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The Torah that Moses commanded us is an inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob (33:4).
This Parasha is read on Simchat Torah - the day when the annual cycle of Torah reading finishes and starts again.
The Book of Numbers refers to Simchat Torah as separate from Sukkot. "On the eighth day (of Sukkot), there shall be a special festive day. No work may be done" (Num. 29:35). Using the festive communal offerings as a guide, Rashi explains that whereas aspects of the seven days of Sukkot are relevant to all nations, the eighth day is exclusive to G-d and the Israelites. He compares the day to a king who after a period of public celebration makes an exclusive feast to those closest to him. "Please stay with me for one more day".
Yet no reference at all is made to Simchat Torah in the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses reminds the Israelites of observing the three Temple-attendance-associated festivals - Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot (Deut. 16:1-17). But Sukkot comes with" "You shall observe Sukkot for seven days (ibid. 16:13). The eighth day does not get a mention. And even where it is mentioned elsewhere, there is nothing explicitly specified in general observance apart from the prohibition of work.
Maybe one reason for this is to allow religious initiative to come from the people. Worship is not fossilized in development, but dynamic. The blank space left completely by Moses was to allow future nations to innovate things relevant to their times and situations. The cycle of the public reading of the Torah is associated with Ezra some eight hundred years later, when the circumstances of the Jews had greatly changed. (Its present annual cycle became the norm very much later.) There had then been tentative resettlement and re-establishment of things holy in the Land of Israel, yet many Jews had intermarried, assimilated, and needed constant reminder of their sacred position within the Creation. What better time could that message be established than at the exclusive "banquet" that Rashi associates with the Eighth Day - Simchat Torah? For it is just at that time that the Jews best connect with the message of The Torah that Moses commanded us is an inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob."
תם ונשלם שבח לאל בורא עולם
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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