Yesterday, we noted the customary procedure followed in years such as this (5776), when the seventh day of Pesach falls on Friday, and the following day – Shabbat – is observed as an ordinary Shabbat in Israel and as the eighth day of Pesach in the Diaspora. As we saw, this situation creates a “gap” between the communities in Israel and those in the Diaspora with respect to the weekly Torah reading, as the communities in Diaspora fall behind one parasha. We noted that this year, the gap is closed in the middle of the summer, when Diaspora communities will combine Parashat Matot and Parashat Masei, which will be read separately here in Israel.
Our discussion yesterday referred specifically to situations such as ours, when the seventh day of Pesach falls on Friday during a leap year. Today we will address the situation that we faced last year (5775), which was not a leap year, when the seventh day of Pesach fell on Friday, resulting in a one-parasha gap between Israel and the Diaspora.
Unlike during a leap year, in a non-leap year we generally combine three pairs of parashiyot in Sefer Vayikra – Tazria and Metzora; Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim; and Behar and Bechukotai. And, in a non-leap year, the Shabbat after Pesach is Parashat Shemini, the parasha immediately preceding Parashat Tazria. This means that on the day after Pesach in Israel, communities in Israel read Parashat Shemini, whereas Diaspora communities read a section relevant to the festivals. Seemingly, the gap between Israel and the Diaspora can be closed right after Pesach, by having Israeli communities read the next Shabbat only Parashat Tazria, while Diaspora communities read Parashat Shemini, and then the next Shabbat Israeli communities read Parashat Metzora, while Diaspora Jews read both Tazria and Metzora. This system, seemingly, would be most reasonable solution, as it results in the gap being closed very quickly. Yet, the custom in such a case is for Israeli communities to combine Tazria and Metzora, as they would in a normal non-leap year, and to also combine the next two parashiyot – Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim. The gap is closed only the Shabbatot thereafter, as Israeli communities read Parashat Behar and Parashat Bechukotai on separate weeks, whereas Diaspora communities combine them.
The question naturally arises as to the reason for this delay. Why do Israeli communities break up Behar and Bechukotai, but not Tazria and Metzora, or Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim?
Rav Yissachar Ibn Soussan of Tzefat, in his Tikkun Yissakhar (cited and discussed by Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons in his extensive article on the subject), suggested that when it comes to Tazria and Metzora, one could explain that there is a benefit to condensing them into a single reading. As these parashiyot deal with various forms of afflictions, people preferred to complete this entire topic over the course of a single Shabbat, rather than have it spread over two Shabbatot. In principle, then, we can explain the practice to combine Tazria and Metzora despite the interest in synchronizing Israeli and Diaspora communities to the desire to read the entire section dealing with tzara’at in a single Shabbat. Clearly, however, this theory would not suffice to explain why we in Israel combine not only Tazria and Metzora, but also Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim.
Rav Yissakhar Ibn Soussan therefore posits a fascinating theory to explain this custom. He writes that it would be inappropriate for the communities in Eretz Yisrael to adjust their Torah reading schedule in order to follow the schedule in Diaspora, as this would appear as assigning a stature of superiority or primacy to the Diaspora. In Rav Yissakhar Ibn Soussan’s words, “Ein nakhon la-asot mei-ha’ikarim tefeila” – “It is improper to turn the primary into the subordinate.” On principle, then, Israeli communities do not deviate from the normal procedure of combining these pairs of parashiyot (Tazria and Metzora, and Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim) on a non-leap year.
Why, then, do Israeli communities separate Behar and Bechukotai in such a case?
Rav Yissakhar Ibn Soussan explains, quite simply, that this is necessary for the sake of ensuring that the reading of Parashat Bamidbar would take place on the Shabbat immediately preceding Shavuot. As we noted yesterday, the Gemara (Megilla 31a) tells of Ezra’s enactment to read Parashat Bechukotai before Shavuot, and Tosafot explain that Parashat Bechukotai is, ideally, read two Shabbatot before Shavuot, and Parashat Bamidbar is read on the Shabbat immediately preceding Shavuot. Therefore, when the seventh day of Pesach falls on Friday, one pair of parashiyot needs to be separated so that Parashat Bamidbar, and not Parashat Naso, would be read on the Shabbat just before Shavuot.
(See also Rav Reuven Spolter’s “Calendar Confusion: Why Will it Take So Long for Chutz L'aretz to "Catch Up" with Israel This Year?”)