Friday, August 2, 2019

Reunited and It Feels So Good!

Have you missed the unity with our Israeli brothers and sisters these past three-and-a- half months? Has our non-alignment bothered you?

When the first day of Passover falls on Shabbat, as it did this year, the seventh day of Passover falls on Friday. In Israel, that Friday is observed as the final day of Passover. Only in the diaspora, where an additional day is added to the festivals, do we celebrate an eighth day of Passover. This means that while Jews in the diaspora observe the 8th day of Passover in the diaspora, Israelis observe a regular Shabbat, and read the next Torah portion in the series. In the diaspora, the Torah portion reserved for the last day of Passover is read.

This being the case, one would assume that on a Shabbat immediately after Passover, the diaspora communities would read two Torah portions, while only one Torah portion would be read in Israel, enabling the diaspora to catch up. According to Rabbi David Abudraham (14th century Spain), there are 7 specific pairs of parashiyot (plural of parasha) of the 54 Torah portions that can be doubled up. A lunar year has 354 days, or 50 Shabbats. When a leap year is added, there need to be an additional 4 parashiyot.

Yet, this year, it will take fifteen weeks to synchronize the Israeli and diaspora Torah readings, passing over 3 of those 7 possible double-portion scenarios (Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, Behar-Bechukotai, Chukat-Balak.) Why the wait?

In the current form of completing the Torah reading annually (as opposed to the ancient triennial cycle where all 54 Torah portions were read over a 3-year period), the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 428:4) mandates that certain portions must be read adjacent to certain observances:
1. Parashat Tzav (Metzorah in a leap year) must be read on the Shabbat prior to Passover;
2. Parashat Bamidbar must be read on the Shabbat prior to Shavuot;
3. Parashat Va’etchanan must be read on the Shabbat following Tisha B’av;
4. Parashat Nitzavim must be read on the Shabbat prior to Rosh Hashana.

If this week’s two Torah portions, Mattot and Massei, were not doubled up in the diaspora, parashat Va’etchanan would not be read the week after Tisha B’av. But, why did we not double-up on one of the other 3 weeks where reading two parashiyot would have made sense?

If any of the other natural combined parashiyot were to be doubled up, Mattot and Massei would be separated in the diaspora. Mattot and Massei are generally considered to be one of the most natural combinations (it also represents the longest Torah reading when combined). Therefore, we only separate them when necessary, as was done in Israel this year.

So now, this minor separation anxiety between Israel and the diaspora is cured.

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