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Returning to the Same Page

By: Rav Michael Susman

This shiur is dedicated in loving memory of my Father-in-Law, David ben Chaim Zvi Lappin, z”l whose first Yahrtzeit is this Shabbat. 

WELCOME BACK, READERS IN CHUT’Z L’ARETZ!!!

It has been several weeks since those of you in Chu”l have been on the same “Parsha Page” as those of us here in Eretz Yisrael.  It is a sign of our virtual times that the discrepancy can no longer be forgotten, as almost every Torah website had to choose sides.  Would we mark the week by the Parsha that was being read in Israel or by the one which was read in Chu”l?  Only by checking the banner on top of the site could one be sure.  This week, of course, we reunite, as in Chu"l we read the double parsha of B’Har B’Chukotai while we read just Parshat B’Chukotai in Eretz Yisrael.

This anomaly was created by the fact that this year Isru Chag/Yom Tov Sheni of Pesach fell on Shabbat. Therefore while we in Israel read Parshat Shmini, forging ahead with the regular order of Parshat HaShavua, in Chu”l the Torah reading for Yom Tov Sheni meant that the resumption of the regular pattern of Parshat HaShavua would have to wait another week.  It is only now, five weeks later, that the readings are once again in sync. 

But why was it necessary to wait so long in order to come back together?  It would have been relatively simple to have brought the Torah readings into sync almost immediately after Pesach.  Rather than reading Tazria and Metzora together the week after Pesach and waiting for this week to have Chu"l read a double parsha and Israel read a single parsha, would it not have made more sense for those of us in Israel to have read the parshiot of Tazria and Metzora separately?  Doing so would have enabled Israel and Chu”l to get back in sync after two weeks rather than waiting until a week before Shavuot.

In order to try and answer this question we need to understand something of the rules which are used to establish when we read a double parsha on Shabbat.  In an article written close to twenty years ago (available here) Rabbi Mordecai Kornfeld thoroughly explains the issues involved.   Rabbi Kornfeld notes that “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.” (Feel free to read the entire article in order to understand why these rules were established and for references to situations, such as leap years, which may make adhering to some of these rules impossible.) 

What this means is that we combine parshiot in order to ensure that we will read certain parshiot at specific times of the year.  In our case the overriding factor is the desire to read Parshat B’Chukotai two weeks before Shavuot, something that both those of us in Israel and those residing in Chu”l will in fact be doing. Of course, while this explains why we were careful to close the gap by this Shabbat, it does nothing to answer our original question. Had we separated Tazria and Metzora for those reading in Israel, we all would have been reading B'Har B'Chukotai this week, in full compliance with the requirement to read B'Chukotai two weeks before Shavuot.

In order to answer this question, Rabbi Kornfeld writes as follows. "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."  Rabbi Kornfeld goes on to explain that between Pesach and Shavuot there are only four "natural" parshiot to partner, Tazria and Metzora and Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. B'Har and B'Chukotai, on the other hand, do not share a common theme and therefore will only form a double parsha if there is no other choice.  This is because joining them represents the final opportunity to ensure that B'Chukotai is read two weeks before Shavuot.

According to this explanation, we can readily understand why we read the Parshiot in the order that we did.  Since the preference is that similar themed parshiot be joined, both in Israel and in Chu"l we read Tazria and Mezora one week and Achrai Mot and Kedoshim the next because they share themes.  B'Har B'Chukotai are joined only as a last resort. Therefore, in a year such as this when Israel only has to join parshiot on two Shabbatot, we choose parshiot with common themes to merge, while in Chu"l, where it is necessary to join parshiot on a third Shabbat, we combine B'Har and B'Chukotai as well.

The problem with this approach is that it is not at all clear why we would automatically assume that the parshiot of B'Har and B'Chukotai do not share common themes.  In his essay on Parshat B'Chukotai (Iyunim B'Parshat HaShavua, First Series, see also the opening of his essay in the recently released third series) Rav Elchanan Samet cogently argues that, contrary to first impressions, the parshiot of B'Har and B'Chukotai seem to be linked both stylistically and thematically.  Rav Samet points out the stylistic structure of the blessings which appear at the beginning of Parshat B'Chukotai (Perek 26: 3-13) is almost identical to the structure of Parshat B'Har (25:18-22, and 25:38).  Moreover, Rav Samet cogently argues that the focus that Parshat B'Har places on the laws of Shemitta and Yovel are continued in Parshat B'Chukotai. Firstly, the Torah stresses that the curses (“Tochacha”) that form the bulk of Parshat B’Chukotai are a result of Am Yisrael’s failure to observe Shemitta, and in fact the length of the exile matched the number of Shemittot and Yovlot that went unobserved (see Rashi 26:35). This clearly ties in to the central (and perhaps only) theme in B’Har. Moreover, a comparison of the opening passukim of B’Har (25:1-6) and the relevant passukim in B’Chukotai describing the reason for the curses (26:34-36, and 26:43) reveals that words derived from the Hebrew root SV”T (שב"ת) appear seven times in each grouping.  This is another clear stylistic indication of the link between the two parshiot.  Finally, the Tochacha ends (26:56) with the declaration that these are the laws and injunctions that were given between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael, “B’Har Sinai b’yad Moshe” at Mount Sinai, through the agency of Moshe. Parshat B’Har began, of course, with the declaration of “Vayidaber Hashem el Moshe B’Har Sinai”, that Hashem spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai.  As Rav Samet points out, no less an authority than Rashbam points out the obvious literary bookending and what it means.  We are looking at a single unit which began in B’Har describing the mitzvah of Shemitta and Yovel and ends in B’Chukotai with the chilling reminder of the punishment that awaits Am Yisrael if they are lax in its observance.

If we accept this analysis then our original question comes flying back to us in full force.  If we have three sets of parshiot (and not two as R. Kornfeld had suggested) whose shared themes make them candidates for double parshiot, why do we not choose to set up the Torah readings in a way that would bring Eretz Yisrael and Chu”l into sync as quickly as possible?

When considering this question it occurred to me that we may be looking at the issue from the wrong perspective. The basic assumption that our question rests upon is that we in Israel should be doing what we can in order to bring our reading into sync with the reading outside of Eretz Yisrael as quickly as possible. But perhaps the whole point here is that the standard is the reading in Eretz Yisrael. When Chaza”l arranged for parshiot to be read together in order to sync between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz L’Aretz it was so that those in Chu”l could catch up to the appropriate order, not that the order should be disrupted in order to create a false and unnatural synchronization between the two communities.

Put another way, there should only be a need to combine parshiot twice between Pesach and the B’Chukotai in order to meet the requirement of reading B’Chukotai two weeks before Shavuot.  It is only because of the unnatural necessity to keep two days of Yom Tov that communities in Chu”l need to combine parshiot three times over the course of five weeks in order to ensure that this happens. So Chaza”l required that those communities find a way to synchronize, in this case by combining the compatible pair of B’Har and B’Chukotai.

With Yom Yerushalayim beginning on Motzai Shabbat, is it not ironic that in Eretz Yisrael we will merit celebrating another milestone on our path to Geula while most diaspora communities will still be keeping a Shabbat whose Torah reading is the ultimate reminder of Galut? 

 

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