The Gemara teaches (Berachos 8a-b): “Rav Huna b. Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rabbi Ami: A person should always complete the weekly Torah portion with the congregation, reading the text (Mikra) twice and the translation (Targum) once. This applies even to “Ataros and Divon” (Bamidbar 32:34 – meaning, even to place names that have no translation). One who learns shnayim mikra ve-echad targum will have his days and years extended.”
According to the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim285:2), learning shnayim mikra ve-echad targum is a full rabbinic obligation.
The halachos of shnayim mikra are numerous, and will not attept to cover all of them in a single article. Rather, in this week’s article we will discuss the appropriate time for reading shnayim mikra. This issue is of special relevance towards Parashas Vezos Haberachah, which poskim discuss as a ‘special case,’ and at the close of the year’s Torah reading on Simchas Torah.
Defining the Enactment
Before defining the time when shnayim mikra can be learned, we will first introduce the basic definition and parameters of the enactment.
From the wording of the Rambam (Tefillah 13:25) it appears that the obligation to read shnayim mikra is a personal obligation parallel to the congregational obligation to read the weekly portion. In his words: “Although a person hears the entire Torah communally each week, a person is obligated each week to read the weekly portion for himself, twice Mikra and once Targum.”
Unlike the ruling of the Rambam, some early authorities maintain that a person fulfills his obligation by hearing the communal reading in shul, and the obligation to read personally applies only to those who are unable to attend the communal reading (Raavan, cited in Hagahos Maimonios and in Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim 285). The Rambam, however, whose ruling is cited in the Shulchan Aruch (285:1), contends that there is always a personal obligation to read shnayim mikra, which is parallel to the communal obligation of reading the Torah in shul.
The Chinuch, in his introduction to Sefer Ha-Chinuch, explains further that the purpose of the enactment is so that a person will actually know and understand the Torah. As he writes, the mitzvah of Torah study is the central pillar of all the mitzvos, and by learning at home as well as in shul, a person will come to acquire a deeper understanding of the Torah.
Because the rationale underlying the mitzvah is to read and to study the entire Torah, it follows that the obligation of learning shnayim mikra applies specifically to the regular weekly portions, and not to special festival readings or the Four Parshios (Terumas Hadeshen 23 – though he mentions another opinion, according to which a person much privately learn all communal readings, in order to familiarize himself with the reading). This principle is likewise ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (285:7).
Starting Time for Shnayim Mikra
The Gemara (loc. cit.) does not define the time for reading the weekly portion, but states that it must not be brought early or delayed, but rather learned ‘with the congregation.’ As many aurhorities rule, if a person reads a portion of the Torah before the congregation has started to read it, he does not fulfill the mitzvah, and he must learn the portion again after the right time has arrived.
When, however, does the ‘right time’ begin? Tosafos (Berachos 8b, s.v. yashlim) writes that shnayim mikra can be read during the entire week when a given portion is read, from Minchah of Shabbos and on. The weekly portion of each week is first read on Minchah of Shabbos, and from this time and on a person can begin the personal study of shnayim mikra.
The Darchei Moshe (285) mentions that according to the Kol Bo (37), shnayim mikra should only be read from Sunday, and not from the time of Minchah on Shabbos. Indeed, the wording of the Shulchan Aruch is that the mitzvah applies from ‘Sunday.’ However, the Radvaz (288) defers this opinion, and although the Peri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 5) leaves the question unresolved, the Mishnah Berurah (285:7) rules that one can begin to learn the new weekly portion from Minchah of Shabbos.
Authorities further discuss what the time of Minchah implies: Is the arrival of the time for Minchah sufficient, or does one actually need to pray the Minchah prayer before beginning the learning of the next parashah?
Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (Chap. 42, note 218) writes that there is no need for a person to actually daven, and the reading of shnayim mikra depends on the time of Minchah alone. However, Halichos Chaim (Vol. 1, no. 278) cites from Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlita that “it appears that one actually needs to daven first.” Halichos Shlomo (Chap. 12, no. 35) similarly states that a person can continue to read the previous portion until he actually davens Minchah (if he didn’t manage to complete the reading before the meal—see below), which demonstrates that the changeover point is a person’s own prayer, and not the general prayer time.
Optimal Time for Finishing
Tosafos (ibid.), based on a Midrash, state that one should optimally complete learning shnayim mikra before eating the Shabbos meal, mentioning that it is also possible to complete the learning after eating, though this is no optimal.
Based on this teaching, the Shulchan Aruch (285:4) writes that a person should preferably complete shnayim mikra before the meal. According to most authorities, this refers to the second (morning) Shabbos meal (Chayei Adam 7:9; Mishnah Berurah 285:9), which should not be commenced until the learning of shnayim mikra is completed.
The Chazon Ish (cited in Derech Sichah Vol. 1, p. 1, and in Orchos Rabbeinu Vol. 3, p. 234), however, stated that the ‘meal’ refers to Se’udah Shlishis, the third Shabbos meal. Although he was always careful to complete shnayim mikra before the second meal (and delayed the meal if he had not yet finished), the Chazon Ish understood that completing shnayim mikra before the third Shabbos meal—and, presumably, before Minchah (see Maaseh Ish Vol. 5, p. 91)—is also an optimal fulfillment of the mitzvah.
Although one should try to complete shnayim mikra before the meal, there is no problem in making Kiddush and eating mezonos before one completes shnayim mikra (Ketzos Hashulchan 72:6). The Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Hatzion 14) adds that when one has guests for lunch, one should not delay the meal for the purpose of completing shnayim mikra, but eat first and complete shnayim mikra after the meal.
The Last Time for Shnayim Mikra
Although the optimal time to complete the weekly learning is before the Shabbos meal, the principle mitzvah is fulfilled until Minchah of Shabbos (see above). Beyond Minchah, it is best to complete the learning on Shabbos itself (Halichos Shlomo 12:46).
If one did not manage to complete shnayim mikra by Minchah or by Shabbos, the Kol Bo (37) cites that the weekly learning can be made up until the following Tuesday. Just as Havdalah can be made, bedieved, until (and including) Tuesday, so the reading of shnayim mikra extends, bedieved, until Tuesday. This opinion is mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch (285:4); the Leket Yosher (p. 55) mentions that (according to this opinion) past Tuesday, there is no mitzvah of completing the previous week’s reading.
However, even if one did not make it by Tuesday, some opinions maintain that the reading of shnayim mikra can be made up, bedieved, until Yom Kippur eve (Avudraham, as cited in Darchek Moshe 3; this opinion is based on the Gemara above, where learning the entire year’s readings on Yom Kippur eve is suggested), or even until Simchas Torah (Rabbeinu Simchah, cited in Hagahos Maimonios, Tefillah 13:300), which is when the Torah is communally completed. The latter opinon is mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch, the Misnah Berurah (12) emphasizing that this is only bedieved, and on a lechatchilah level one must complete the learning on the same week as the congregation.
Shnayim Mikra for Vezos Haberachah and Bereishis
Based on the principles above, it is clear that the time for reading Parashas Vezos Haberachah begins on Minchah of Shabbos Haazinu, and concludes on Simchas Torah—even, as this year (5772), if this means a two week period.
Nonetheless, poskim mention a number of ‘optimal times’ for the reading of shnayim mikra for Vezos Haberachah. According to the Peri Megadim (285:7), the optimal time for shnayim mikra is the night of Hoshanah Rabbah; others, citing from the Arizal, write that the best time is the day of Hoshanah Rabbah (see Shaarei Teshuvah 285:4; Ben Ish chai Year 1, Vezos Haberachah 15), the Birchei Yosef (4) adding that “one who reads on Shemini Atzeres does not lose out.”
The Shulchan Aruch Harav (285:9) writes that one should read shnayim mikra on the eve of Simchas Torah (Shemini Atzeres outside Israel), and this is also stated by other poskim. Because the Arizal was in Israel, where the eve of Simchas Torah is Hoshanah Rabbah, this is not necessarily a contradiction.
In one place (285:18), the Mishnah Berurah writes that the optimal time is Hoshanah Rabbah, whereas in another (669:4) he mentions the best time as being the night of Simchas Torah. Because of the many opinions mentions in connection to this issue, whevever one reads shnayim mikra one is bound to be fulfilling one of them!
For Parashas Bereishis, the time for shnayim mikra begins (according to most authorities) after the reading of Bereishis on Simchas Torah, which is the changeover point from Vezos Haberachah to Bereishis (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah Chap. 42, note 218). This year (5772), the fall of Simchas Torah on Thursday gives us little time to complete the parashah, and one should begin as early as possible to ensure completion on time.
Learning at Night
Another consideration of when to learn shnayim mikra is the matter of Torah study at night.
The Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Hatzion 238:1) mentions, citing from Be’er Heitev, that one should not read mikra (Torah verses) at night. This concept is derived from a teaching of the Midrash, which states that when Moshe ascended Sinai to receive the Torah, he studied the Written Law in the day, and the Oral Law at night.
However, the Mishnah Berurah cites an implication from the Peri Megadim whereby mikra can be studied at night, and concludes that although it is better to learn mikra in the day, there is no actual prohibition of doing so at night. It is noteworthy that Sephardi authorities relate to the issue of studying mikra at night with greater severity (based on Kabbalah), the Ben Ish Chai explaining that night is a time of dinim (strict judgment), and is not suited to the study of mikra. Shut Yabia Omer (Vol. 6, no. 30, sec. 5) thus writes that one should only do so under extenuating circumstances.
Yet, Orchos Rabbeinu (Vol. 1, p. 123) testifies that the Steipler used to sometime read the second mikra on Friday night, and Shut Siach Yitzchak (116) explains that there is no problem in doing so, because the dinim (judgment) are not awakened on Shabbos.
Authorities dispute whether Targum has the same status as mikra concerning its study at night (see Chida, Machzik Berachah 9; Shaarei Teshuvah 1; Siach Ha-Torah Orach Chaim 238). For those who fulfill the obligation of shnayim mikra by reading Rashi (we will please G-d expound on the issue on a future opportunity), there is certainly no problem of studying Rashi at night (Kaf Hachaim 23).