Guest post by R. Daniel Roselaar
This week’s sidra contains the verse Vezot hatorah etc (Deut. 4:44) which is recited when the Torah is raised up during Hagbahah.The source for this recitation is in Massechet Sofrim (14:8) and the practice is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (OH 134:2).
Ashkenazi practice is to append the words “Al pi hashem b’yad Moshe” to this recitation. This phrase is the end of a verse in Behaalotcha (Num. 9:23) and creates a meaningless repetition since the previous verse has already stated that Moshe transmitted the Torah to the Jewish people. Several commentaries on the Siddur (e.g. Dover Shalom, Ezor Eliyahu) cite the view of R’ Chayim Volozhiner that in fact the entire verse should be recited. Accordingly the verse Vayehi binsoa etc is recited when the Torah is removed from the Aron Hakodesh, the verse U’venucho yomar etc is recited when the Torah is replaced in the Aron Hakodesh and these two verses, referring to the journeys of the Ark in the wilderness, are linked in the middle by the verse Al pi Hashem yachanu v’al pi Hashem yisa’u.
Besides the meaningless repetition created by the use of the phrase Al pi Hashem etc, a halachic consideration also exists. The Gemara (Megillah 22a) states that, barring exceptional circumstances, Torah verses should not be divided into two. Though this is not codified by the Rambam or Shulchan Aruch, Rishonim and Acharonim do seem to regard this as normative halacha. Rashba (Berachot 14b) raises this as a problem regarding the abbreviated form of evening Shema recited in Eretz Yisrael, Tzitz Eliezer (18:30) demonstrates that the Rambam was careful about this when writing the Mishnah Torah and Chaye Adam (5:2) rules accordingly. Consequently, eyebrows must be raised about the insertion of a portion of a verse at the end of Vezot hatorah.
Interestingly, the classical Acharonim don’t identify this concern as a problem in the context of Vezot hatorah (though the Aruch Hashulchan identifies it as a strange practice and the Torah Temimah raises, but doesn’t answer, our concern). However, they do identify it as problem in other contexts – e.g. the custom in some communities that the mohel and congregation recite the verses of Vecharot imo habrit responsively, that the chazzan says the half verse of Yehalelu and the congregation conclude it with Hodo al eretz etc, as was as the practice to begin Friday evening Kiddush with the words Vayehi erev etc and Shabbat day Kiddush with the phrase Al kein etc.
Several answers are advanced, though they don’t all solve the problem in all the cases. Magen Avraham (51 sk 9) address the mohel-congregation recitation and notes that according to the Gemara in Massechet Sotah the Shirah was originally recited by Moshe and the Israelites responsively so it may also be recited this way as part of davening. This answer doesn’t help us with Vezot hatorah – and it doesn’t even help us with the introductory verses of Vecharot imo habrit.
The Rokeach (intro to Hilchot Berachot) adopts a similar approach, suggesting that certain verses lend themselves to a responsive reading, especially when they imply that one party is calling on others to praise the Almighty, and may thus be broken into two. This answer resolves the difficulty with Yehalelu as well as the responsive reading (at least according to the original custom) at the beginning of Kedusha, but doesn’t justify any of the other partial verses that are recited in the prayers.
R’ Shlomo Kluger (Ha-elef Lecha Shlomo OH 43) maintains that the prohibition against splitting verses only applies if they are being recited as direct citations from the Torah, but if they are being quoted in the context of tefillot partial verses may be recited. Though it is difficult to define this distinction, his intention might be that the prohibition is limited to reading verses from the Torah, in a leining or learning context, but not when they are used as proof texts or as part of prayer. Chaye Adam (5:2) also states that one may not say half a verse “in the context of reading verses”. Accordingly, all the split verses that we recite as part of the prayer services are halachically justified.
The Aruch Hashulchan also seems to concur with this understanding. He justifies the practice of beginning Kiddusha Rabba on Shabbat morning with the phrase Al kein etc because the phrase is just being used as an introductory text rather than as a scriptural verse (though he is inconsistent in objecting to beginning Friday night Kiddush with the words Vayehi erev etc). This approach resolves the difficulty with Vezot hatorah and Yehalelu though it doesn’t address the difficulty posed by the mohel-congregation recitation since those passages are clearly being read as scriptural passages. He addresses that difficulty by suggesting that since the verses are actually being completed, albeit by another party, they should not be regarded as partial verses.