1) THE PARSHAH OF "ARAYOS" ON YOM KIPPUR
OPINIONS: The Beraisa states that the Torah reading on Yom Kippur at Minchah is the Parshah of Arayos.
Why is this particular Parshah read on Yom Kippur at Minchah?
(a) RASHI explains that the Parshah of Arayos is read in order to arouse the people to repent. The sins of Arayos are very severe and carry harsh punishments, but at the same time they are very common due to man's lust for them (see Chagigah 11b). The Parshah of Arayos is read on Yom Kippur to arouse people to repent for these sins.
Rashi's words may also explain the Gemara in Yoma (67b) which says that the Sa'ir la'Azazel of Yom Kippur is called "Azazel" because it atones for the sins of Arayos (see Rashi there). However, the Sa'ir of Yom Kippur atones for all sins. Why does the Gemara say specifically that it atones for the sins of Arayos? Perhaps the intention of the Gemara there is to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Sa'ir of Yom Kippur in atoning for all sins by giving an example of a very common and very severe sin for which the Sa'ir atones.
(b) TOSFOS explains that the Parshah of Arayos is read in order to prevent people from committing a sin of Arayos on Yom Kippur itself. Since the women make themselves attractive (and come to the synagogue) in honor of Yom Kippur, the people need an extra warning to remind them of the severity of Arayos.
The RASHASH adds that the extra warning is especially appropriate in light of the Gemara at the end of Ta'anis, which describes how the young women of Yerushalayim would adorn themselves and go out to find their match on Yom Kippur.
(c) The MACHZOR VITRI cites the Gemara in Yoma (67b) which says that when the Torah commands, "Es Mishpatai Ta'asu" (Vayikra 18:4), it refers to Mitzvos such as Arayos for which the reasons are obvious and from which one would have known to refrain based on common sense. When the verse says, "v'Es Chukosai Tishmeru," it refers to Mitzvos which seem to have no reason, such as the Sa'ir la'Azazel. The Gemara warns that one must not think that such Mitzvos are meaningless, but rather one must understand that they are decrees from Hash-m and they may not be criticized, as the verse concludes, "Ani Hash-m."
The Parshah of Arayos also ends with the words, "Ani Hash-m." This Parshah reminds the people that just as they follow the prohibitions of Arayos willingly because the logic for those prohibitions is obvious, so, too, the people must eagerly follow the Mitzvos which have no apparent reason, such as the Sa'ir la'Azazel. The Parshah of Arayos is read on Yom Kippur to strengthen and declare our Emunah in the Mitzvah of the Sa'ir la'Azazel (since one who denies the validity of that Mitzvah cannot attain atonement through it).
(d) TOSFOS quotes the Midrash which gives another reason for reading the Parshah of Arayos on Yom Kippur. By reading that Parshah, we express to Hash-m that just as we are careful not to be Megaleh Arayos, so, too, Hash-m should not be Megaleh (expose) our Ervah (our shameful sins).
2) THE TORAH READING AND HAFTARAH ON SIMCHAS TORAH
QUESTION: The Gemara teaches that the Torah reading on Simchas Torah is Parshas v'Zos ha'Berachah, and the Haftarah is the chapter of "va'Ya'amod Shlomo" (Melachim I 8:22). TOSFOS writes that in some places the Haftarah is the first chapter of Sefer Yehoshua, "Vayehi Acharei Mos Moshe" (this is the common practice today). Tosfos says that although some claim that Rav Hai Ga'on instituted that the first chapter of Yehoshua be read as the Haftarah for Simchas Yom Tov, this practice is questionable since there seems to be no reason to disregard what the Gemara says.
The ROSH writes that the source for reading the first chapter of Yehoshua as the Haftarah on Simchas Torah is the Yerushalmi. (This is no reference to this Haftarah in our edition of the Yerushalmi.)
What is the reason for the common practice to read on Simchas Torah a Haftarah which the Gemara does not mention?
ANSWER: The ROSH (on the Mishnah) asks why the Gemara says that the chapter of "va'Ya'amod Shlomo" is the Haftarah of Simchas Torah. The Haftarah read on Shabbos or Yom Tov must have some connection to the Parshah which was read, but the chapter of "va'Ya'amod Shlomo" is not related to the Parshah of v'Zos ha'Berachah. Although "va'Ya'amod Shlomo" discusses a topic relevant to the day of Simchas Torah -- the blessing which Shlomo ha'Melech gave to the Jewish people on the last day of Sukos -- it is not related to the Torah reading. (That it is related to the day does not suffice.) Why does the Gemara prescribe such a Haftarah?
The Rosh answers that the Gemara means that in addition to Parshas v'Zos ha'Berachah, another Sefer Torah is supposed to be opened from which the Parshah of the Korbanos of Shemini Atzeres is read. Consequently, the Haftarah of "va'Ya'amod Shlomo" indeed relates to the Torah reading, because both refer to the last day of Sukos.
The RAN explains that the Haftarah of "va'Ya'amod Shlomo" is related to the reading of Parshas v'Zos ha'Berachah. Parshas v'Zos ha'Berachah is read not merely because it is the end of the Torah, but because Shemini Atzeres is the last of the year's festivals. At such a time, when the Jews return to their homes after the last festival, it is appropriate to read the blessings with which Moshe blessed the Jewish people as recorded in v'Zos ha'Berachah. This is also the reason why Shlomo ha'Melech blessed the nation on that day; it was the last day of Sukos and he wanted to leave them with a blessing. Accordingly, the Haftarah is directly related to the reading of v'Zos ha'Berachah.
It is evident from the words of the Rosh and the Ran that the reading of v'Zos ha'Berachah expresses two completely different themes. According to the Rosh, the reading of v'Zos ha'Berachah marks the end of the yearly cycle of the Torah reading. This theme is not related to the Haftarah which the Gemara mentions, but it is related to the Haftarah which is read today (Yehoshua 1), which continues where the Torah left off, so to speak, at the death of Moshe Rabeinu.
A second theme is evident from the words of the Ran. Parshas v'Zos ha'Berachah is read because it contains the blessing given to the Jewish people at the end of the yearly cycle of festivals. This theme is clearly related to the Haftarah which the Gemara prescribes for Simchas Torah, "va'Ya'amod Shlomo."
Perhaps this is the basis for the change in the Haftarah of Simchas Torah. Originally, Shemini Atzeres was not the designated day for the completion of the reading of the Torah. Some communities completed the Torah on the Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, while others completed it at other times. In Eretz Yisrael, where the practice was to read the Torah in a three-year cycle, they certainly did not complete it every year on Shemini Atzeres. At the time of the Gemara, Shemini Atzeres was not the designated day on which the Torah was completed. Rather, a Sefer Torah was taken out and Parshas v'Zos ha'Berachah was read from it in order to read an expression of blessing at the end of the festivals. Consistent with this purpose for reading v'Zos ha'Berachah, the Gemara prescribes "va'Ya'amod Shlomo" as the Haftarah, in which Shlomo ha'Melech also blesses the people at the end of the yearly cycle of festivals.
In a later era, it became the practice to complete the yearly Torah reading cycle on Shemini Atzeres (Simchas Torah). Consequently, the purpose for reading v'Zos ha'Berachah changed. No longer was it read as an expression of blessing for the people, but rather it was read as the completion of the yearly cycle of the Torah reading. The change in the theme of v'Zos ha'Berachah caused a change in the Haftarah, so that the practice now is to read "Vayehi Acharei Mos Moshe." (The MESHECH CHOCHMAH, end of Devarim, suggests a similar approach.)
3) THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CURSES IN PARSHAS KI SAVO AND THOSE IN PARSHAS BECHUKOSAI
QUESTION: The Gemara rules that the one who reads from the Torah is permitted to pause in the middle of the curses in Parshas Ki Savo (in "Mishneh Torah," or Devarim), but he is not permitted to pause in the middle of the curses in Parshas Bechukosai. The reason for the difference is that the curses in Mishneh Torah "were said in the singular (Lashon Yachid) and by Moshe himself," while those in Parshas Bechukosai "were said in the plural (Lashon Rabim), and they were said by Hash-m (through Moshe)."
What does the Gemara mean when it says that Moshe Rabeinu said the curses in Mishneh Torah by himself? The entire Torah was said by Hash-m and written down by Moshe Rabeinu. How can the Gemara say that he said the curses by himself?
ANSWER: TOSFOS explains that Moshe Rabeinu did not say the curses in Mishnah Torah entirely by himself. Rather, he said them through "Ru'ach ha'Kodesh."
What does Tosfos mean? The rest of the Torah was also said by Moshe Rabeinu with Ru'ach ha'Kodesh. In what way does Mishneh Torah differ from the rest of the Torah?
The VILNA GA'ON (cited by the OHEL YAKOV and in PENINIM MI'SHULCHAN HA'GRA, beginning of Parshas Devarim) explains that the difference is that the rest of the Torah, until Mishneh Torah, was expressed verbally by Moshe Rabeinu as he received the Nevu'ah from Hash-m ("ha'Shechinah Medaberes mi'Toch Grono"). In contrast, Moshe Rabeinu communicated Mishneh Torah to the Jewish people only after he had finished receiving the Nevu'ah from Hash-m, and not at the moment that Hash-m spoke to him. (See also MAHARAL in TIFERES YISRAEL, ch. 43.)
Why did Moshe Rabeinu relay the curses in Mishneh Torah in this way? Why did he wait to relate them until his Nevu'ah had finished?
The words of the Vilna Ga'on imply that all of Mishneh Torah was taught in that manner, and not just the curses. The MINCHAS ANI (by the author of the Aruch la'Ner, RAV YAKOV ETLINGER) explains the reason for this. The Jewish people were unable to endure the intense holiness of Dibur which emanated directly from Hash-m. In Mishneh Torah, which is primarily a review of the Mitzvos (which is why it is called "Mishneh Torah"), Moshe Rabeinu spared the people the fright of having to hear the Dibur directly from Hash-m, and he told them the Nevu'ah after he had received it and not at the same moment that he received it. However, the first time they were taught the Mitzvos (before Mishneh Torah) they needed to hear them directly from Hash-m.
The MAHARSHA in Bava Basra (88b) explains that Moshe Rabeinu taught Mishneh Torah in Arvos Mo'av, after the Jewish people had accepted upon themselves the obligation of "Arvus" -- responsibility for each other's actions (Sotah 37b). This is why the curses in Mishneh Torah are in the singular form (Lashon Yachid). When he related to the Jewish people the punishments for the various transgressions, Moshe Rabeinu needed to teach that each individual would be held accountable for the other person's sins because of "Arvus" -- each man is responsible for the other. He thus addressed the people in the singular form in order to emphasize that every person is responsible for the sins of every other member of the nation. If this communication would have come directly from Hash-m, the Jewish people would have mistakenly assumed that Hash-m was speaking in the singular form simply because He was speaking to Moshe Rabeinu, but not to each and every Jew. This communication had to come from Moshe Rabeinu so that it would be obvious that it was not directed only to Moshe but to every individual member of the nation.
In contrast, the curses in Parshas Bechukosai were given before the people came to Arvos Mo'av and before they accepted the obligation of "Arvus." At that time, the only way for an individual to be subject to punishment is if the person himself sinned. Any person who did not sin would not be punished. Therefore, the curses were said in the plural form (Lashon Rabim). It was not necessary for Moshe to say it over on his own because it was obvious that the communication -- even when spoken directly by Hash-m -- was addressed to the entire nation and not to Moshe (since it was in the plural form).
4) AGADAH: A BLESSED NEW YEAR, A CURSED OLD ONE
QUESTIONS: The Beraisa relates in the name of Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar that Ezra instituted that the curses in Parshas Bechukosai (Vayikra 26:14-43) be read from the Torah before Shavuos, and those of Mishneh Torah (Devarim 28:15-68) be read before Rosh Hashanah. The Gemara explains that this is done to symbolize that the past year should finish along with all of the curses associated with it. The Gemara explains that Shavuos is considered a new year because the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 16a) says that on Shavuos the world is judged for "the fruit of the trees."
There are several difficulties with this Gemara.
First, why does the reading of curses before Rosh Hashanah symbolize a blessed new year? On the contrary, reading the curses before Rosh Hashanah seems to be a way of "ushering in" curses, rather than "ushering out" curses! Indeed, TOSFOS (DH Klalos) writes that the custom today is to read a Parshah that does not mention curses on the Shabbos immediately before Rosh Hashanah, and to read the curses two weeks before Rosh Hashanah in order to avoid reading the curses immediately before Rosh Hashanah. Tosfos seems to give this "break" from curses so that the curses not be read right before the beginning of the new year. What, then, does the Gemara mean?
Second, why is the set of curses in Sefer Vayikra read specifically before Shavuos, and the set of curses in Sefer Devarim read specifically before Rosh Hashanah?
Third, there are actually four different days of Rosh Hashanah in the year, as listed in the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah. Why did Ezra institute that the "year end with its curses" only for two of them?
Fourth, the original practice in Eretz Yisrael was to read the Torah in a three-year cycle, as opposed to the annual cycle which is practiced today (Megilah 29b). How did the Jews in Eretz Yisrael observe Ezra's institution to read the curses before Rosh Hashanah every year if their cycle reached each set of curses only once in three years? (MAHARATZ CHAYOS)
ANSWER: These questions point towards a new understanding of Ezra's enactment. Apparently, Ezra's enactment did not require that the normal Torah reading be deliberately arranged so that the curses are read before Rosh Hashanah. Rather, he enacted that in the course of the weekly readings, the curses should not be read shortly after the start of a new year, because starting a year with curses is a bad omen. He proposed that when the curses in the regular cycle of the weekly reading coincide with a Rosh Hashanah, the reading of the curses should be advanced to the Shabbos before the new year.
This explains why the curses of Vayikra are associated with Shavuos and those of Devarim with Rosh Hashanah. The yearly cycle of readings naturally causes those Parshiyos to be read near those festivals. For the same reason, Ezra had no need to make an enactment for the Rosh Hashanah associated with Sukos or for the Rosh Hashanah associated with Pesach. No reading of curses coincides with those days of Rosh Hashanah.
Moreover, even those who followed the three-year cycle of the Torah reading were able to fulfill Ezra's enactment. Since it was a preventative enactment and not an active one, if the curses would ever fall in a weekly reading shortly after a Rosh Hashanah, that reading would be advanced to the Shabbos before the Rosh Hashanah. The enactment included no obligation to actively arrange the readings in such a way that the curses would be read before Shavuos or Rosh Hashanah.
This explains why reading the curses before the festival is a sign of blessing for the new year. The curses anyway must be read near the festival due to the yearly cycle. By reading them before the festival as opposed to afterwards, we avoid "starting the year with curses" and instead usher in a year of blessing.
A more in-depth understanding, however, may be gleaned from the words of the Midrash (Tanchuma, beginning of Parshas Netzavim). The Midrash says that when the Jewish people heard the "100-less-two" curses of Devarim in addition to the 49 curses in Vayikra, they did not think that they would be able to survive all of them. Moshe Rabeinu calmed them by pointing out that they had already sinned terribly in the desert and yet they had not been destroyed.
The Midrash then asks why the Nochrim were destroyed for their sins while the Jews were not. It answers that when the Nochrim are punished they do not turn to Hash-m in repentance, but rather they rebel as a result of their suffering. In contrast, when the Jews are punished they humble themselves and pray to Hash-m. The Midrash concludes that in that sense "the curses preserve their spiritual integrity."
It is not only the physical suffering of punishment that arouses a reaction of contrition. The prudent do not need to be punished; the very consideration of the wrath of Hash-m humbles them and inspires them to turn their hearts and prayers to their Creator. This may have been part of the purpose of Ezra's enactment. He wanted the people to read the curses and thereby be aroused to repent, specifically before Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. When the people sincerely repent, they merit to be judged for a year of prosperity. (Perhaps the reason for the common custom to read the curses two weeks before the festival, as Tosfos says, is in order to give the people time to repent.)
Another point deserves consideration. The number of curses in Devarim is "100-less-two," as the Tanchuma says. This unusual way of expressing the number may imply that there are not merely "98" curses, but rather 100 curses, two of which differ in some way from the others. The KLI YAKAR (beginning of Parshas Netzavim) explains that the two different curses are those specified in the verse, "Also any sickness and any punishment that is not written in this Torah, Hash-m will bring upon you" (Devarim 28:61). The curses of "sickness" and of "punishment" are written in the verse ("Hash-m will bring [them] upon you"), while at the same time they are left unwritten ("any sickness and any punishment that is not written in this Torah"). These two curses are the two that are removed from the count of 100. Accordingly, the full count of curses in Mishneh Torah is actually 100 and not just 98.
With this in mind, it may be suggested that just as Ezra's reading of the curses of Vayikra arouse one to take heed of the 49 curses and repent, so, too, the 49 days of Sefiras ha'Omer, which begin from the second day of Pesach and culminate at Shavuos, allude to those 49 curses. Similarly, just as Ezra's enactment to read the 100 curses in Devarim before Rosh Hashanah reminds the people to take heed of the curses and to repent, so, too, the 100 blasts of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah arouse the people to awaken from their slumber and return to Hash-m. (M. KORNFELD)