Question #1: In most years, the parsha of Bamidbar falls on the Shabbos before Shavuos, and Parshas Naso falls the Shabbos after Shavuos. However, this year Bamidbar falls out a week earlier, and Naso is also before Shavuos. Why is this year different from the other years?
Question #2: Why are most of the “Double Parshiyos” clustered together in and around Sefer Vayikra?
Question #3: Why are the Torah’s parshiyos of such disparate length? Some parshiyos are very long — the longest being this week’s Parsha, Naso, which contains 176 pesukim. Yet at the end of the Torah we have four parshiyos that are extremely short – all of them between 30 and 52 pesukim. Why aren’t the parshiyos of similar length?
The Gemara teaches:
Ezra decreed that the Jews should read the curses of the Tochacha in Vayikra before Shavuos and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah. Why? In order to end the year together with its curses! [The Gemara then comments:] We well understand why we read the Tochacha of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah because the year is ending, but why is that of Vayikra read before Shavuos. Is Shavuos the beginning of a year? Yes, Shavuos is the beginning of a new year, as the Mishnah explains that the world is judged on Shavuos for its fruit” (Megillah 31b).
However, this Gemara does not seem to explain our practice. There are two Tochachos in the Torah, one in Parshas Bechukosai, the last parsha of sefer Vayikra, and the second in Parshas Ki Savo, but neither of these parshiyos is ever read immediately before Shavuos or Rosh Hashanah. There is always at least one other Shabbos wedged between. In the case of the Tochacha of Parshas Bechukosai, Shavuos occurs usually after the next parsha, Bamidbar, but occasionally after the following parsha, Naso, as it does this year. The reading of the second Tochacha, Ki Savo is never the parsha before Rosh Hashanah. The parsha after it, Netzavim, always has the distinction of being read on the Shabbos immediately before Rosh Hashanah.
Tosafos (ad loc.) explains that the Tochacha should be read two weeks before each “New Year” to allow a buffer week between the Tochacha and the beginning of the year. Thus, Ezra’s decree was that the two Tochachos should be read early enough so that there is another reading following them before the “year” is over. The Levush (Orach Chayim 428:4) explains that without the intervening Shabbos reading as a shield, the Satan could use the Tochacha as a means of prosecuting against us on the judgment day. The intervenient Shabbos when we read a different parsha prevents the Satan from prosecuting, and as a result we can declare: End the year together with its curses!
Divide and Conquer!
We can now explain why the very end of the Torah is divided into such small parshiyos. The Tochacha of Parshas Ki Savo is located towards the end of Sefer Devarim. In order to complete our annual reading of the Torah on Simchas Torah, we want to read this Tochacha at least two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, which means that we must divide the remainder of Sefer Devarim into enough parshiyos for:
(1) A buffer parsha between the Tochacha and Rosh Hashanah.
(2) One or two Shabbosos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos.
(3) The Torah reading for Simchas Torah, when we complete the year’s reading, as established by Chazal (Megillah 31a).
To accommodate all this, the end of Devarim is divided into four tiny parshiyos: Netzavim, Vayeileich, Haazinu, and Vezos Haberacha:
Netzavim always becomes the “buffer parsha” read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah. When we need two Shabbos readings between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos, then Vayeileich is read as a separate parsha on Shabbos Shuva, and Haazinu is read on the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Sukkos. When there is only one Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos, then Haazinu is read on that Shabbos, which is Shabbos Shuva. And Parshas Haazinu must be short enough to create a parsha after it, Vezos Haberacha, which serves as the reading for Simchas Torah.
Bamidbar is always before Shavuos
Returning back to the Gemara in Megillah, we now understand why the end of Sefer Vayikra always falls at least two Shabbosos before Shavuos. Since the Tochacha is located at the end of Vayikra, Bamidbar must always be read before Shavuos to be a buffer between the Tochacha and the “new year” of the produce of the trees, as explained by the Gemara.
We can now refer back to one of our original questions: Why are most of the “Double Parshiyos” clustered together in and around Sefer Vayikra?
The “Double Parshiyos”
There are seven potential occurrences when we read “double parshiyos“, that is, two consecutive parshiyos are read on one Shabbos as if they are one long parsha. These seven are:
Vayakheil/Pekudei, the last two parshiyos of Sefer Shemos.
Tazria/Metzora, in Sefer Vayikra.
Acharei Mos/Kedoshim, in Sefer Vayikra.
Behar/Bechukosai, in Sefer Vayikra.
Chukas/Balak, in Sefer Bamidbar.
Matos/Masei, the last two parshiyos of Sefer Bamidbar.
Netzavim/Vayeileich, towards the end of Sefer Devarim.
This leads us to a series of interesting questions:
(1) Why are there no doubled parshiyos in Bereishis, nor any for almost the entire length of Sefer Shemos?
(2) Why do we cluster together four doubled parshiyos between the last week of Shemos and Sefer Vayikra?
(3) And lastly, why do we not double any parshiyos at the beginning of Sefer Bamidbar?
With a little more background, we will be able to answer all of these questions.
In this article, I will discuss the reason for the first four of these doubling of the parshiyos.
Leap and Common Years
When Hashem commanded us to create a calendar, He insisted that we use the moon to define the months, and yet keep our year consistent with the seasons, which are dependent on the sun. (The word “month” originally meant “a period of time corresponding to the moon’s cycle,” which is approximately 29 1/2 days, but the use of “month” today in the western calendar is simply a convenient way to divide the year and has nothing to do with the moon’s cycle.)
This mitzvah does not allow us to create either a purely solar calendar, the basis of the common western calendar, which ignores the moon’s changing phases. Nor does it allow us to create a perfectly lunar calendar of twelve lunar months, since this lunar “year” is approximately eleven days shorter than a solar year. If we were to follow a calendar of twelve lunar months every year, our months would not fall out in the same season. Pesach would occur sometimes in the dead of winter and Sukkos in the spring. This is exactly what transpires in the Moslem calendar, which always has exactly twelve lunar months in every year. Moslem months do not fall out in the same season. For example, Ramadan this year falls in the summer, but in a few years will occur in the winter.
The Torah requires that Pesach fall in the spring, yet requires that the months correlate to the cycle of the moon. We fulfill this mitzvah by occasionally adding an extra month to the year – thereby creating 13 month years, which we call “leap years,” to offset the almost 11 day difference between twelve lunar months and a solar year. These extra months keep the Yomim Tovim in their appropriate seasons.
When we add an extra month to the year, we add four and sometimes five Shabbosos to the year, yet we want each calendar year to complete the entire Torah reading on the next Simchas Torah! In order to have a reading for every possible Shabbos, we need to divide the Torah into enough parshiyos so that even the longest year has a parsha for each Shabbos. Since a Jewish leap year may contain 55 Shabbosos, Chumash is divided into a total of 54 parshiyos so that there is always a parsha to read every week. (There are 54 parshiyos, and not 55, because we do not read a consecutive Torah parsha on the Shabbos that occurs during Pesach. Although this is also true on Sukkos, remember that on Simchas Torah we read Parshas Vezos Haberacha, which is one of the 54 parshiyos, so Sukkos does not eliminate the need for a parsha that week.)
To sum up, the reason for dividing the Torah into 54 parshiyos is so that there are enough parshiyos for every Shabbos of the yearly cycle that begins and ends on Simchas Torah. In reality, the need for reading each of the 54 parshiyos on a different Shabbos occurs very rarely – only on leap years when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos. Only that particular year has 54 Shabbosos that do not coincide with any Yom Tov dates (or more accurately, 53 Shabbosos plus Simchas Torah).
Why do we “double” Parshiyos?
Since most years require less than 54 parshiyos, how do we make sure that we complete the Torah reading for the year on Simchas Torah? The answer is that we combine parshiyos.
In almost every occurrence of a common year, we double the following parshiyos: Tazria/Metzora; Acharei Mos/Kedoshim and Behar/Bechukosai. Why these three sets of parshiyos, all of which are in Sefer Vayikra?
Just as a leap year is created by adding an extra month to Adar shortly before Pesach, the parshiyos are not doubled until the month of Nisan. Thus, we do not add these extra parshiyos until the year is clearly a common year.
At this point we can answer the second question raised above: Why do we “double up” so many parshiyos in Sefer Vayikra?
The answer is that we do not double parshiyos until it is already obvious whether it is a leap or common year, yet we need to read the parshiyos in a way that we complete this process early enough to read Bamidbar before Shavuos. The above-mentioned parshiyos are not read until the beginning of the month of Nisan. Thus, we have a small window between the beginning of Nissan and the end of Sefer Vayikra in which we try to complete all the double parshiyos necessary.
Why did I write above “in almost every occurrence of a common year, we double these parshiyos“? Because there is one instance in which the parshiyos of Behar and Bechukosai are combined in Chutz La’aretz, but they are read on separate weeks in Eretz Yisrael. This occurs in a common year when the eighth day of Pesach, observed only outside Eretz Yisrael, falls on a Shabbos. The communities of the exile read a Yom Tov reading, whereas in Eretz Yisrael communities read Parshas Shemini, the next reading in order. In this instance, the communities of Eretz Yisrael must separate Behar from Bechukosai to avoid the Tochacha from being read the week before Shavuos.
Almost, but not all common years, also combine together the last two parshiyos in Sefer Shemos, Vayakheil/Pekudei. There is one instance of a common year when this does not happen. When Rosh Hashanah and Shemini Atzeres fall on Thursday in a common year that has 355 days, a fairly rare occurence [and one of the instances of a common year when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos], there is an extra Shabbos between Sukkos and the next Rosh Hashanah, and in this year Vayakheil and Pekudei are read on separate weeks even though it is a common year.
I still have not explained the answer to our first question: Why this year does Bamidbar fall out two weeks before Shavuos, rather than the week immediately before Shavuos.
The Longest Year
The answer is that whenever a leap year falls out with Rosh Hashanah on a Thursday, as it does this year, that year has an extra Shabbos. In this instance, the leap year added five shabbosos to the year. The result of having no double parshiyos in these years between Simchas Torah and Rosh Hashanah is that both Bamidbar and Naso fall before Shavuos.}
We now understand what the printers and calendar makers have known all along: Why and when certain parshiyos are doubled and when not. All this is to guarantee that we have a chance to revisit every part of the Torah in the course of the year, and to celebrate our annual siyum haTorah on Simchas Torah!