Congregants become the legs and feet of the scroll as they dance through the assembly.
Regular Shabbat Readings
- Vezot Habracha (וזאת הברכה | This is the blessing)
- Torah: Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12
- Haftarah: Joshua 1:1-18
- Gospel: Acts 1:1-14
Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.
- Deuteronomy 33:1 | Moses’ Final Blessing on Israel
- Deuteronomy 34:1 | Moses Dies and Is Buried in the Land of Moab
- Joshua 1:1 | God’s Commission to Joshua
- Joshua 1:10 | Preparations for the Invasion
The fifty-fourth and last reading from the Torah begins with the words Vezot ha’Berachah (וזאת הברכה), which means “And this is the blessing.” These are the first words of Deuteronomy 33:1. This Torah portion is ordinarily read on the day of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah) in conjunction with the beginning of the book of Genesis to mark the conclusion of one year’s Torah cycle and the beginning of the next. The portion contains Moses’ final blessings over the twelve tribes, the story of his ascent up Mount Nebo to overlook the land of Canaan and the story of his death and burial.
On the same day that we finish reading the Torah, we begin it again. We conclude the book of Deuteronomy then the scroll is rewound and we begin reading of the book of Genesis. The celebration that accompanies the ending and beginning of the Torah reading is called Simchat Torah, “The Rejoicing of the Torah.” It is traditionally done on the Eighth Day (Shemini Atzeret) after the seven days of the festival Sukkot. (In the Diaspora where festival Sabbaths are doubled, the ninth day.)
Why is it called the “Rejoicing of the Torah” as if the Torah itself was doing the rejoicing? In some sense, it seems as if the Torah does rejoice on this day. In the synagogue, it is traditional to take the Torah in one’s arms and dance through the aisles with it. Congregants become the legs and feet of the scroll as they dance through the assembly.
At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, we read the story of how Moses, the First Redeemer and foreshadowing type of the Messiah-to-come, succumbs to death. After 120 years, he sees the Promised Land from the heights of Mount Nebo, and then he dies. Regarding his death, the Torah tells us that God Himself buried the body of Moses. The Midrash Rabbah imagines God coaxing Moses’ soul forth from his body.
Thereupon God kissed Moses and took away his soul with a kiss of the mouth… (Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:10)
Yet before we have even had time to properly grieve the death of Moses (who was a pattern of the Messiah-to-come) we rewind the scroll of Torah and read the narrative of a new beginning, a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, a new man (adam) into whom God breathes the soul life. The kiss of death and the kiss of life are delivered from the same mouth. A pattern is established. The ending, “Tav” gives way to the beginning “Alef.” Death gives way to life. With God, the end is a new beginning.
He who is the Eternal Word, the Goal of the Torah and the First and the Last has declared, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. (Revelation 1:17-18)
This is the rejoicing of the Torah. (Click to Source)
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