For the week ending 16 July 2016 / 10 Tammuz 5776

The Parsha Dual Dichotomy 5776 - Part 1

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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I’m sure everyone knows that this week’s parsha outside of Israel is Chukat. Yet, this parsha was actually read in Eretz Yisrael last week, meaning that the weekly parsha right now is not the same one in Chutz La’aretz as it is in Eretz Yisrael.

This parsha “split” occurs whenever the last day of a Yom Tov falls on Shabbat. In Chutz La’aretz, where a second day of Yom Tov is observed, there is a “special” public Torah reading for the Yom Tov, whereas in Eretz Yisrael the Torah reading for the next scheduled parsha is read. This puts Eretz Yisrael a parsha ahead until the rest of the world “catches up”, by an upcoming potential double-parsha, while each parsha would be read separately in Eretz Yisrael.

This year, the 8th day of Pesach fell out on Shabbat. On that Shabbat/Yom Tov everyone in Chutz La’aretz read the Yom Tov reading of “Aser Te’Asser” from Parshat Re’eh, whereas in Eretz Yisrael, Parshat Shemini, the next parsha in the cycle was read, since Pesach had already ended for them.

Although this happens every now and then, this year Chutz La’aretz will not catch up to Eretz Yisrael until Parshiot Matot-Masei — around Rosh Chodesh Av — over three months later! In Eretz Yisrael, Matot and Masei will be read separately on consecutive weeks, while in Chutz La’aretz they will be combined and read on a single Shabbat. The last time a split of this magnitude occurred was twenty-one years ago in 1995. The next time scheduled is in 3 years, in 2019, so we can all be prepared in advance.

There are seven potential double parshiyot. These seven are:

  • Vayakheil/Pekudei, the last two parshiyot of Sefer Shemot
  • Tazria/Metzora, in Sefer Vayikra
  • Acharei Mot/Kedoshim, in Sefer Vayikra
  • Behar/Bechukotai, the last two parshiyot of Sefer Vayikra
  • Chukat/Balak, in Sefer Bamidbar
  • Matot/Masei, the last two parshiyot of Sefer Bamidbar
  • And Netzavim/Vayeileich, towards the end of Sefer Devarim

Many people want to know why didn’t we catch up this year right away by Acharei Mot/Kedoshim or Behar/Bechukotai? Or even Chukat/Balak? Why should three separate double parshiyot be passed over, with the world only catching up on the fourth possibility, months later? In other words, why do we wait so long for the whole world to be realigned?

Moreover, this causes all sorts of halachic issues for travelers to and from Israel during this time period, such as: Which parsha should they be reading? If/how can they catch up? Although technically-speaking, since kriat haTorah (public Torah reading) is a “chovat hatzibur”, a communal obligation, and one is not actually mandated to “catch-up”, but is rather fulfilling his obligation with whichever parsha is publicly, correctly being read, nevertheless, commonly, special minyanim are set up expressly for this purpose. Many Yeshivot double-up the parsha when most of the students return from Chutz La’aretz in order to catch them up. In fact, a number of shuls in Eretz Yisrael, such as the renowned Zichron Moshe “Minyan Factory”, offer a solution by hosting weekly “catch-up minyanim”, featuring the Torah reading of each previous week’s Israeli parsha, which is the “Chutznik’s” current one, until the calendars re-merge. But those flying back to Chutz La’aretz would presumably not have such a “safety-net” to fall back on.

Although some cite alternate minhagim (customs), nevertheless it is important to note that nowadays this long parsha split is indeed Minhag Yisrael, as codified by the Knesses Hagedolah, Magen Avraham, and Mishnah Berurah. We should also realize that back then travel to and from Eretz Yisrael was far less of an issue, since undertaking the trip would take several months, and missing one parsha would be the least of one’s worries. But to properly understand the “whys” of this fascinating dual dichotomy, one must first gain an understanding of the parsha rules and setup. In fact, this is not a new question, as several early Torah authories, including the Mahari”t (Rabbi Yosef Tirani), addressed this exact issue almost 500 years ago.

To be continued…

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