Aliya-by-Aliya Sukkot 5763
Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch
KOHELET is usually read on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot. We don’t have one of those this year, so instead we read Kohelet on the first day of Yom Tov, which is Shabbat. (In Chutz LaAretz, Kohelet is read on Shabbat-Shmini Atzeret.) It is read before the reading of the Torah. When Kohelet is read from a parchment megila (common in Jerusalem), brachot are recited on the reading. No brachot are said if it is read from a printed book. The megila by Shlomo HaMelech in his later years takes a serious look at the Life we all live, and his conclusions boil down to there being nothing of real value in this World. Except to be G-d fearing. Kohelet provides a sobering balance to the potential levity of the Chag and hopefully focuses our joy in the proper direction.
On the first day of Sukkot we read from Parshat Emor, Vayikra 23, the portion of the Festivals. We actually start the reading several p'sukim earlier with the mitzvot of not taking an animal from its mother to use it as a korban before it is 8 days old. And the prohibition of slaughtering an animal and its offspring on the same day. This second mitzva applies to korbanot and to "secular" use of animals for food. The first mitzva is specifically for korbanot (but its spirit belongs to profane animals too).
Next the Torah teaches us the mitzvot of Kiddush HaShem and its opposite. Then we come to the Festivals portion. The Torah begins with Shabbat, followed by Pesach, the Omer, Shavuot, Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. This 52-pasuk portion is read for 7 people this year, because it is Shabbat.
The Maftir is read from a second Torah, from Parshat Pinchas. It is a 5-pasuk presentation of the Korban Musaf of the first day of Sukkot.
The Haftara comes from Zechariya and contains the famous prophesy of the time in the future when other nations will recognize the One G-d and those nations that persecuted Israel will be severely punished. There is a universal message of Sukkot in that people from other nations will also be challenged with the mitzva of Sukka. The universal nature of Sukkot can also be seen by the 70 bulls of the Musafs of the seven days. So too, the fact that the world is judged for rainfall on Sukkot gives the holiday a universal flavor.
At Mincha on Shabbat-Yom Tov afternoon, we read the first parts of V’ZOT HABRACHA, which is the upcoming “weekly” sedra for the second Shabbat in a row.
The Torah reading for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, is the "same". One Torah is taken out (as opposed to Chol HaMoed Pesach when two Torahs are used each day). 4 people are called to the Torah and the same set of p'sukim is read for each of the Aliyot. Each Aliya consists of three p'sukim (the minimum length), comes from Parshat Pinchas and deals with the Musaf offering of each day. Unlike Pesach, whose days have the same Musaf, those of the days of Sukkot differ in the number of bulls offered.
On the night of Simchat Torah, we read the beginning of VZOT HABRACHA. This is the only night of the year that we read from the Torah, after joyously dancing with the Torahs and making Hakafot around the Bima. It reflects the joy and love we feel towards the Torah on this day of its celebration. The Old Minhag Yerushalayim (GR"A) is not to read the Torah on Simchat Torah night. And, just for your knowledge, Shulchan Aruch does mention Torah reading on Leil Simchat Torah, but not from V'zot HaBracha. Rather different Parshiyot are read for each Aliya.
On Simchat Torah morning, after Hakafot, we read the sedra of V'Zot HaBracha. Because it is Shabbat this year, there are 7 official Aliyot, rather than the 5 as on Yom Tov days. The sedra is not completed with these 7 Aliyot, but the reading goes a bit further than in years when Simchat Torah is on a weekday.
These seven (customs vary) portions are reread over and over again, many times with several Torahs being read simultaneously at different locations in shul. This allows everyone to receive an Aliya on Simchat Torah. Following this, the Chatan Torah is called for the last Aliya in the Torah. A chupa is often made over the Bima by four tall guys with a talit, as the Torah is completed. There is a custom that the last Aliya before Chatan Torah is given to one of the oldest men in shul, and with him, all young boys (who cannot take their own Aliya) are invited to share this KOL HA'NE'ARIM Aliya.
After V'zot HaBracha (and the Book of D'varim, and the whole Torah) is completed, the Torah is lifted, closed, and "dressed" and a second Torah is read from. This time, the honor of the Aliya goes to the Chatan B'reishit, for whom will be read the beginning of the Torah. We never finish with the Torah. We begin it as soon as we get to the end. This is the “real” reason for our great joy. School children are joyful when the school year ends. We celebrate, not the conclusion of the Torah, but the wonderful feeling of beginning again and of being the people to whom the Torah was given and for whom the Torah is our way of life. Again a Chupa is made for this Aliya (customs might vary from shul to shul).
The whole first chapter of B'reishit is read, plus the first four p'sukim of the 2nd chapter, which describes the first Shabbat.
Then Maftir is read from a third Sefer Torah. It comes from Parshat Pinchar and presents the Musaf of Shmini Atzeret.
Finally, the Haftara of Simchat Torah picks up where the Torah left off - with the beginning of the Book of Yehosha. Aside from it being the natural choice for Haftara of V'zot HaBracha because it is its continuation, it also contains G-d's encouragement to Yehoshua to cling to the Torah and immerse himself in it day and night. This portion is particularly suited for Simchat Torah.