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If the Torah was given on Shavu'ot, wouldn't it be logical to make that day the time to start the reading cycle (or, at least, line up the yearly cycle so I am up to the narrative of matan torah naturally at that time) at that point? Instead, we start and end the cycle on Shmini Atzeret which is not a time which is, as far as I can tell, inherently related to the Torah. This answer quotes a source which posits a possible explanation but nothing definite. This website presents an explanation of sorts but with no sources, and its point is that we should be starting the cycle on Yom Kippur but to avoid some sort of religious confusion, we push off the celebration to what ends up being an arbitrary date.

This explanation, though, devalues Shavu'ot then (or turns it into "Shavuot is therefore more about a relationship with G-d than the Torah itself"). If it isn't about Matan Torah, then why do we celebrate it as "zman matan torateinu"?

When did this cycle timing start and why, and why would we then retain Shavu'ot in its current form, instead of turning it into a spiritual day which ignores the giving of the Torah aspect?

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One answer is that it is juxtaposed with the giving of the Torah - but the giving of the second Tablets on Yom Kippur, not the first tablets on Shavuos. This is explained at length in several places in Chabad Chassidus. One of them is here.

The Meshech Chochma says that on Shmini Atzers Zos HaBracha was read anyway. The Talmud which describes reading Zos HaBracha then is talking about the custom to finish the Torah once every three years, because - echoing the point in Chabad Chassidus - the unity aspect of Shimini Atzeres is mentioned in that Parsha, so it is connected to the day. So according to that, this is the natural time to make the Siyum when finishing once a year.

It should be pointed out that there is not necessarily an inherent relationship between Shavuos and Mattan Torah in a historical sense and the custom of completing the Torah in one year likely predates the fixed calendar where such a connection really sets in.

  • It should be noted that reading vezot habracha on shmini atzeret in the trienniel cycle probably meant just reading the first half (the blessings) and not the moshe-death part – Double AA Jan 31 '17 at 22:48
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The obvious answer is that, once it was set to be on an annual cycle, they wanted to make Devarim the Sedra immediately before Tisha B'Av, because it contains the verse that begins with "Eichah" and mentions the spies and other upsetting events, thus the cycle was built around that.

For Devarim falling on the week before Tisha B'Av I can give a source, the Shulchan Orech, (not sure on the chapter). Some of the doubling-up rules, in particular Matot-Masei, is based around it.

Another concept, although a less likely reason, is that Pesach and thus Shavuot that follows it is all about "chadash". Pesach falls in the 1st month. We are born as a nation and we relive the event like we were there in Egypt so we experience the "anew" concept about it. Shavuot follows when we receive the Torah anew.

The number 7 though is about "cyclic" nature. We renew things again rather than starting afresh. The Shmitta cycle starts in the 7th month. We sit in the Sukkah, not to remember an event but to recognise Hashem protects us all the time. It isn't linked to a specific event that happened on a particular date but something continuous. We perform circuits with the species.

And thus when it comes to renewing a continuous cycle of Torah, the festival that falls at the end of Sukkot seems the ideal time to do this.

  • I think the ruling regarding Devarim before Tisha B'Av as well as reading tochacha before Shavu'ot are mentioned in Talmud Megillah. I'll see if I can research this a bit, and B"N update you. If you find it, first, ping me. – DanF Apr 30 '15 at 3:43
  • It’s Megillah 31b (cc @DanF) – DonielF Sep 2 '18 at 14:12
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The Sefer הקריאה בתורה והלכותיה chapter 60 note 4 quotes the לבוש סימן תרס"ט as saying that the cycle should really begin/end around Rosh Hashanah (it sounds like he's saying that logically it makes sense to 'start' the Torah at the 'start' of the year). However, in order to 'trick the Satan' about when Rosh Hashanah is, we push the cycle off until after Rosh Hashanah. And once we push it off and it's no longer exactly Rosh Hashanah, we push it off a bit more until the first Shabbos after all the holidays are completed in order so that we don't have a situation where we begin the new Parshah cycle and then immediately interrupt it with Holiday readings.

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