The Mishna lists special Torah readings that are appropriate for Jewish holidays throughout the year:
- Pesah – Vayikra 22:26-23:8
- Shavuot – Vayikra 23:15-22
- Rosh HaShana – Vayikra 23:23-25
- Yom Kippur – Vayikra 16:1-34
- Sukkot – Bamidbar 29:12-39
- Hanukka – Bamidbar 7:1-89
- Purim – Shemot 17:8-16
- Rosh Hodesh – Bamidbar 28:11-15
In truth, even during the time of the Talmud these were not the precise readings that were used; it is clear that the traditions of the Ge’onim and the rulings that appear in Massekhet Soferim were accepted as common practice in most communities, and the Ge’onim rule that every place should keep its own customs.
Tosafot point out that today’s tradition of taking out two sifrei Torah on holidays, with the second reading coming from the sacrifice of the day from Sefer (chapter 28), is never mentioned anywhere in the Talmud; the first mention of this custom appears in Seder Rav Amram Gaon. It is possible, however, that this is not a new custom established by the Ge’onim, but rather an old, established tradition that is simply not mentioned in the Talmud, much as many issues having to do with set, communal prayers are not discussed in the Talmud and were codified by the Ge’onim. The Rashba points out that such a reading is hinted to in the Mishna based on the reading mentioned on Hanukkah and Rosh Hodesh.
The Hanukka reading, which comes from the sacrifices brought by the heads of each tribe on the occasion of the establishment of the mishkan in the desert, intuitively matches with the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash during second Temple times. Nevertheless, the commentaries also connect it with the well-known midrash that Aharon the High Priest was disturbed that the tribe of Levi did not have an opportunity to participate in the sacrifices brought on this occasion, and received a promise from God that the kohanim would receive a holiday dedicated to the Hasmonean priestly victory. Thus, the Hanukkah lights celebrate that victory even as they commemorate the rekindling of the menora in the Temple, whose lighting is connected to Aharon and his descendants (see Bamidbar 8:1-4).