Question: The Covid-19 pandemic has put an end to almost all public gatherings; hence, much of Jewish congregational ritual have come to a halt. Is there a way to make up for everything we missed?
Answer: Simchat Torah marks the culmination of the annual Torah-reading cycle. It is a truly joyous occasion. All men– indeed, even children – are given an aliyah.
This celebration, however, assumes that Klal Yisrael has read all the sidrot in the Torah. But what if they haven’t?
There is a dispute whether Keriat haTorah is an individual requirement (chovat gavra) or congregational requirement (chovat hatzibbur). The halacha accords with the view that it is a congregational requirement. But how can the community celebrate finishing the Torah when it hasn’t? Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have missed many parshiyot.
Let’s turn to the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 135:1-2) for some insight: “On Monday and Thursday [during Shacharit] and the Sabbath at Minchah, three are called to the Torah – no fewer and no more – and there is no reading of the Haftara….”
On Sabbath morning, we have seven aliyot and read the entire sidra, whereas on Monday and Thursday we have three aliyot and normally only read till Sheni. We read from the Torah ever few days because Exodus 15:22 says:
“Vayasa Moshe et Yisrael mi’Yam Suf va’yeitzu el Midbar Shor vayel’chu sheloshet yomim ba’midbar v’lo motz’u mayim – Moses led Israel in their journey from the Sea of Reeds, and they went out to the Wilderness of Shur; they went for three days in the Wilderness, but they found no water.”
The Talmud (Bava Kama 82a) explains that the thirst for water is an allusion to the thirst for Torah based on Isaiah 55:1: “Hoy kol tzomei l’chu la’mayim… – Ho, everyone who is thirsty, go to the water…” Just as one cannot exist for three days without water, so Israel cannot exist three days without Torah. So we never let three days pass without reading from the Torah.
The Rema (ad loc. 135:2) notes: “If the public reading of the parashah of one Sabbath was nullified, then the following Sabbath they should read the missed parashah with that week’s parashah.”
But what if multiple parshiyot were missed? Ba’er Heitev (ad loc. sk4) says we make up a parashah if, all together, two parshiyot are read. But if we missed a double parashah, we don’t read three parshiyot the next week.
The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc. sk6, 7) cites authorities who say that multiple missed parshiyot should not to be read; only the parashah that was missed immediately before the pubic Torah reading resumed should be read. Others, like the Elyah Rabbah, opine that all missed parshiyot should be read. The Elyah Rabbah notes that the Gra follows the first view.
The Gra reasons that reading more than two parshiyot constitutes a tircha d’tzibura – an excessive burden on the congregation – as they would have to remain in shul for an inordinate amount of time to hear all the missed parshiyot. This logic seems very reasonable.
One possible solution that I, please G-d, hope to introduce in my own shul is to read the missing parshiyot on one or two of the longer Sabbath afternoons before Minchah. That way, everyone will be able to arrive at Simchat Torah with a heart full of joy as having personally participated in the completion of annual Torah reading.
(To be continued)