The Haftara for Simchat Torah: From Moshe to Yehoshua
WHICH HAFTARA DO WE READ FOR PARASHAT VE-ZOT HA-BERAKHA?
The first chapter of the book of Yehoshua constitutes a natural continuation to the story of the death of Moshe, and therefore its having been chosen as the haftara for Parashat Ve-zot Ha-berakha need not surprise us. Indeed, the haftara suits the parasha, and the parasha suits the haftara. There is, however, a certain problem with the prevalent custom: it contradicts an explicit Gemara. The Gemara in Megilla (31a) unequivocally establishes with respect to Simchat Torah: "The next day [i.e., the day after Shemini Atzeret outside of
In some places it is customary to read as haftara "Va-Yehi Acharei Mot Moshe." This, however, is a gross error, for the Gemara does not say this. Some say that Rav Hai Gaon instituted reading Va-Yehi Acharei Mot Moshe, but we do not know the reason that he changed the order in the Gemara.
The truth is that the custom of reading the first chapter of Yehoshua as the haftara for Zot Ha-berakha is indeed documented already in the Gaonic period. For example, Siddur Rav Sa'adya Gaon simply records our custom, whereas Seder Rav Amram Gaon cites the two customs. Rishonim, like the Rambam and the Rosh, also mention both possibilities. It is clear then that our custom became more and more dominant over time.
At the heart of the issue is the question what do we wish to focus on in this haftara – the matter of the holiday, in which case we should choose a haftara that deals with a blessing that was given to the people, which is the original reason for reading Ve-zot Ha-berakha on Shemini Atzeret; or do we prefer a chapter that reflects the contents of the parasha. For we are dealing here with a unique situation in which the reading for the Yom Tov is also one of the weekly parashiyot. Now, according to the thesis I developed in my course on the haftarot (http://vbm-torah.org/haftara.html), that the primary function of the haftara is to relate to the existential condition of man in the framework of the yearly cycle and the cycle of life, rather than to serve as an interpretation of the Torah reading, it is clear that the scales should be tipped in favor of the holiday. The haftara should then reflect Shemini Atzeret, rather than relate to the contents of Zot Ha-berakha. Indeed, the Gemara accepts this approach and establishes the haftara according to the special significance of the day, similar to Shabbat that falls out on Chanuka, Rosh Chodesh and the like, and it does not consider the parasha. Our custom, however, requires clarification, for it gives priority to the parasha over the day.
This, however, is clearly not the case. Our custom does not give preference to the connection to the parasha over the existential messages connected to the yearly cycle. Rather, our custom sees the connection between the haftara and Parashat Ve-zot Ha-berakha as bearing an existential message, owing to the fact that the parasha seals the Torah. Our interest lies not in the plot of the parasha, but in the fact that it serves as the Torah's conclusion. Therefore, the more that the day assumed the character of the holiday of Simchat Torah, rather than the day on which by chance we finish reading the Torah, the more the inner logic of the institution of reading a haftara allowed, and perhaps even necessitated the replacement of the blessing of Shlomo with the beginning of the book of Yehoshua.
Let us move on now from the discussion of the selection of the haftara to an analysis of its contents.
FROM MOSHE TO YEHOSHUA
The transfer of leadership from Moshe to Yehoshua was natural and expected – assuming that the leadership should be passed on to Moshe's most distinguished disciple rather than to his son – and was determined by God Himself. Shortly before his death, Moshe too emphasized that he was appointing Yehoshua as his replacement to lead the people in his stead:
And Moshe called to Yehoshua, and said to him in the sight of all
In this he followed the principle that he had received from God who had established at the time of Yehoshua's ordination that he should be appointed leader in the sight of the entire nation:
And the Lord said to Moshe, Take you Yehoshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is spirit, and lay your hand upon him; and set him before Elazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And you shall put some of your honor upon him, that all the congregation of the children of
Nevertheless, the transfer of leadership is not a bed of roses, and Yehoshua's appointment is not simple in the eyes of the people. Despite all their bitterness and their complaints about Moshe, who did not hesitate to say to them, "How can I myself alone bear your care, and your burden, and your strife" (Devarim 1:12), and despite all the friction between them, the people of Israel recognized that Moshe's authority drew its force not only from his being the savior of Israel, but also from his being their foremost prophet and Israel's teacher par excellence who had received the Torah. The combination of these three functions in the same person bestowed authority and meaning upon Moshe's leadership and fortified his position vis-א-vis the people. And then one day, Moshe died and Yehoshua succeeded him. Despite all of Yehoshua's virtues and spiritual greatness, he clearly did not reach Moshe's supreme spiritual level. This allowed the people to refuse to accept Yehoshua as their leader and to challenge him, for there was no denying the fact that Yehoshua was not Moshe's equal.
Therefore, what was most urgently needed immediately at the beginning of the book of Yehoshua, prior to
The beginning of the haftara emphasizes Moshe's unique level as "servant of the Lord" and Yehoshua's standing as "Moshe's minister":
Now after the death of Moshe the servant of the Lord, it came to pass, that the Lord spoke to Yehoshua the son of Nun, Moshe's minister, saying. (Yehoshua 1:1)
The first half of the verse alludes to the problematic challenge of leading the people of
God, therefore, strengthens Yehoshua's hand and stresses by way of a Divine promise that Yehoshua will continue Moshe's accomplishments and merit the same help from heaven:
Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given to you, as I said to Moshe. From the wilderness and this
It is important to pay attention to the many times that Moshe is mentioned in these verses, the key sentence in this context undoubtedly being the assertion that "as I was with Moshe, so I will be with you." If we examine these references, we see that the first one relates to the matter of leadership and promises that Yehoshua will achieve the accomplishments promised to Moshe. This point is of great importance, for it is not self-evident to the people that the promises given to Moshe are still valid. Perhaps these things were promised to Moshe owing to his righteousness and closeness to God, rather than promises connected to the actualization of the historical destiny of
THE PEOPLE'S ATTITUDE TOWARD YEHOSHUA
The second mention of Moshe in this passage does not relate to the realization of goals, but to the obligations cast upon Yehoshua owing to the Torah that he had received from Moshe: "Only be strong and very courageous, and observe to do according to all the Torah, which Moshe My servant commanded you." Aside from the obligation upon every individual to fulfill the Torah, the emphasis that is placed upon the fact that it was Moshe who had commanded Yehoshua is important in the context of Yehoshua's appointment. Since his entire standing stems from his being "Moshe's minister," his following in the path commanded by Moshe is what justifies his leadership. His abandonment of this path, God forbid, would not merely be a religious transgression, but rather it would pull the rug out from under his standing as leader, both according to the truth vis-א-vis God, and vis-א-vis the nation and their expectations.
Indeed, in the closing verses of the chapter and haftara, we can see the slightly hesitant attitude of the people toward Yehoshua's new leadership. When Yehoshua turns to the people of Gad and Reuven to fulfill the commitment that they had given to Moshe, the backing that they give to his leadership is full and broad, but conditional:
Pass through the midst of the camp, and command the people, saying, “Prepare your food; for within three days you shall pass over this
First of all, attention should be paid to the fact that Yehoshua mobilizes Moshe's authority and prestige to justify his request; he does not approach them based on his independent status as leader. Moreover, he does not content himself with a general mention of Moshe as leader, but rather he mobilizes Moshe's designation as servant of the Lord as the basis for their obligation to fulfill the mission that they had accepted upon themselves. We are left with the impression that at this point Yehoshua feels that he is still in need of Moshe's authority if people are to listen to him.
The response of the people of Gad and Reuven is very interesting. On the one hand, they accept Yehoshua's authority and give him their full backing as Moshe's successor, "As we hearkened to Moshe in all things, so will we hearken to you." They promise to strengthen his position, beyond what is stated in the Torah, which does not spell out in detail the punishment awaiting one who rebels against royalty: "Whoever rebels against your commandment, and will not hearken to your words in all that you command him, he shall be put to death."
On the other hand, their words allude to the points raised above. First, the very need to emphasize the law governing one who rebels against royalty and his punishment testifies that this appeared to them as a realistic possibility which must be contended with, and that it is possible that some members of the people of
COMPARISON BETWEEN THE VERSES DEALING WITH MOSHE AND THOSE DEALING WITH YEHOSHUA
At this point our haftara comes to an end, but the attempt to
The purpose of these similarities is also stated explicitly by Scripture both at the beginning and at the end of its description of
 Comprehensive documentation of the various sources dealing with this issue may be found in A. Ya'ari's Toledot Chag Simchat Torah (Mossad Ha-Rav Kook, 1998), pp. 55-62. It should be noted that attempts were made to combine the two customs, as is explained there.
 See ibid., pp. 32-34. It may be added that "blessing" is one of the characteristics that set Shemini Atzeret off as a separate festival. See Rosh ha-Shana 4b, and Tosafot, ad loc., s.v. PaZaR).
 See Bamidbar 27:15-23, and Devarim 31:14.