The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, the Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan
The Mishnah lists special Torah readings that are appropriate for Jewish holidays throughout the year –
- Pesach – Vayikra 22:26-23:8
- Shavuot – Vayikra 23:15-22
- Rosh HaShanah – Vayikra 23:23-25
- Yom Kippur – Vayikra 16:1-34
- Sukkot – Bamidbar 29:12-39
- Hanukkah – Bamidbar 7:1-89
- Purim – Shemot 17:8-16
- Rosh Chodesh – Bamidbar 28:11-15
In truth, even during the time of the Talmud these were not the precise readings that were used; it is clear that the traditions of the Geonim and the rulings that appear in Masechet Soferim were accepted as common practice in most communities, and the Geonim rule that every place should keep its own customs.
Tosafot point out that today’s tradition of taking out two sifrei Torah on holidays, with the second reading coming from the sacrifice of the day from Sefer Bamidbar (chapter 28), is never mentioned anywhere in the Talmud; the first mention of this custom appears in Seder Rav Amram Gaon. It is possible, however, that this is not a new custom established by the Geonim, but rather an old, established tradition that is simply not mentioned in the Talmud, much as many issues having to do with set, communal prayers are not discussed in the Talmud and were codified by the Geonim. The Rashba points out that such a reading is hinted to in the Mishnah based on the reading mentioned on Hanukkah and Rosh Chodesh.
The Hanukkah reading, which comes from the sacrifices brought by the heads of each tribe on the occasion of the establishment of the mishkan in the desert, intuitively matches with the rededication of the bet ha-Mikdash during second Temple times. Nevertheless, the commentaries also connect it with the well-known midrash that Aharon the High Priest was disturbed that the tribe of Levi did not have an opportunity to participate in the sacrifices brought on this occasion, and received a promise from God that the kohanim would receive a holiday dedicated to the Hasmonean priestly victory. Thus, the Hanukkah lights celebrate that victory even as they commemorate the rekindling of the menorah in the Temple, whose lighting is connected to Aharon and his descendants (see Bamidbar 8:1-4).
What is the Torah reading on Yom Kippur?
We learned in the Mishnah that on Yom Kippur we read Acharei Mot – where we find the commandments to Aharon the kohen gadol about how to enter the Holy of Holies (see Vayikra 16:1-34). Since the only person who is permitted to enter the kodesh kodashim is the High Priest on Yom Kippur, the choice of this reading seems most appropriate. The Gemara quotes a baraita that adds information about the haftara – Yeshayahu 58, which discusses repentance and the ideal fast day from God’s perspective – as well as the readings for the afternoon service on Yom Kippur. According to the baraita, during Minchah we read the laws of forbidden sexual relations (Vayikra chapter 18) and for the Haftarah we read the entire book of Yonah.
The choice to read the laws of forbidden sexual relations on Yom Kippur seems to be an odd one. Rashi suggests that since such sins are relatively common – given that sexual desires are part of human nature – it therefore makes sense to offer a public call to the people to repent from such sins on Yom Kippur. Tosafot says that it is commonplace to find women attending the synagogue dressed in their finery to honor the holy day, so it is necessary to remind the congregation to take care in their interactions between the sexes. Tosafot also mention a midrash that teaches how reading these rules is a hint to God. We are saying to him “just as You commanded us to restrict our activities regarding uncovering nakedness, we beseech You to show sensitivity today and refrain from uncovering our nakedness (i.e. our sins).”
A different approach is taken by one of the later commentaries, Rabbi Yosef Messing in his Gal Na’ul. According to him, this section of the Torah is read specifically because the Jewish people are careful with regard to these laws, thus publicly announcing them is a statement indicating that we are righteous in our behaviors.
Common practice is to pay attention to the aliyot to the Torah as great honors, while the closing activities of hagbah (lifting) and gelilah – of rolling up the sefer Torah so that it can be properly returned to the ark – are perceived as less important, and are often given to young people. The discussion on the last page of Masechet Megillah focuses on the act of gelilah, and its conclusions fly in the face of common practice. Rabbi Yochanan is quoted as teaching that when there are ten people available for Torah reading, it is the greatest among them who is asked to perform gelilah. In fact, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches that the individual who does gelilah received a reward as great as all of those who were called to the Torah to read.
The Gemara also relates a series of halakhot that teach the proper way to perform gelilah. For example, when tightening the scroll, Rabbi Yochanan requires it to be done on a seam, where the parchments that make up the Torah scroll are sewn together. Rashi explains that this is the place where it can most easily be tightened well; Tosafot Ri”d and Rabbeinu Yehonatan explain that this will ensure that the scroll will not tear, and in the event that it does tear, only the stitches will come out, but the scroll itself will not be damaged.
Other rules of gelilah are:
- golelo mi-bahutz ve-lo mi-bifnim – turn it from the outside, but not the inside
- mehadko mi-bifnim ve-lo mi-bachutz – tighten it from the inside, but not the outside
Many explanations are given for these rules. Rashi appears to understand that this is not talking about gelilah in the synagogue after a public Torah reading, rather it deals with a case where a person is reading privately from a scroll (before bound books became the norm). Rabbeinu Chananel suggests that this means that the back of the Torah should be facing the person doing gelilah, but that he should tie the knot closed on the other side, where the Torah is going to be opened. This is important because otherwise when the Torah is next taken out to be read from it will have to be turned over, which will show a lack of respect and honor.
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.