D’VAR TORAH BY: RICHARD N. LEVY
While Pesach is now behind us, a fifth question arises as we look at the Torah portion for this week: Why is this week different from all other weeks? On all other weeks we read one parashah (Torah portion) each week; on this week we read only half the portion, postponing the second half to the following week.
Why do we do this? It is one of the rare examples where the lectionary (cycle of Torah readings) in the Reform Movement differs from that of the rest of the Jewish world. In the rest of the Diaspora, festivals are observed for two days (stemming from the time before the calendar was fixed), so theShabbat of April 10-11 is considered to be the eighth day of Passover (that is, the second day of the conclusion of the festival), on which a special Torah portion is read (Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17). But because the calendar has been fixed for millennia, the Reform Movement has never observed the second day of festivals. So for us, April 10-11 is a regular Shabbat when we continue the cycle of Torah readings with Sh’mini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47). The problem is that if on the following week we were to read the next portion, Tazria/M’tzora, we would be completely out of sync with the rest of the Jewish world, which would be reading Sh’mini. Striving to balance Reform festival practice with our simultaneous commitment to K’lal Yisrael, “the whole community of Israel,” the Movement decided to split the Sh’mini portion in two, reading Sh’mini I on April 10-11 when the rest of the Jewish world reads the eighth day of Pesach portion, and Sh’mini II, the other half, on April 17-18, joining the rest of the Jewish world in the same Torah reading.