Saturday, October 11, 2014

Torah Thoughts on the Shabbat in Sukkot

There is an interesting vagary in the Jewish calendar.  This Shabbat is the intermediate Shabbat of the holiday of Sukkot.  Next Shabbat will be the day after Simchat Torah, on which we will begin reading the Torah again from its first portion, Bereshit.  We have not yet read the last portion of the Torah, V’zot HaBracha.  Wouldn’t this be the obvious time to read this portion which recounts Moses’ final blessing to the Israelite people, and his death in God’s presence on Mount Nebo?

But that is not what we read.  Instead, we will read a portion chosen for the Shabbat in Sukkot (also read on the Shabbat in Passover).  It recounts the story of Moses when he received the second set of commandments and when God placed him in the cleft of the rock and Moses beheld God’s glory as it passed him (Exodus 33:12-34:26).  We will not read V’zot HaBracha until Simchat Torah, when we will immediately start again at Genesis, at the beginning of the world.

The usual reason given for this arrangement is that we never let any time lapse between ending and beginning our reading and study of Torah.  But I think there is another reason as well.  Even now, millennia later, many Jews still feel that Moses’ death in the wilderness, never to set foot in the Promised Land, is the great unfairness of the Torah.  To have a Torah portion end this way, in the midst of a festival season, with a whole week to go before starting again from the beginning, would be hard to take, and counter to the spirit of joy that should pervade Sukkot. 

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