This week's Parasha-Page has been sponsored by Naftoli (Nat) Bodner of Kew Gardens Hills NYC, in memory of his mother, Dina bat Reb Menachem Arye Z"L. Her Yahrzeit is the 14th of Sivan.
THE WEEK AFTER SHAVUOT 5756
THE YEARLY TORAH-READING CYCLE
A similar situation occurred last year (5755), when the seventh day of Pesach was a Friday -- the following day was observed as a regular Shabbat in Israel (Parashat Kedoshim), but was celebrated as the eighth day of Pesach in the diaspora. Last year, however, the gap between the two communities was bridged only after *fifteen* weeks (when Mattot and Masei were read separately in Israel but together in the diaspora). Interestingly enough, in that case several opportunities for doubling Parshiot were passed up before the disparity was corrected by the doubling of Mattot-Massei. (The exact same situation arose in 5752.)
The third possible case of Israel-diaspora disjunction occurred in 5751, when the seventh day of Pesach fell out on a Friday (as it didin 5755), but that time the gap was bridged after only six weeks, in Parashat Behar-Bechukotai. (It should be noted that the last day of Sukkot [Shemini Atzeret] can never come on a Friday, so no lag can ever come up as a result of Sukkot.If it would have been possible, it would have created a particularly difficult situation, as the very beginning of the Torah cycle would be read on different weeks in different places. Furthermore, there would be no opportunity to double up Parshiot for twenty weeks!)
It seems apparent that whatever the criteria are for deciding whether to combine two particular Parshiot or to read them separately, bridging the gap between the Jews of Israel and those of the diaspora does *not* seem to play a major role, if any at all.
What indeed are the criteria that determine the doubling of Parshiot? And why were certain Parshiot chosen to be doubled rather than others? In this week's Parasha Page we will look into these questions. (I would like to thank my friend Dr. Norman Bloom of Miami Beach, Fl., whose excellent article entitled "The Torah Reading Cycle, Past and Present" provided much valuable source material on this subject. Another helpful essay on this issue can be found in Rav Reuven Margolios' work "Hamikra Vehamesorah," Ch. 11.)
The Torah is divided into paragraphs. Sometimes the end of a paragraph can be recognized by the fact that it ends in the middle of the line (as paragraph endings are indicated nowadays, except that in the Torah the beginning of a new paragraph is not indented). Such a paragraph is called a Parsha Petucha ("open paragraph"). Other times the end of the paragraph does not form the last wordson a truncated line; rather, a space of several letters is left blank, and then, on the *same* line, the new paragraph is begun. Such a paragraph is called a Parasha Setumah ("closed paragraph"). The Gemara (Berachot 12b, Shabbat 103b) tells us that these divisions into sections are part of the tradition of Torah-writing which reaches all the way back to Moshe's time, when the Torah was first written. (By way of illustration, you will note that Naso has 8 Setumot [represented in many Chumashim by the letter "Samech"] and 18 Petuchot [represented by "Peh"].)
The Parashot discussed until now are easily recognizable in the Torah text, as described above. But the Torah is also divided up according to another system -- into Sedarim and Parashot (or Parshiot). These divisions are not visible in the Torah text, but are based on a very ancient oral tradition. Most peopleare not even aware of the existence of Sedarim, but at the end of each of the five Chumashim (books of the Pentateuch), the printer ususally includes the Masoretic calculation of the number of Sedarim in that Chumash. (For instance, in Bemidbar there are 32 Sedarim.) In the Mikraot Gedolot edition the total number of Sedarim in the Torah is given at 154, but other figures are known as well. (There is a Midrash, in the Pesichta to Esther Rabba, which mentions 155. In the beginning of Parshat Korach, the Midrash speaks of 175 Sedarim. Other figures given range from 141-185.) What function the Sedarim perform will be discussed later.
We are most familiar with the division into weekly Parshiot (Parashot Hashavua). This division is also noted in the Gemara (Megilla 29b and 30a; see also Bereishit Rabba 91:1). The Zohar (Tikkunei Zohar #13, p. 29b; Midrash HaNe'elam, Vayera, 104b) mentions that there are 53 Parashiot in the Torah. From this figure it is clear that these Parshiot were meant to be read on Shabbatot in a yearly cycle of Torah-readings. In a leap year (of the Jewish, lunar-solar calendar) there can as many as 55 Shabbatot in the year. Since Sukkot and Pesach are 8 days and a week, respectively, there are always at least two Shabbatot during which the regular weekly cycle is interrupted in favor of festival-related readings. This leaves a maximum of exactly 53 Shabbatot which require weekly Torah readings! It is not clear at which point in history this division was instituted. It is possible that the division of the Torah into today's Parshiot is indeed a Mosaic tradition. (See Mishnah Berurah, O.C. 135:8.)
Incidentally, as a quick count of the number of Parshiot in today's texts will reveal, we now have 54 Parashot Hashavua! This is because, as some point out ["Sefer HaOrah" (attributed to Rashi), Hil. Sefer Torah, #73], Vezot HaBerachah is never read on a Shabbat as a weekly portion, but on Simchat Torah, so it is not counted. It is the remaining 53 Parshiot that are read on the 53 Shabbatot of the longest year. An even simpler explanation is that Nitzavim and Vayelech actually constitute one Parasha, as is apparent from the words of many early commentators. (See, for instance, the Rambam's enumeration of the weekly Parshiot at the end of Sefer Ahavah, Rashi's own list in "Sefer HaPardes." (See also Rav R. Margolios, Nitzotei Zohar to the above-mentioned Tikkun.)
There is an ancient list of Shinnuyei Minhagim (variations of customs) between the Babylonian Jews and the Jews of Eretz Yisrael. (Attributed to the Geonim, this list is printed in its entirety at the end of "Yam Shel Shlomo" on Bava Kamma.) In that list (#47), it is pointed out that it was only in public synagogue readings that the triennial cycle was used. In private, however, individuals would read a different portion of the Torah every week, according to the same 53-portion *yearly* cycle that was in use in Bavel. (Incidentally, #48 on the list mentions a three-and-a-half-year cycle for Torah readings, whose existence we conjectured above.)
The most appropriate time to begin the yearly cycle would seem to be Rosh Hashanah, which is, after all, the start of the new year. However, if we would start the Torah on the first Shabbat of the year, our weekly readings would be punctuated by several interruptions due to the holiday readings of Yom Kippur and/or Sukkot before the cycle could really get under way. Perhaps for this reason our yearly cycle begins on the first Shabbat after Sukkot. The Parashiot are read one after the other in succession, without any interruptions, for six months, until Pesach. (The custom of starting the yearly cycle after Sukkot is also mentioned in the list of Shinnuyei Minhagim, #48.)
When there are fewer than 53 "available" Shabbatot, we must obviously combine one, or several, of the Parshiot in order to be able to arrive at the next Sukkot "on schedule." But is there any pattern that determines which Parshiot should be joined with which, and when this should happen?
The Gemara (Megillah 31b) supplies us with two important rules in this regard. We are told that the two Tochechot ("rebukes") -- the one in Bechukotai and the one in Ki Tavo -- should be read before Shavuot and Rosh HaShanah respectively, in order that "the old year may be ushered out along with its curses." (Shavuot is also considered a "new year day" in certain respects.) Actually, as the Tosafot elaborate, these two Parshiot must be read on the *second* Shabbat before Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah. (Note: There is one type of year -- the one with the maximum 53 "free" Shabbatot -- when, due to lack of choice, Bechukotai is read on the *third* Shabbat before Shavuot.)
Another ancient custom (not mentioned in the Gemara) is that Parashat Devarim must always be read on the Shabbat preceding Tisha B'Av (see Siddur Rav Amram Gaon; Rambam, Hil. Tefillah, 13:2 etc.). Although the original sources do not offer any logic for such a custom, "Eliyyahu Rabba" (O.C. #428) suggests that it is in order to read Moshe's words of rebuke before Tisha B'Av, so as to induce a mood of somber contrition before the fast. (Perhaps another reason may be suggested: The insistence is not that Devarim be read immediately prior to Tisha B'Av, but that the next Parasha, Vaetchanan, be read immediately *after* the fast. The fast of the 17th of Tammuz -- which begins the three week period of mourning culminating in Tisha B'Av -- commemorates, among other things, the breaking of the tablets of the Ten Commandments (see Parasha-Page, Tisha B'Av 5755). It is only fitting that we should begin the period of consolation after Tisha B'Av with the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments, which is recounted in Vaetchanan.)
In addition to these three rules, Rav Amram Gaon and the Rambam (and others) present a fourth regulation concerning the placement of Parshiot: Parashat Tzav should always be read on Shabbat Hagadol (the Shabbat before Pesach), during a *non-leap* year. What is the significance of connecting Tzav to Pesach in this manner? Eliyyahu Rabba suggests that this Parasha (see esp. Vayikra 6:21) contains the source of the laws of Hag'alat Keilim (the purging of cooking utensils of the residue of forbidden foods), which is commonly practiced before Pesach in order to make utensils kosher for Pesach use. (In a leap year, however, there is no way to stretch things out so that Tzav would be read on the Shabbat before Pesach.)
These four fundamental rules of Parasha placement -- (1) Tzav before *Pesach*, (2) Bechukotai two weeks before *Shavuot*, (3) Devarim before *Tisha B'Av* and (4) Ki Tavo two weeks before *Rosh Hashanah* -- form the basic foundation upon which all the rules of Parasha-joining are based. We may also add the requirement that (5) Vezot Habracha be read on *Simchat Torah*. This formula is used to determine when Parshiot are to be joined during any given year. (The Tur [O.C. #428] adds one more rule involving Pesach during a leap year. However, his rule does not seem to ever affect the Torah-reading cycle in practice. It seems to be no more than a mnemonic which is intended to reflect the results of the four rules mentioned above, rather than a rule in itself which is meant to determine the cycle -- at least according to present day practice of the Tur's statement.)
In order to accommodate these four rules, up to 7 times a year, two Parshiot are combined and read as one, large, double-Parasha (Vayakhel-Pekudei, Tazria-Metzora, Acharei-Kedoshim, Behar-Bechukotai, Chukkat-Balak, Mattot-Massei and Nitzavim-Vayelech). These provide flexibility in the Torah-reading cycle at many different points in the year. However, no reason is offered to explain why these particular 7 Parasha combinations are used rather than any others. Why not combine, for instance, Vayikra and Tzav when necessary? Why were these seven chosen to be the ones which are joined to each other when joining is called for? It may be proposed that two simple, logical rules were used to produce the present pattern of Parasha-combinations.
The two basic rules for choosing which Parshiot to combine with which are the following. (A) It is preferable that only two Parshiot which have a common theme or subject matter be joined together. (B) If there are no such similar Parshiot to combine, we push off the combination of two Parshiot until the last possible opportunity to do so.
In section (1) of the year, there are exactly 25 *Parshiot* to work with (from Bereishit to Tzav). In a non-leap year, there are either 24 or 25 *Shabbatot* during this period. When there are 25 Shabbatot there is obviously no problem fitting Parshiot to Shabbatot. However, in those years which have only 24 Shabbatot, two Parshiot must be combined. Of all the Parshiot from Bereishit to Tzav, the two which are the most closely related to each other are Vayakhel and Pekudei, both of which deal with a review of the process of the construction of the Mishkan. That is why *these* two Parshiot were chosen to be the ones that are joined together in order to enable Tzav to be "on schedule."
In section (2) of the year (Pesach to Shavuot), there are always five Shabbatot. (Actually, there can be six in Israel if the eighth day of Pesach is on Shabbat.) However, Bechukotai is *eight* Parshiot after Tzav! We must thus double up Parshiot *three* times in order to ensure the timely arrival of Bechukotai two weeks before Shavuot. Are there any Parshiot among these eight that are thematically related? In fact, there are several such candidates. Tazria and Metzora both deal with the laws of Tzaraat. Acharei and Kedoshim both contain very similar sections dealing with incestuous relationships. There do not seem to be any other suitable candidates for joining based on a thematic relationship among the available Parshiot, so we wait until the last possible opportunity -- the week of Bechukotai itself -- in order to make Bechukotai come out on time. Behar is therefore joined together with Bechukotai to cut out the third extra Parasha. (In Israel, when there are six Shabbatot in this time period it is Behar and Bechukotai which are kept apart, because they were joined together not by virtue of a similarity between them but only out of necessity.)
In a leap year, there are 33 or 34 Shabbatot between Sukkot and the second week before Shavuot (sections (1) and (2) of the year). If there are 33, there is no problem arranging for Bechukotai, which is the 33rd Parasha in the Torah, to be read on time. If there are 34 Shabbatot, we just can't help it -- Bechukotai has to come a week early, *three* weeks before Shavuot.
In section (3) of the year (which takes us from two weeks before Shavuot until just before Tisha B'Av), there are only ten Shabbatot but eleven Parshiot must be read. Are there any adjacent Parshiot that "match" each other thematically from Bemidbar to Devarim? No, there are none. Therefore, the last possible opportunity is taken to "squeeze in" the extra Parasha, and the two Parshiot just before Devarim (namely, Mattot and Masei) are joined, in accordance with rule (B) above. (A combination of Masei with Devarim cannot be done, because they are in two separate Chumashim. See Mishnah Berurah O.C. #135, middle of note #7.) The only time it is unnecessary to join Mattot with Masei is in the Thursday-initiated leap-year mentioned above, when Bechukotai read on the *third* (rather than the usual *second*) Shabbat before Shavuot. In that scenario, there are only ten Parshiot to apportion among the ten Shabbatot, Bemidbar having already been read *before* the advent of section (3) of the year.
Section (4) goes from Tisha B'Av to two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, a period which always includes six Shabbatot. Since there are exactly six Parshiot to read from Devarim until Ki Tavo, there is never any need to merge Parshiot at all during this period of time.
Section (5) of the year, from two weeks before Rosh Hashanah until Sukkot, is the shortest of the five sections of the year, with three Parshiot to fit in -- Nitzavim, Vayelech and Ha'azinu. In many years there are three "free" Shabbatot during that time period, so there is no need to combine Parshiot. In some years, however, there are only two free Shabbatot (due to Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur occuring on Shabbat), so there is a need to join two Parshiot together. According to rule (B) formulated above, since no two of the Parshiot under discussion are thematically related we should have waited until the "last minute" and combined Vayelech with Ha'azinu. Why is this not done?
The answer is that we are really looking at this backwards. Originally Nitzavim and Vayelech were one Parasha, and Vezot Habracha was read on Shabbat (and not on Simchat Torah!). Later, when Vezot Habrachah became the reading for Simchat Torah, it became necessary to *split up* an existing Parasha, in order to supply the now-empty third Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot with a portion to read. The Parasha chosen for this was Nitzavim. (Ha'azinu could not be split, as the Shira in it comprises a single unit.) The last 30 verses of this already-short Parasha were lopped off and Vayelech was born! It is obvious that when there is no need to split off Vayelech from its parent Parasaha of Nitzavim, it is not done. This is why, when there are only two Shabbatot to accommodate the three Parshiot of Nitzavim, Vayelech and Ha'azinu, it is Nitzavim and Vayelech that are "joined" (actually, reunited) and not Vayelech and Ha'azinu.
There is only one more case which we have not yet explained, and that is the joining of Chukkat and Balak. The truth is that we made an oversimplification above in regard to section (3) of the year. As we mentioned, there can be ten or eleven Shabbatot between Shavuot and Tisha B'Av. However, this is only true in Israel, where Shavuot can never be a Shabbat and thus can never "steal away" a Shabbat from the weekly reading cycle. In the diaspora, however, the *second* day of Shavuot can indeed be a Shabbat (as it was this year), after which there remain only *nine* Shabbatot on which to read the eleven Parshiot between Bemidbar and Devarim. Another double Parasha is called for. To solve that problem, the diaspora joins Chukat and Balak in a year such as the present one.
But why do we combine Chukkat and Balak? Since there are no Parshiot with thematic similarities, we should have applied rule (B) and waited as long as possible to make the necessary adjustment. We therefore should have joined Balak and Pinchas instead of Chukat and Balak!
In fact, this particular merger of Parshiot seems to be the least clear in early Torah literature. Although *we* combine Chukat and Balak in order to cut out the second extra Parasha between Shavuot and Tisha B'Av (as per the directions of Rashi in "Sefer HaPardes," chapter on Siman HaMoadot), other early Poskim made other combinations. Avudraham combined Shelach and Korach, Tikkun Yissachar records a custom to combine Korach and Chukat, and Rav Sa'adyah Gaon combined half of Chukat with Korach and the other half with Balak! In either case, why weren't Balak and *Pinchas* combined, since they are the last Parshiot before Mattot-Massei?
Perhaps the answer is that it was considered to be too burdensome to institute double Parshiot two weeks in a row. (Although there are two doubles in a row in the case of Tazria-Metzora and Acharei-Kedoshim, there the doubling was due to thematic considerations rather than tactical reasons.) Another reason for not connecting Balak with Pinchas may be that this would cause Balak to be read during the "three weeks" between 17 Tammuz and Tisha B'Av. This is a very inauspicious time, and an effort is made not to do anything which recalls the wrath of Hashem against His people, such as is described in the episode of Ba'al Peor at the end of Parashat Balak.
We can now understand why the disapora Jews do not take immediate action to catch up to the Israeli Jews when there is a divergence in their Torah-reading cycles. Parshiot are never joined together unless it is to follow one of the two rules that we established -- either because there is a thematic connection between the two Parshiot, or because it is the last chance to allow one of the five basic readings to take place in the proper time.
May we merit to see the day when all Jews live together in Eretz Yisrael, when these incongruities become obsolete!