Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Eight

 

Introduction

Deuteronomy 31:10-12 states, “Every seventh year, at the time of the sabbatical year, at Sukkot, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place that He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.  Gather the people—men, women, children and the strangers in your communities—that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching.”

Our mishnah discusses how this ceremony, which is called by the rabbis “Gathering”, was performed.  The ceremony was performed on the holiday of Sukkot which immediately followed the end of the sabbatical year. 

 

Mishnah Eight

How was the procedure in connection with the portion read by the king?

1)      At the conclusion of the first day of the festival (Sukkot) in the eighth [year], at the end of the seventh year, they erect a wooden platform in the Temple court, and he sits upon it, as it is said, “At the end of seven years, in the set time” etc (Deuteronomy 31:10).

2)      The synagogue attendant takes a Torah scroll and hands it to the head of the synagogue, the head of the synagogue hands it to the deputy and he hands it to the high priest, and the high priest hands it to the king and the king stands and receives it, but reads it while sitting.

3)      King Agrippa stood and received it and read standing, and the sages praised him.

a)      When he reached, “You shall not place a foreigner over you” (ibid 17:15) his eyes ran with tears. They said to him, “Fear not, Agrippas, you are our brother, you are our brother!”

4)      [The king] reads from the beginning of “These are the words” (ibid 1:1) until the Shema ((ibid 6:4-9), and the Shema, and “It will come to pass if you hear” (ibid 11:13-21—the second part of the Shema), and “You shall surely tithe” (ibid 14:22-29), and “When you have finished tithing” (ibid 26:12-15) and the portion of the king (ibid 17:14-20) and the blessings and curses (ibid 28), until he finishes all the section.

5)      The blessings that the high priest recites, the king recites, except that he substitutes one for the festivals instead of one for the pardon of sin.

 

Explanation

Section one:  The mishnah teaches that they erected a wooden platform in the Temple so that the king can be heard when he reads the portions of Deuteronomy to the people.

Section two:  This section describes the same procedure of passing the Torah which we read in yesterday’s mishnah in connection with the high priest reading the Torah on Yom Kippur.  The only difference is that the king recites while seated. It was considered more honorable for the king to sit than to stand.

Section three:  The mishnah now brings an interesting story about King Aggripas, a descendent of Herod who was an Idumean and not of Israelite stock. When Aggripas was reading the prescribed portions he would stand in order to show his deference for the Torah.  Despite the fact that the mishnah says that the king is to sit, the sages praise Aggripas for going “beyond the letter of the law.”  His standing while reading establishes Aggripas as a righteous king, despite his being from Herod’s family.  When Aggripas read that it is forbidden for Israelites to have a foreign king, he began to cry because he realized that his own kingship was illegitimate.  The sages had such respect for him, that they cried back to him that he is indeed their brother.  Some commentators say that the sages just said this to make him feel better, while others say that since his mother is an Israelite, he is indeed a legitimate king.  In any case, the mishnah is a poignant portrayal of the political situation in which Jews lived in this period.

Section four:  The Torah says that the king is supposed to read “this Teaching” (Torah).  The mishnah does not understand this to mean that he must read all of the Torah or even all of Deuteronomy, which would certainly have taken quite a long time.  Rather he reads selected portions of Deuteronomy.  He reads the beginning of the book, and then he reads passages that are part of the Shema and then some passages concerning tithes.  The tithes’ passages are read since Sukkot is a harvest festival and it is when tithes are separated from produce.  He also reads the portion about the king, and the blessings and curses which are found towards the end of Deuteronomy.  This last passage was a means by which the covenant between God and Israel could be symbolically renewed.

Section five:  After reading from the Torah, the king recites most of the blessings which the high priest recites on Yom Kippur.  The difference is that instead of praying for forgiveness of sin, as the high priest does on Yom Kippur, the king has a prayer over the festival, a prayer which is still recited today in the festival amidah.    

 

image_print