Portion: Deuteronomy 33 - to the end of chumash; Genesis 1:1 - 2:3

Haftorah: Joshua I

On Simchat Torah, the Torah is concluded and is begun again from the beginning. Thus, on the day of Rejoicing with the Torah we complete the yearly cycle of the weekly readings of the Torah, and begin it anew.

Three scrolls are taken out on simchat Torah. In the first one we read the last portion of chumash --V'zoth ha'Brachah. The reading is divided up into two parts. The first part is read and re-read as many times as is necessary, in order to give every one, from the age of Bar-mitzvah and up, an opportunity to be called up to the Torah. To save time, several men may be called up together.

The contents of this part are clear from the opening words, "And this is the blessing wherewith Moses, the man of G‑d, blessed the children of Israel before his death." Moses mentions every tribe by name and blesses each one individually, and all Israel together. The last person of this group is called up "With all the boys," that is, with all the boys under thirteen years of age.

After the reading, a special prayer is recited on behalf of the boys: "The angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." This blessing was originally bestowed by Jacob on his grandchildren Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 48:16). Needless to say, it is an exciting and inspiring moment for the boys of pre Bar-mitzvah age, since it is generally the only occasion during the year when they are called up to the Torah.

The second part (from 33:27 to the end of the Torah) is reserved for the "Bridegroom of the Torah" (Chatan Torah), usually a distinguished and learned member of the congregation, since this reading concludes the Torah. Before he is called up, a special blessing is recited for him, This closing section of the Torah tells of the passing on of Moses at the age of one hundred and twenty years, after seeing the Promised Land from a distance, standing on the peak of Mount Nebo. The Torah tells us that Moses died "by the Mouth of G‑d," and was buried by G‑d in the valley below, in the land of Moab, "and no one knows his burial place to this day." The children of Israel wept for Moses thirty days, but they had not been left without a leader, for "Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom," and he had been appointed by Moses, at G‑d's command, to succeed him. In the concluding verses, the Torah tells us that there was not a prophet like Moses before of after him, "whom G‑d knew face to face."

For the very last verse the congregants rise to their feet, and at the conclusion exclaim: "Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other!" —a determined call to continue reading, studying and following the Torah with ever growing devotion. Our Sages tell us that these last verses of the Torah, like every other word of it, were written by Moses himself, by the word of G‑d, "G‑d dictating, and Moses writing it down with tears in his eyes."

In the second scroll, the Torah is begun from the beginning, from Genesis. This reading is reserved for the "Bridegroom of Bereishit" (Chatan Bereishith), and the honor is again accorded to a distinguished, pious gentleman. Before being called, a special blessing is recited for him, too, as in the case of the other "Bridegroom." During the reading, when the Reader reaches the verse "And it was evening, and it was morning, the first day," the entire congregation recites this verse in unison, which is then repeated by the Reader. The same procedure is followed in the case of all the other Days of Creation. The final section, including the entire portion of Vayechulu (which forms the first part of the Friday-night Kiddush) is likewise recited by the entire congregation and repeated by the Reader.

In the third scroll the portion of maftir is read, which is the same that was read on the day before (Shemini Atzeret). The haftorah is taken from the first chapter of Joshua. The connection is obvious. Joshua was the successor of Moses, and the Book of Joshua, the first of the collection of the Books of the Prophets, is the continuation of the Torah. Thus the Tradition was handed down from Moses to Joshua, and from Joshua to the Elders, and from the Elders to the Prophets, and so on, in an unbroken chain, to this very day.

The last Shabbat of the month of Tishrei is called Shabbat Bereishit, because we read on it this portion in its entirety. Thus, at the end of all the festivals of Tishrei we come back to Bereishit, to the Beginning. Here is an indication that the beginning of all wisdom is to know that G‑d is the Creator and Master of the world. Coming back to the Beginning further indicates that we never "finish," nor "graduate," as far as the Torah is concerned. Truly endless is the Torah, "longer than the earth, wider than the ocean," for it is the wisdom of G‑d, the Infinite.

It is on this note that the Jew leaves the month of Tishrei and begins his daily life in the new year. Inspired and enriched by the religious experiences of every variety —with which the month of Tishrei is so rich— he can face every challenge in his daily life with courage and fortitude, in the knowledge that he is a link in the eternal chain which unites Israel with G‑d, through the Torah.

The Complete Story of Tishrei