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Seven-Year Reading

Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

Maimonides writes (Chagigah 3:1) that the purpose of gathering the people together to hear the public reading of the book of Deuteronomy (31:11) is to strengthen their religious commitment and fear of God. With such important objectives, why is this mitzvah performed only once every seven years and not annually?

Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Fisher (Even Yisroel) explains that it is appropriate to perform this mitzvah when the words of Torah which are read will be properly listened to and accepted. After the Sabbatical (Shmitah) year, the Jewish people have spent an entire year letting their fields lie fallow and using their time to pursue spiritual pursuits.

They have also witnessed the Torah's blessing (Leviticus 25:21) that the land will miraculously produce enough to sustain them for three years With mundane concerns far from their minds, this unique opportunity which arises only once every seven years is the ideal time to perform this mitzvah.

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Moshe commanded (31:12) all of the people - men, women, children and converts - to gather together to hear the reading of the book of Deuteronomy by the king during the festival of Sukkos every 7 years. Why was it read specifically on Sukkos instead of Pesach or Shavuos?

Kli Yakar explains that an integral part of the reason for the mitzvah of hakhel - gathering the people together for the Torah reading by the king - was to remind them of the importance of unity. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 30:12) teaches that the four species which are taken on Sukkos correspond to different types of Jews. Because they are all taken together, they remind us of the value of togetherness among the Jewish nation, and it is therefore an appropriate time for the mitzvah of hakhel.

He adds that this also explains why the mitzvah is done specifically at the conclusion of the Sabbatical year. Feelings of jealousy and competition with respect to the possessions of others are a major obstacle to unity. In the Sabbatical year, farmers are forbidden to work on their land or even to hoard its produce for themselves, as anything that grows is considered ownerless. After an entire year of feeling equal to every other Jew and unthreatened by them, it is an ideal time to gather together for the mitzvah of hakhel.

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May the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah (Deut. 31:19) be fulfilled through the purchase of books on Torah subjects?

The Rosh (Hilchos Sefer Torah 1) rules that the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah only applied in earlier generations, in which they were accustomed to read and study from the actual Torah, but not in later generations such as his, when they would place the Sefer Torah in the synagogue and use it only for the public Torah readings. Instead, the mitzvah was transformed to one of purchasing Torah books from which one could study.

The Bais Yosef (YD 270) argues that the Rosh never intended to annul the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah, but rather to add that the mitzvah can also be fulfilled through the purchase of books, which is preferable to writing a Torah that will be stored in the synagogue and unused for Torah study. This is also the opinion of the Sefer HaChinuch (613), Bach, Taz, Levush, Vilna Gaon, and Shaages Aryeh.

However, the Perisha explains that it would be disrespectful to take out the Torah to learn from it when we are equally able to study printed books, and he therefore maintains that the opinion of the Rosh is that there is no longer a mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah, an interpretation agreed to by the Shach.

The Shaages Aryeh adds that even if the Rosh did not intend to negate the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah, we are still exempt from doing so due to the fact that we are no longer experts in which words of the Torah are written with extra letters or missing letters. Because a Sefer Torah which has even one additional or omitted letter is invalid, we are unable to properly fulfill the mitzvah and are therefore exempt.

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Each year the reading of the entire Torah is finished on Simchas Torah. How is it possible for a complete Hebrew year to go by without the reading of one of the 54 portions of the Torah?

In a year in which there is only one Shabbos between Rosh Hashana and Sukkos, Parshas Nitzavim and Vayeilech are read as a double parsha on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashana and Parshas Haazinu is read on Shabbos Shuva. If there are two Shabbosim between Rosh Hashana and Sukkos, Parshas Nitzavim is read before Rosh Hashana, Parshas Vayeilech is read on Shabbos Shuva, and Parshas Haazinu is read on the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Sukkos. As a result, Parshas Vayeilech was read at the end of 5771 and next at the beginning of 5773, and the entire year of 5772 passed without it being read.

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