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The Music of Halacha: A Three-Ply Cord is Not Easily Severed

(Based on Ecclesiastes 4:12): There are some people who have the custom of reading the entire Torah three times on the night of Hoshana Rabbah. (Abudirham; The Order of the Succot Prayers: Hoshana Rabbah)

This is based on the Talmud that teaches, “A person should always complete the portions with the congregation. He should read the actual text two times and he should then read the portion in Targum, its Aramaic translation.” (TBBerachot 8a) It is essential for a person studying Torah to experience ascension so that the student of Torah will associate Torah study with constant rising. Therefore, one should first study the portion in a book to prepare for hearing it read from the Torah scroll. (Aruch Hashulchan; Orach Chaim 285:2)


The result of this commandment is that we study each portion three times every year. The Talmud (TBSotah 37b) teaches the Torah was first taught at Sinai, (Revelation), reviewed in the Tabernacle (Partnership) and taught a third time in the Plains of Moab to the second generation as they renewed the covenant between God and Israel, before entering the Land of Canaan (Instructions for Living). The three times we study the weekly portion correspond to these three presentations of Torah by God to Israel. The reason that the third review of the portion is in Targum, the lingua franca of the Talmudic Period is that a “Meturgamon”, a translator and explainer of the rabbi’s lesson, repeated all Torah lessons during those times. We recreate the experience by reviewing the portion in the most accessible way. (Ra’avan) According to most Halachic authorities, it is not necessary to specifically use the Targum, Aramaic translation. One can study Rashi’s commentary in place of the Targum. (Tur) Others rule that the inherent sanctity of the Targum demands that we specifically study the Targum. (Aruch Hashulchan, ibid. 13) My father, of blessed memory, would often quote his father, who taught that the weekly study of Targum would prove beneficial when one would begin to study Zohar. One should study the Targum as preparation for entering the world of the Inner Wisdom of Torah.


The above is reminiscent of the Maharal of Prague (Tiferet Israel, Chapter 13) who explained the reason we review each portion three times: The study with Targum, the language of the people, represents the level of Torah revealed to all. This level is vast. It includes the commentaries and Midrashim and can absorb a lifetime. The second level, when we read the actual text of the portion represents a higher level: The level of the secrets of the Torah that is revealed to only a select few in each generation. This level is far deeper than the first, but not as accessible. The third and highest level is the level at which Torah will be taught in the World to Come. It is Torah taught to people no longer limited to their bodies. It is the level of, “No eye has ever seen, except for You, the Lord.” (Isaiah 64:3)


The Maharal elaborates further: A human being also has these three levels: 1) the body that is revealed. 2) The soul which is hidden from the eye, and 3) the part of the human being that will exist for eternity in the Coming World.


We nurture each of these three parts of us when we review the weekly portion. It is important to note that we can accomplish this only as part of the community. The text in the Talmud specifies that we should complete the portion with the community. The context of the Talmudic selection is in a series of laws and principles that govern the relationship between an individual and the community. (Shiurim BaHagadot Chazal; Berachot page 230)


  • We study the portion on 3 levels.
  • We spiritually nourish ourselves on three levels.
  • We can accomplish the above only as part of a community.


The three times we study the weekly portion touch upon a theme that is an important part of the Hakafot of Simchat Torah (This application is based on Ze’ev Yitraf: Succot, Chapter 70):


The Talmud teaches that three sets of twelve enormous boulders were erected by Moses and Joshua just at the border of the Land of Israel: Moses wrote out the entire Torah in seventy languages on these rocks in order to make the Torah available to all the people of the world. These stones were set up just outside the Holy Land. Joshua raised a second set of twelve boulders in the Jordan River, as a monument so all would remember Israel’s miraculous crossing into their new home. Joshua also assembled another set of twelve rocks in Gilgal, where Israel renewed their covenant with God and accepted mutual responsibility for each other.


The Maharal explains the significance of these three sets of boulders: (Chiddushei Aggadot, Sotah) the three sets correspond to different boundaries in Torah itself. The Torah that is accessible to all people stands just outside the Land of Israel. “For from Zion will the Torah come forth, and the word of God from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3) There is Torah that emanates from Jerusalem and there is the highest level of Torah that radiates from the holiest place, Zion. The Torah of Zion is the Torah of the World to Come. It is beyond us. It is a reflection of the Unity of all of creation, symbolized by the set of rocks at Gilgal, where the people were unified.


The Torah of Jerusalem is the Torah that is accessible to a select few. It is covered, as were the rocks Joshua piled in middle of the Jordan before the waters were restored. The basic level, accessible to all is the set of stones on which the Torah was written in every language.


We create boundaries each time we circle the Bima as we dance on Simchat Torah. We should make a minimum of three circuits for each Hakafah, each corresponding to the three different levels of Torah.









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