The Case for Learning Shnayim Mikrah

By: Rivka Bennun  |  November 18, 2021

By Rivka Bennun

When I was in seminary last year, a few days before Simchat Torah, I was informed that I would be giving a dvar Torah on the night of Simchat Torah. I responded that I would rather not; I’ve never really loved giving over divrei Torah [words of Torah]. I always feel I don’t know enough to be able to share with others. But I didn’t really have a choice; I had to give this dvar Torah, and I had to figure out what to say. 

I started to get stressed as I didn’t know what to speak about. I consulted with my friends, who said that I should just speak about something I was passionate about. One thing immediately came to mind: Shnayim Mikrah. I decided if I was going to be forced to speak, it would be about something I really loved. I gave over what was essentially a dvar Halacha [Jewish law], reciting the halachot [laws] of Shnayim Mikrah, and told everyone why I thought it was so important. 

Afterwards, several girls came up to me and said they were going to start doing Shnayim Mikrah. Even the few men who were at the meal said they would be more makpid [strict] on this halacha. Thus began what I now call the Shnayim Mikrah Revolution at my seminary. I’d like to share with you why I think this halacha is so important. 

The Gemara in Brachot 8a teaches that a person should always read each week’s parsha together with the community, by doing Shnayim Mikrah v’Echad Targum – reading all the pesukim [verses] of the parsha [weekly Torah portion] twice, and the translation once, even for the pesukim that are the same when translated. The Gemara on that same daf tells us that anyone who does this will lengthen his days. 

The halachot pertaining to Shnayim Mikrah can be found in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 285. There are several different opinions as to what order a person should do the two readings and the translation, but the Mishnah Berurah writes that every shita [method] is acceptable and therefore a person can read in whichever order they want. 

Targum [translation] generally refers to Targum Onkelos, which is the Aramaic translation of the Torah. However, since the goal of the Targum is to help better understand the Torah, the Shulchan Aruch writes that one can read Rashi instead, as it accomplishes the same goal. He adds that a yirei shamayim [someone who fears Heaven] can do both. 

The idea is to read the parsha as the tzibur [community] begins to read it, so one can start learning next Shabbat’s parsha at mincha of the previous Shabbat, as that is when the community begins reading it. Ideally, a person should finish Shnayim Mikrah by Shabbat lunch, but they can also finish by mincha, and some even say by the following Wednesday. If one does not finish the parsha, they have until the next Simchat Torah to finish, as that is when the tzibur will finish reading the whole Torah. 

This is my third year doing Shnayim Mikrah, and while it has certainly been a journey learning how to keep up with the fast pace, it has also been the most rewarding learning experience I’ve had. It demands a certain type of hatmada [consistency], similar to that of daf yomi. I personally prefer to learn an aliyah [section of the parsha] a day, which means every single day I need to find a half hour to sit down and learn the parsha. 

Shnayim Mikrah has changed the way my week is structured. The entire week I am learning about the parsha and therefore thinking about Shabbat. My Shabbat is no longer just a restful day, or a meaningful day to daven [pray] and spend time with my family. Once I started Shnayim Mikrah, a Torah element was added to my Shabbat. 

Aside from my Shabbat being enhanced, my general learning has been greatly enhanced as well. Whenever anyone makes a reference to anything in Torah, I am automatically able to make connections in my head. I know what pasuk they are talking about, I know the surrounding pesukim, I know the general context, and I know what Rashi has to say on that specific pasuk. My knowledge of pshat [simple reading of the text] and Rashi on Torah has grown exponentially. I think that general bekiut [broad] study of Tanach is something which tends to be ignored, and Shnayim Mikrah is a great way to cover a lot of ground. 

My final point on the importance of Shnayim Mikrah relates to something the Gemara, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch all mention – the sense of tzibbur. The Mishnah Berurah says that a person should not read ahead in Shnayim Mikrah, meaning one should not begin next week’s parsha before the rest of the tzibbur is reading it. I spend the whole week reading the parsha, and by the time I reach shul on Shabbat morning, I am reading along with the tzibbur that which I have already learned on my own. Torah-reading in shul on Shabbat is the culmination of my entire week. 

Reaching Simchat Torah having finished reading all of Torah creates a huge sense of both a communal and personal accomplishment. The tzibbur is celebrating finishing the cycle of Torah reading, and I, along with them, am celebrating having read along with them and learned the whole Torah on my own. Although I personally am not obligated to complete Shnayim Mikrah, it has changed the way I learn, the way my week is structured, and created a special sense of community in my life.