appear before the Eternal emptyhanded, but each man in accordance with his gift, in accordance with the blessing that the Eternal your God has bestowed upon you.
The Final Blessings of Moses
MOSES BLESSES THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL
And this is the blessing (V’zot Habracha) that Moses, the man of God, bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death:
Source of Blessing
From Sinai comes the Eternal—
He sheds light upon them from Seir,
He appears from Mount Paran—
founded in vast sanctity
is the fire of law for them
in His right hand!
May the Lover of peoples
fulfill His promises
to all of Your holy ones
and those whom You have chastened.
With the Torah that Moses commanded us,
as the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob,
there is in Jeshurun a King
over the assemblage of leaders
of the tribes of Israel.
May Reuben live and not die,
but may his men be few.
This he says regarding Judah:
Hear, O Eternal, the voice of Judah,
and bring him to his people.
While he struggles against his enemies,
add Your help to his own hands.
And regarding Levi he says:
Your Tummim and Your Urim
rightly belong to Your devoted one,
whom You tried at Massah,
with whom You struggled
over the waters of Merivah,
who showed no favor
to his father or mother or brothers,
or even to his sons.
But they shall preserve Your teaching
and guard Your covenant.
Let them teach Your Torah to Israel
and delight You with incense,
with whole offerings on Your Altar.
Bless his strength, O Eternal:
favor the product of his efforts,
and impair those who go against him.
Regarding Benjamin he says:
Beloved of the Eternal,
may he dwell securely beside Him.
The Eternal shall embrace him
and protect him always.
And regarding Joseph he says:
His land is blessed by the Eternal,
bounteous in its dew from heaven,
in its water stored below,
in its seasons’ products of sun and moon,
taken from its ancient hills,
all that fills the country—
may it be the will
of the One who dwelled in the bush
to crown Joseph over his brothers
with the majesty of his firstborn ox.
May the wild ox’s horns be his,
to gore peoples to the ends of the earth,
his in ten thousands of Ephraim,
his in thousands of Manasseh!
Zebulun and Issachar
And regarding Zebulun he says:
Rejoice, O Zebulun, in your voyages,
and Issachar, in your tents!
May they assemble peoples at the mountain
and offer there sacrifices from the righteous,
as they draw out the sea’s abundance
and the hidden treasures of the sand.
And regarding Gad he says:
Blessed is the One who enlarges Gad,
crouching like a lion
ready to tear its prey!
It chooses first,
the region where the lawgiver was covered.
It comes at the head of the people,
carrying out with Israel
the judgments of the Eternal.
And regarding Dan he says:
Dan is a lion’s whelp,
leaping forth from the Bashan.
And regarding Naphtali he says:
Naphtali inherits the most it could want,
the fullest blessing of the Eternal,
the west and the south.
And regarding Asher he says:
Most blessed of sons is Asher,
may he be pleasing of his brothers
and dip his foot in oil!
May you be secure and at peace
for as long as you live.
There is none for you, O Jeshurun, like God,
riding majestically through heaven in your aid,
the ancient God your protection;
His everlasting arms support you,
and any who would threaten you
He orders destroyed!
Israel shall dwell secure and alone
in its land of grain and wine,
where the heavens drip dew.
Happy are you, O Israel,
who is like you,
O people whose salvation is in the Eternal,
your Shield and your Sword,
crushing your enemies for your sake
as you ride over their presumptuous shrines!
MOSES DIES IN MOAB
Then Moses goes up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the summit of Pisgah, facing Jericho, and the Eternal shows him all of the Land, from the territory of Gilead as far as Dan, all of Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all of the land of Judah as far as the westernmost Sea, the Negev, and the Plain—the valley of Jericho, city of palm trees—as far as Tsoar. The Eternal says to him: This is the Land which I promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, saying, “To your offspring shall I give it!” I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over to it.
Moses, servant of the Eternal, dies there, in the land of Moab, by the Eternal’s word. He buries him in the valley, in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Pe’or, but to this very day no one knows the place of his burial.
Moses was 120 years old when he died. His vision had not dimmed; his vigor had not abated. The Children of Israel weep for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days. Then the days of weeping in mourning for Moses end.
Joshua, son of Nun, was full of the spirit of wisdom, as Moses had placed his hands upon him. The Children of Israel heed him and do as the Eternal commanded Moses.
But there has not since arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Eternal knew face-to-face, with respect to all of the signs and the wonders which the Eternal sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, for Pharaoh and for all of his servants and his land, and also the strong hand and the great awe which Moses displayed in the sight of all Israel.
Chazak! Chazak! Venitchazek!
“One generation goes, and another comes…”
The book is closed, and then is opened…
God began to create heaven and earth from inchoate land, water and darkness, transcended by God’s Spirit.
God calls forth light and considers it good. God separates light from darkness, calling light day and darkness night. There is evening then morning, One Day.
God calls forth an expanse within the water, separating water below the expanse from water above the expanse. God calls the expanse heaven. There is evening then morning, a Second Day.
God calls for the gathering of water from under heaven so that dry land appears. God calls the dry land earth and the water seas, and considers it good. God calls for the sprouting of vegetation, herbs producing seed and trees bearing fruit containing their own seed, and considers it good. There is evening then morning, a Third Day.
God calls forth lights in the expanse of heaven to separate day from night, to serve as signs for seasons, days and years, and to shine upon the earth: two great lights, the greater to rule by day and the lesser to rule by night, and the stars. God considers it good. There is evening then morning, a Fourth Day.
God calls for the water to abound with living creatures and for the birds to fly over the earth across the expanse of heaven. God creates the giants of the sea, all kinds of moving living creatures from the water, and birds of wing, and considers it good. God blesses them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and for the birds to multiply on earth. There is evening then morning, a Fifth Day.
God calls for the earth to produce every kind of living creature—cattle, moving things and wild beasts—and God considers it good. God further considers: “Let Us make Man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). God creates Man in His image, male and female. God blesses them and says to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and master it, and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living creatures that move upon the earth. I give you and all living animals of land and sky the vegetation producing seed upon earth and trees bearing fruit producing seed for you to eat” (Genesis 1:27-29). God considers all that He has made very good. There is evening then morning, the Sixth Day.
Heaven and earth and all their array are complete. God is finished on the seventh day from all of the work which He has done. God rests on the Seventh Day and blesses it as the holy day.
MAFTIR FOR SHEMINI ATZERET & SIMCHAT TORAH
On the Eighth Day, there shall be Atzeret (Assembly of Conclusion) for you; do not perform work of service. You shall offer a burnt offering by fire of a pleasing aroma to the Eternal of one bull, one ram, and seven year-old lambs, without blemish; and their meal offering and their libations, for the bull, for the ram, and for the lambs, shall be in prescribed amounts. There shall be one goat for a sin offering. All of this is besides the regular burnt offering, its meal offering, and its libation.
These, then, shall you make for the Eternal at your appointed times, besides your votive and freewill offerings, be they burnt offerings or meal offerings or libations or peace offerings. Moses teaches the Children of Israel in accordance with what the Eternal commanded Moses.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shemini Atzeret
I Kings 8:54-66
When Solomon concludes his prayer and supplication (cf. I Kings 8:2ff., partly the Haftarah for the Second Day of Sukkot), for which he was kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven, he stands up and blesses all of the congregation of Israel in a loud voice:
Blessed is the Eternal, who has given rest to His people Israel and has not failed in any good thing that He promised through Moses His servant. May the Eternal be with us as He was with our fathers and not forsake us, but turn our hearts to Him to walk in His ways and keep His commandments, statutes and ordinances, which He commanded them. May these My words remain close to the Eternal our God, day and night, that He may uphold the just cause of His servant and His people every day, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Eternal is God and there is none else. Therefore let your heart be whole with the Eternal our God to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as it is this day.
The King and all the Children of Israel dedicate the House of the Eternal. Solomon sacrifices to the Eternal offerings of well-being: 22,000 of the herd and 120,000 of the flock. The King sanctified the middle of the Court that was before the House of the Eternal in order to sacrifice the burnt offerings, the meal offerings, and the fat of the well-being offerings, because the Copper Altar before the Eternal was too small to contain them.
Solomon observes the Festival (Chag) at that time with a large congregation of Israel from the Entrance of Chamath to the River of Egypt, before the Eternal our God, for seven days, and for another seven days, making fourteen days. On the Eighth (Shemini) Day he releases the people, and they bless the king and go to their tents with heartfelt happiness for all of the good which the Eternal has done for David His servant and for Israel His people.
Haftarah for Simchat Torah
After the death of the Eternal’s servant Moses, the Eternal bids Moses’s minister, Joshua son of Nun, to cross over the Jordan with the people “to the Land which I am giving to the Children of Israel” (Joshua 1:2). Wherever your foot treads, He says, I shall give it to you, as I promised Moses: from the Wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river Euphrates, all of the Hittite territory, as far as the Great Sea, where the sun sets. No one will deter you for as long as you live: as I was with Moses, so shall I be with you. I will not fail or forsake you.
He continues: Be strong and courageous as you enable this people to inherit the Land which I promised their fathers to give to them. Be strong and very courageous to act in accordance with all of the Torah that Moses My servant has commanded you. Do not deviate from it, either to the right or to the left, so that you may succeed in all that you do. Let this Book of Torah not depart from your mouth, but meditate on it day and night, in order to act in accordance with all that is written in it. Fear not, for the Eternal your God is with you wherever you go.
Then Joshua tells the people’s officers to go through the camp and instruct the people to provision themselves in order to cross the Jordan three days hence and take the Land “which the Eternal your God is giving to you to possess” (Joshua 1:11). He reminds the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, of Moses’s stipulation that their wives, children and livestock could remain in the territory east of the Jordan, which the Eternal is giving to those three tribes, while they assist their valiant brothers of the other tribes by marching, armed, ahead of them, to possess the Land which the Eternal is giving to those tribes (cf. Numbers 32). They affirm to Joshua the stipulation of Moses and pledge to Joshua that they will obey his charge to them, just as they obeyed Moses’s charge to them, and they pray, “May the Eternal your God be with you as He was with Moses” (Joshua 1:17)! In addition, they demand death for anyone who might disobey Joshua’s command, concluding with the words to him, “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:18)!
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Numbers Rabbah 21:23
Israel’s Plea for Holy Days
“On the Eighth Day, there shall be Atzeret (Assembly of Conclusion) for you;
do not perform work of service.
You shall offer a burnt offering of one bull and one ram…”
This is what is meant by the Prophet:
“You added to the nation, Eternal One;
You added to the nation by which You were honored;
You pushed away all the boundaries of the Land!”
This was a plea from the Congregation of Israel to the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe, “You added to the (foreign) nation, O Eternal One” (Isaiah 26:15a)! You saw fit to add peace and contentment to the generation of the Flood, but did they offer You even one bull or one ram? And as if that were not enough, not only did they not honor You, but they went on to conspire, “Come, let us build a city…to make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4)!
Similarly with the Sodomites and with Pharaoh, and with the invading Assyrians and the Babylonians, did any one of them offer you even one bull or one ram? As if it were not enough that they did not honor You with offerings, they also committed acts which angered You! So, then, to which nation should You add peace and contentment? To Israel, as the Prophet can be understood to have said, “You (should have) added (peace and contentment) to the nation (of) the Eternal One” (Isaiah 26:15a)! Indeed, “Who is like Your people Israel, a nation unique in the world” (I Chronicles 17:21)!
So it has been incumbent upon You to provide us with holy days to provide You thereupon with offerings—Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Hakippurim, and the Festival (cf. Numbers 28:11-29:34)—not one of which have we neglected. So it is further incumbent upon You to add for us another holy day upon which we shall honor You: “You (shall then have) added to the nation by which You were honored (as) You pushed away (the invaders to) all the boundaries of the Land” (Isaiah 26:15bc)!
To this, the Holy One, blessed be He, responded: By your life shall I not withhold holy days from you, but I shall add a holy day in which you may rejoice, as was said, “On the Eighth Day, there shall be Atzeret (Assembly of Conclusion) for you” (Numbers 29:35)!
Numbers Rabbah 21:24
Just You and Me
“On the Eighth Day, there shall be Atzeret (Assembly of Conclusion) for you;
do not perform work of service.
You shall offer a burnt offering of one bull and one ram…”
This is what is meant by the Psalm:
“In place of my love,
they accuse me,
and I am prayer.”
Consider that on the Festival, for seven days, Israel offers You seventy bulls (cf. Numbers 29:12-34) for the seventy nations of the world. But Israel is disappointed: Master of Worlds, here we are offering seventy bulls for seventy nations for seven days for their benefit, good reason for them to love us, yet they hate us, as was said, “In place of my love, they accuse me” (Psalms 109:4a)!
Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: Now you can say, “I am prayer” (ibid. 4b), no longer the foreign nations! So bring offerings just for yourselves. “On the Eighth Day, there shall be Atzeret (Assembly of Conclusion) for you; do not perform work of service” (Numbers 29:35). Scale back the number of offerings from the seventy you brought for the seventy nations; instead, “You shall offer a burnt offering of (just) one bull and one ram…” (ibid. 36).
This may be compared to a king who held a feast for seven days, to which he invited everybody and anybody in his realm. When the seven days of feasting were over, the king said to his closest friend: Now that we have fulfilled our obligation to all of the inhabitants of my kingdom, let us sit down together, just you and me, and relax with whatever little we can find, a little meat or some vegetable. In the same way, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, “On the Eighth Day, there shall be Atzeret (Assembly of Conclusion) for you; do not perform work of service” (ibid. 35), but relax with whatever you find, “one bull and one ram” (ibid. 36)!
Rashi on Leviticus 23:36: Atzeret may be compared to a king who invited his son to feast with him for a certain number of days. When the time came for them to part, the king said: My son, I beg you to remain with me for just one more day, as it is hard for me to see you go.
Mishnah Shevi’it 10:1, 3-4
Sifre Deuteronomy 113
The Spirit of the Law
“At the end of seven years you shall effect a remission (shemittah)
of the claim of a creditor upon his fellow or his brother (fellow Israelite)…
You may still demand payment of a foreigner,
but that which is yours of your brother (fellow Israelite) your hand shall remit.”
“If there should be…one in need,
do not harden your heart or close your hand from him,
but open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need.
It would be wrong of you to deny him a loan
because of the proximity of the seventh year, the year of remission.
If you do, he could well cry out against you to the Eternal,
and you would be guilty of sin.”
The seventh year remits the claim of a creditor, but a prozbul does not remit the claim of a creditor.
When Hillel saw that the people refrained from lending, thereby transgressing what is written in the Torah, “It would be wrong of you to deny him (one in need) a loan because of the proximity of the seventh year, the year of remission…, and if you do…you would be guilty of sin,” he ordained the prozbul for the sake of tikkun olam (providing a “practical remedy” for the aforementioned prevailing transgression).
What is the prozbul? It is a document executed by the creditor to a specific court which states, “Any debt that is due me I hereby transfer to you and may collect it at any time that I want,” and which is signed by the judges or by witnesses.
“You shall effect a remission (shemittah)
of the claim of a creditor upon his fellow Israelite…”
“Your hand shall remit
that which is yours of your fellow Israelite.”
“Your hand shall remit that which is yours as creditor” (Deuteronomy 15:3) is repeated after the preceding verse, “You shall effect a remission of the claim of a creditor (Deuteronomy 15:2), in order to exclude that which is no longer yours, i.e., that which you have transferred to the court, in which case a “hand” other than yours (the court’s) will collect. This Oral Torah supports the enactment (takkanah) of Hillel. (P’ney Moshe on Talmud Yerushalmi Shevi’it 10:2 and Malbim, HaTorah v’haMitzvah, Sifre 131 on Deuteronomy 15:3)
Menachem Elon in Hamishpat Ha’ivri offers several additional background principles
which support this takkanah
(initial references provided by Yosef Schechter in Lexicon Otzar Hatalmud):
The court has the power to cancel or transfer personal ownership of property. (Talmud Yevamot 89b)
“It is time to act for the Eternal; they have voided Your Torah!” (Psalms 119:126 in Talmud Berachot 54a)
Arise and perform an act that is prohibited by the Torah in order to forfend a violation of the Torah. (Talmud Eruvin 100a)
A temporary measure permitting specific conduct forbidden by the Torah in order to preserve all of the commandments of the Torah, such as violating one sabbath in order to be able to observe many other sabbaths in the future (Talmud Yoma 85b) and Elijah’s sacrifice on Mount Carmel (apart from the Temple in Jerusalem) in order to forestall the idolatrous worship of Baal (I Kings 18:19ff.).
Talmud Kiddushin 17b
The Blessing of Your House
“If your fellow Hebrew, male or female,
is sold to you and works for you for six years,
then in the seventh year you shall set him free…
but do not send him away emptyhanded.
Surely provide him from your flock,
and from your threshing-floor,
and from your wine-vat;
as the Eternal your God has blessed you,
you shall give to him.”
Our Rabbis taught: From “as the Eternal your God has blessed you,” it could be inferred: If your house was blessed because of him, provide him; but if your house was not blessed because of him, do not provide him. But the emphatic form, “Surely provide,” implies talmudically: provide him in any case! If so, what is the talmudic implication of “as He has blessed you?” Adjust the amount (Rashi: above the minimum) in accordance with the blessing.
But Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah teaches: The verse should be understood as written, i.e., if your house was blessed because of him, provide him; but if your house was not blessed because of him, do not provide him. What then do you do with the talmudic implication of “Surely provide?” “Surely provide” is common language of the Bible and therefore does not bear a talmudic implication.
Talmud Berachot 12b-13a
Remember the Exodus from Egypt
“Do not eat with it (the Pesach)
anything that is leavened;
for seven days you shall eat with it Matzot,
Unleavened Bread, bread of affliction,
as in haste you went out from the land of Egypt,
in order that you may remember
the day of your departure from Egypt,
all the days of your life.”
MISHNAH: We mention the Exodus from Egypt at night (as part of the Shema, Numbers 15:37-41, containing also the commandment to wear tzitzit; Rashi: Even though tzitzit are not worn at night…, still we recite this passage at night because it includes the Exodus from Egypt at the end, verse 41). Said Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah: Even though I appeared to be as old (and wise) as a man of seventy years, I was not able to derive from the Torah’s words why the Exodus from Egypt should be recited at night, until Ben Zoma derived it from, “In order that you may recall (mention) the day of your departure from Egypt, all the days of your life” (Deuteronomy 16:3). “The days of your life” alone would mean just the days, but “all the days of your life” is meant to include both the days and the nights! But the Sages interpret the verse differently: “The days of your life” alone would mean the days of your life in this (unredeemed) world, but “all the days of your life” is meant to include both the days of your life in this unredeemed world and the days of the Messiah (the time of redemption)!
GEMARA: It is taught in a baraitha—Ben Zoma went on to challenge the Sages: Should we actually mention the Exodus from Egypt in the days of the Messiah? For has it not already been said, “Behold the days are coming, says the Eternal, when they will no longer say, ‘As lives the Eternal, who brought up the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As lives the Eternal, who raised and brought the offspring of the House of Israel from the north land and from all of the lands to which I scattered them…’” (Jeremiah 23:7-8)—redemptive events which occurred long after the Exodus from Egypt and arguably exceeded it in magnitude! They answered him: It does not mean that the Exodus from Egypt shall be removed from its place, but that the oppression by foreign powers shall be the general remembrance, while the Exodus from Egypt shall be a part of it! Similarly, when He says, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:10), it does not mean that the name Jacob shall be removed from its place, but that Israel shall be the overarching name, while the name Jacob shall be a part of it.
Note: This Mishnah passage (without the Gemara) is included in our Haggadah of Pesach, recited on the anniversary night of our Exodus from Egypt. But this passage reflects the daily practice of including the third paragraph of the Shema in the evening, even though it commands tzitzit, which are not worn at night, because it mentions the Exodus from Egypt.
Tanchuma V’zot Habracha 1
Ending and Beginning
“And this is the blessing that Moses, the man of God,
bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death…”
Let our Rabbi instruct us:
If one leading the service errs in reciting the Tefillah, what should he do?
Our Rabbis teach that another should take his place.
Rabbi Yosi teaches that if he errs within the first three blessings, he should return to the beginning; if within the middle blessings, he should return to the second blessing; if within the last three blessings, he should return to the first of that section.
But if we say that another should take his place, where should that one begin? From the beginning of the blessing in which he erred. And whence did our Rabbis learn this rule? From our Fathers, each of whom began from the place where the previous of our Fathers ended.
Abraham blessed Isaac: “Abraham gave [vayiteyn] all that was his to Isaac” (Genesis 25:5). And what did he give him? Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nechemia differed: One said the birthright, in accordance with “Esau sold his birthright to Jacob” (Genesis 25:33), and one said the blessing, in accordance with “May God grant you abundance, mastery and blessing” (Genesis 27:28-29).
When it was the turn of Isaac to bless Jacob, Isaac asked: Where should I begin? and he answered: From the place where my father ended! My father ended at “Abraham gave [vayiteyn] (Genesis 25:5), thus I shall begin from there: “May God give [veyiteyn] you abundance, mastery and blessing” (Genesis 27:28-29)!
Now where did Isaac end? He ended by blessing Jacob when he sent for him: “Isaac sent for Jacob and blessed him” (Genesis 28:1). Therefore, when Jacob prepared to bless the tribes, he began by sending for them: “Jacob sent for his sons and said, ‘Come together that I may tell you what shall befall you in future days’” (Genesis 49:1).
Then how did Jacob end? He ended with the words “And this”: “And this is how their father spoke to them and blessed them…” (Genesis 49:28). So when Moses came to bless Israel, he thought of how Jacob had ended with the words “And this.” So shall I, said Moses, begin with the words “And this”: “And this is the blessing that Moses…bestowed upon the Children of Israel…” (Deuteronomy 33:1)!
Tanchuma V’zot Habracha 1
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana Nispachim 1
The Excellence of Moses
“And this is the blessing that Moses, the man of God,
bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death…”
“Many daughters have done well,
but you surpass all of them!”
The wisdom of Proverbs (above) may be understood to reflect the excellence of the blessing of Moses: “Many descendants have done well…!” The first father’s descendants (successors) all blessed their generations, but none was so great as the blessing of Moses, “…but you surpass all of them!”
The fathers first learned to bless their respective generations from the Holy One, blessed be He, who, upon creating the First Man, “created them male and female, and blessed them” (Genesis 5:2)!
Now the world did conduct itself in accordance with that blessing, but only until the generation of the Flood, under whom the blessing was abrogated, wherefore, “The Eternal determined: Let Me blot out man and beast that I have created, from upon the face of the earth, for I regret that I made them” (Genesis 6:7)!
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Eternal” (ibid. 8), so when he emerged from the Ark, “God blessed Noah and his children… (Genesis 9:1), and the world went on to conduct itself in accordance with that blessing. But when Noah blessed his own children, there was division in his blessing, as he blessed one and cursed another, “as he said: Cursed be Canaan” (Genesis 9:25), “and he said: Blessed be the Eternal, God of Shem” (ibid. 26)!
Later, when Abraham came into the world, God renewed the blessing: “I shall make of you a great nation…” (Genesis 12:2)! Moreover, with Abraham, the Holy One, blessed be He, saw no reason to diminish His own stature by having to bless His creations Himself. Instead, He determined, let Me bestow the conferring of blessing upon Abraham and his offspring: Whomever they bless I shall endorse, as was said, “Be the agent of blessing: I shall bless those whom you bless” (Genesis 12:2-3)!
But since the agency of blessing was bestowed upon Abraham, why did he not bless Isaac his son? Here was his dilemma: he foresaw that from Isaac would come not only righteous Jacob but also wicked Esau. If I provide blessing for Isaac, he thought, then Esau will be blessed to the detriment of Jacob. He found a provisional solution for himself in recognizing that, before the Holy One, blessed be He, he was an impermanent agent, and that whatever benefits he might arrange for the present would ultimately be subordinated to the will of the Master. Abraham was like a tenant farmer whose landlord gave him a vineyard to maintain. In it was a healthy vine, but the healthy vine was entwined with a vine of poisonous grapes. If he took care of the vineyard, the poisonous grapes would thrive, and if he did not provide that care to the vineyard, the healthy grapes would die. He concluded that, as a mere tenant, the decision was not his, he would defer to the landlord, who knew his vineyard at least as well as the tenant and would therefore be the one to decide whether to provide support for it or not. Thus Abraham did not provide a blessing to Isaac, deferring to the Landlord, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Indeed when Isaac blessed Jacob, there was discord in his act of blessing, as “Esau despised his brother Jacob because of the blessing that his father had given him” (Genesis 27:41)!
Likewise, when Jacob blessed the tribes, there was discord in his reproof of Reuben, whom he called “capricious as water” (Genesis 49:4; cf. Genesis 35:22). Similarly may it be said of Simeon and Levi, whom Jacob called “an armed gang” (Genesis 49: 5)!
But Abraham’s decision not to bless Isaac, for the sake of Jacob and his descendants, and to defer that decision to the “Landlord,” the Holy One, blessed be He, proved prescient. For by the time Jacob blesses the tribes, he has already accumulated a treasury of five blessings:
- When Isaac discovered that he had been tricked into blessing Jacob instead of Esau, he said, “I blessed him and so he must remain blessed” (Genesis 27:33)!
- When Rebecca demanded that Jacob take a wife from her people in Paddan Aram, Isaac sent him off “and he blessed him” (Genesis 28:1)!
- Isaac additionally asked “that God grant you and your offspring the blessing of Abraham” (ibid. 4)!
- When an angel wrestled with him at the ford of the Jabbok, Jacob asked of him his name, “and the angel blessed him there” (Genesis 32:30)!
- When he returned from Paddan Aram, “God appeared to Jacob and blessed him” (Genesis 35:9)!
Now, at the end of his life, as he assembles the twelve tribes of Israel, “And this is what their father spoke to them as he blessed them” (Genesis 49:28)—the word “And” before “this” signified the sixth blessing that Jacob added himself!
So also, when Moses is at the end of his life, as he assembles the twelve tribes of Israel, “And this is the blessing that Moses, the man of God, bestowed upon the Children of Israel before his death…” (Deuteronomy 33:1)—the word “And” before “this” signified the seventh blessing that Moses added himself. Hence it could be said:
“Many of the first father’s descendants have done well,
but you, Moses, surpass them all!”
“Moses, the man of God!”
“The man” when he was cast into the Nile;
“Of God” when he divided the sea—
“Moses held out his hand over the sea…
the waters were split,
and the Children of Israel went into the sea on dry ground.”
“The man” as he went up to the Height;
“Of God” when he came down—
“The skin of Moses’s face was radiant,
since he had spoken with Him.”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:8
The Eternal said to Moses:
“This is the Land which I promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob,
saying, “To your offspring shall I give it!”
I have let you see it with your own eyes,
but you shall not cross over to it.
“The final word,
everything having been considered:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
as that is the entire duty of Man [kee-zeh kol-ha’adam].”
When the Holy One, blessed be He, announced the time for Moses to depart from this world, Moses responded: Master of the Universe, after all of my rigorous service, You tell me that the time of my departure has arrived?! “Let me not die but live, and I shall declare the works of the Eternal” (Psalms 118:17)! He said to him: But you cannot, for “Upon consideration of everything, fear God and keep His commands, as that applies to every man [kee-zeh kol-ha’adam]” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)!
Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:10
Final Appeals of Moses
“And the man Moses
is very humble…”
Moses decreed a fast upon himself and drew a circle around himself from which he would not be removed until the edict of his death was revoked. What else did Moses do at that moment? He covered himself with sackcloth and rolled in the dust, then he engaged in prayer and supplication before the Holy One, blessed be He, until heaven and earth and the orders of creation were shaken, and they worried lest the Holy One, blessed be He, had decided to change the order of His world. But a divine echo was heard to say: The Holy One, blessed be He, has not chosen to change the order of His world; rather, “In His hand is the soul of every living thing and the spirit of every mortal man” (Job 12:10), and who is a “man” but Moses, as was said, “And the man is Moses, very humble…” (Numbers 12:3).
Then Moses took this stand before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, You well know my effort and my pain over Israel that they might believe in Your Name and observe your mitzvoth. I comforted myself to think that just as I have seen their suffering so may I see their blessing. Now that their blessing has arrived, to inherit the Land, You say to me, “You may not cross over this Jordan” (Deuteronomy 3:27)! You would thus falsify Your Torah, as is written therein, “You shall pay him his wage (grant him his reward) before the end of the day, for he is poor and his life depends on his receiving his reward; otherwise he would be justified in complaining against you to the Eternal, and you would be deserving of condemnation” (Deuteronomy 24:15)! In this case I appeal for due compensation for the forty years of work in which I labored until they became and remained a holy and faithful people, as the Prophet said, “Judah still rules with God and is faithful with the holy ones” (Hosea 12:1).
As a last resort, with only an hour left for him to live, Moses supplicated the Holy One, blessed be He: If You do not allow me to enter the Land of Israel, let me at least remain in this world, “Let me live and not die” (Psalms 118:17)! Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moses: If I do not let you die in this world, how can I then revive your life in the world to come? Not only that, He continued, but you would be falsifying My Torah, as is written therein by your very hand, “I cause death and I grant life; if I have wounded, I may still heal; and none can be rescued from My hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39)!
Yet Moses offered another type of supplication: Master of the universe, if You do not grant me entrance to the Land of Israel, allow me to live like one of the beasts of the field, who eat grass and drink water, being sustained to live and perceive the world! “Enough already!” He answered. Still Moses pleaded: Master of the universe, if not, then allow me to remain in this world like one of the birds, who fly to all four corners of the earth, gathering their food every day and night then returning to their nests! “Enough already!” He answered. “Enough already?” “Enough of your speaking!” When Moses realized that no creature could save him from the inevitability of death, at that moment he declared: “The Rock, His work is perfect, all of His ways are just, faithful God, without unrighteousness, true and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
Talmud Bava Bathra 15a
Talmud Sotah 13b
The Last Eight Verses
“Moses, servant of the Eternal, dies there,
in the land of Moab, by the Eternal’s word.”
It is taught from the time of the Mishnah:
Could Moses, when he was alive, have written, “Moses dies there?” Moses must have written down everything up to but not including this verse and nothing further, then Joshua wrote down the eight remaining verses of the Torah—this being the solution offered by Rabbi Judah, or possibly by Rabbi Nehemiah.
But Rabbi Shimon demurred: Is it conceivable that Moses bequeathed us his Torah incomplete? It is written, “When Moses completes the writing of the words of this Torah upon a scroll fully to its end, he commands the Levites: Take this Scroll of the Torah and place it at the side of the Ark of the Covenant of the Eternal your God to serve as your testimony” (Deuteronomy 31:24-26)! Rather the solution must be: Up to this verse (Deuteronomy 34:5) the Holy One, blessed be He, has dictated and Moses, as His scribe, has written; from this verse to the end the Holy One, blessed be He, dictated and Moses, as His dutiful scribe, wrote down His words, but with tears in his eyes.
What did the Holy One, blessed be He, say when Moses died?
Rav interpreted the verse: “Who will rise on My behalf against evildoers? Who will take a stand on My behalf against workers of iniquity?” (Psalms 94:16)
Samuel interpreted the verse: “Who will be like that wise man, knowing the correct interpretation of My word?” (Ecclesiastes 8:1)
Rabbi Yochanan called attention to the next verse, “…and no one knows his burial place to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:6) by interpreting the verse: “Then where shall wisdom be found; yes, where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12)
Rav Nachman returned to the first verse, “Moses dies [vayamot] there…” (Deuteronomy 34:5), and interpreted it as the eulogy of a sage (Rashi): “Woe, he has died [vahy meyt] there, Moses, the Great Scribe of Israel!”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:7
Return of Lovingkindness
“He buried him…”
What was the merit of Moses such that the Holy One, blessed be He, undertook personally his final arrangements? When Moses went down to Egypt as the time of Israel’s redemption had arrived, all of Israel were engaged in pursuit of silver and gold. But Moses went about the city, for three days and three nights, strenuously searching for Joseph’s coffin, as was said, “Joseph made the Children of Israel promise: When God will take notice of you, you shall bring my bones up with you” (Genesis 3:25)!
With the help of Segula (another name for Serach, daughter of Asher; cf. Genesis 46:17 and Numbers 26:46), Moses learned that Joseph’s body was to be found in the River, encased in his coffin with 500 talents of silver and gold. For Pharaoh’s magicians and astrologers had advised Pharaoh that since Israel would not depart Egypt without the bones of Joseph, the best way to prevent them from escaping would be to hide Joseph’s bones at the bottom of the River.
Immediately Moses stood at the River’s bank and called out, “Joseph! Joseph! You know how you made a promise to Israel, ‘God will take notice of you!’ Show respect to the God of Israel, and delay not Israel’s redemption. With many good deeds to your credit, seek mercy from your Creator and rise from the depths!” Whereupon the coffin of Joseph began to break apart, and up from the depths it comes like a lone reed, which Moses places upon his shoulders and carries from Egypt, while all of Israel carry the silver and the gold.
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: You have said that your deed was a small thing, but, by your life, it was a great act of lovingkindness, and especially so in that you did not spend your time in pursuit of silver and gold. So also shall I show you lovingkindness when the time comes for Me to arrange for you.
Petirat Moshe 3
What is life without wisdom?
“Let me not die but live,
and I shall declare the works of the Eternal!”
“He buried him in the valley,
in the land of Moab…”
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Is it your wish to live and not die? Moses answered: Yes! He said to him: Then hand over to Me the keys of wisdom. Whereupon he did, and his memory was erased. When Israel came to him for judgment, he did not know how to answer, so Joshua sat in judgment. Moses thought: Now Joshua, my junior, will sit in judgment, and I will be left ignorant. My death would be preferable to my life!
So Moses requested death, and the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself, gathered the soul of Moses to heaven and Himself “buried him in the valley…” (Deuteronomy 34:6). He departed upwards to the Garden of Eden, and his spirit was sweet as the aroma of apples:
“Like the apple among trees of the forest,
thus is My beloved…”
(Song of Songs 2:3)!
Eyn Ya’akov Sotah 14a
“He buries Moses in the valley,
in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Pe’or,
but to this very day no one knows the place of his burial.”
Rabbi Chamah son of Rabbi Chaninah entertained an answer to the following question: Why was the burial place of Moses hidden from the eyes of flesh and blood? Answer: Because the Holy One, blessed be He, knew in advance that the Temple would be destroyed and that Israel would be exiled from their Land.
If people knew the place where Moses was buried, it could be expected that they would come to his grave at the time of crisis, stand there weeping and entreating him, “Oh, Moses our Rabbi, direct your Tefillah on our behalf!” and that he would so act as to cause the decree to be annulled. Because the righteous are beloved in their death even more than in their life!
Thus you find that when Israel were in the Wilderness and their values lapsed to the point of making the calf, the Holy One, blessed be He, became so angry with them that He said to Moses, “Let go of Me so that I can destroy them” (Deuteronomy 9:14)! How many righteous were in that generation? How many faithful? Moses and Aaron and Joshua, Eldad and Medad and Seventy Elders, and other Sages and Scholars—yet not even for them did He annul the decree but only for Moses!
Yerushalmi Berachot 1:5
Solomon’s Clean Hands
“Solomon concludes his prayer and supplication,
for which he was kneeling
with his hands spread out toward heaven…”
(I Kings 8:54)
Rabbi Elazar bar Avina explained why Solomon extended his hands out toward heaven in the course of his prayer and supplication at the Dedication of the Temple which he had built. He was presenting his hands as open and honest hands which had misappropriated nothing from the wealth that his father David had set aside for the building of the Temple. (P’ney Moshe: Moses Margolies, 18th cent. Ukraine)
Numbers Rabbah 22:7
Behind the Stipulation
“Joshua reminds the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh,
of Moses’s stipulation that their wives, children and livestock
could remain in the territory east of the Jordan,
which the Eternal is giving to those three tribes,
while they assist…the other tribes…
to possess the Land (west of the Jordan)
which the Eternal is giving to those tribes.”
“The Reubenites and the Gadites
had very large holdings of cattle…”
Three gifts were created in the world, such that if one is worthy of any one of them, he inherits all of the world’s enjoyment. If he is worthy of wisdom, he is worthy of all. If he is worthy of might, he is worthy of all. If he is worthy of riches, he is worthy of all. But only when they are the gifts of Heaven and flow from the strength of Torah, whereas might and riches of flesh and blood are as nothing.
This is really what Solomon meant when he said:
“I observe in real life
that the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the mighty,
that the bread is not to the wise
nor riches to those of understanding,
nor is favor to the knowledgeable,
but time and chance
would seem to explain them all!”
Jeremiah put it this way:
“Thus says the Eternal:
‘Let not the wise be praised for his wisdom,
nor the mighty be praised for his strength;
let not the rich man be praised for his wealth,
rather let the one who would be praised
be praised in this:
That he understands and knows of Me
that I, the Eternal, show lovingkindness
along with justice and righteousness in the earth!”
These same gifts, when they do not come from the Holy One, blessed be He, are destined to be lost. Thus you find with the Gadites and the Reubenites, who were wealthy and owned much cattle, who loved their money and chose to reside outside of the Land of Israel. Therefore were they exiled first of all of the tribes, as was said, “The God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tillegath-Pilneser, king of Assyria, and exiled the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh…” (I Chronicles 5:26). What was the reason? They separated themselves from their brothers because of their possessions, as the Torah explains: “The Reubenites and the Gadites had very large holdings of cattle…” (Numbers 32:1)!
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana Nispachim 1
One Simple Thing
Let our Rabbi instruct us:
If one who goes up to read from the Torah,
may he read without first reciting a blessing?
Our Rabbis teach that first he blesses, then he reads.
And Moses, when he was blessed to receive the Torah from the hand of the Holy One, blessed be He, first said a blessing over the Torah, and then he read it.
Rabbi Elazar: What were the words that Moses recited in his blessing over the Torah?
“Blessed are You, O Eternal,
who has chosen this Torah,
has sanctified it,
and has taken pleasure
in those who engage in it.”
He did not say,
“those who labor in it”
“those who declaim it,”
“those who engage in it,”
that is to say,
those who fulfill the Torah for its own sake!
Consider the Israelite who thinks of himself: I have not learned Torah or Wisdom; how empty am I! To him, says the Holy One, blessed be He: All of Torah and all of Wisdom are one simple thing. The doing of Torah and the doing of Wisdom in awe of Me are words of Torah in the heart.
Thus it has been said:
“The foundation of wisdom is fear of the Eternal,
sound understanding to all who practice it,
worthy of praise for ever.”
“Fear of the Eternal—
that is their treasure!”
Such is the blessing that Moses recited over the Torah
that he received from the hand of the Holy One, blessed be He.