Adapted from Meta-Parshiyot by R David Wolfe-Blank
THIS WEEK WE READ A DOUBLE TORAH PORTION
Have you ever wondered why occasionally we read two Torah portions on some Shabbats and only one other weeks? Why does it vary year to year?
There are seven places in the Torah where portions are read as single portions in some years and double portions during other years. These collapsible-expandable Torah portions function like a pleat in a pair of pants, expanding or contracting as needed.
DOUBLE TORAH PORTIONS
Expandable contractible Double Torah portions are necessary and useful for several reasons:
- Leap years in the Jewish calendar are a whole month longer than other years. Since there are more weeks, many double portions take up two weeks of Torah readings in leap years.
- When the extra day of a holiday lands on Shabbat, as Pesah did this year, the regular cycle is paused. Holiday readings are read in the diaspora. In Israel, it is a regular Shabbat and the next Torah portion is read,
- These collapsible-expandable Torah portions help smooth out differences between the Torah cycles of Israel and the diaspora.
DIASPORA JEWS CELEBRATE AND EIGHTH DAY OF PASSOVER
though the Torah tells us to observe only seven days, for example. And similarly so for the other holidays.
Sighting of the new moon was declared in Yerushalayim, in the time of the first rabbis. Signal fires were lit on mountain tops to testify and communicate that the new moon had been seen. Upon seeing the signal, the community marked the day and would light a fire on an adjacent mountaintop. This would transmit the news of the new moon to other nearby communities. And so on.
This worked in a limited way. The challenge was beyond a certain distance; it was unclear which day had been declared the new moon. Consequently, it became unclear which day holidays were to be celebrated. The rabbis solved this by observing a second day of Yom Tov, a holy day, outside of Israel. This hedged their bets about which day was the actual holiday.
Kabbalah offers a different explanation. Mystical traditions teach that the diaspora atmosphere is thicker and more resistant to holiness. An extra day is required to marinate in and absorb the holy energies.
THIS YEAR IS A LEAP YEAR
Did you notice that the eighth day of Passover fell on Shabbat this year? The eighth day of Passover occurs only in the diaspora. In Israel, however, there is no eighth day of Passover. The eighth day of the holiday was celebrated on Shabbat in the diaspora. However, it was an ordinary Shabbat morning in Israel, not a festival day. Consequently, the subsequent portion in the Torah sequence was read in Israel, while Passover holiday readings were read in the diaspora. This left the two Torah reading sequences out of sync. The Torah reading in Israel ahead of the diaspora by one week.
Israel and the diaspora Torah readings realign with the aid of this double Torah portion sequence. In Israel, each portion is read separately, while in the diaspora, they are read in a single week. This recalibrates the Israel and Diaspora readings. Jews are once again tracking the same part of the Torah cycle.
Torah portions that are collapsible and expandable help bring together diaspora and Israeli Torah readings from time to time.
SACREDNESS OF THE SEVENTH CYCLE
Every Shabbat liturgy proclaims that Jews are sanctifiers of the seventh cycle. A challenge of adding the eighth day is that it tends to alter the communal focus on the seven-day holidays. It is easy to miss the sacredness of seven days referenced in Torah unless we pay careful attention in the diaspora.
SYNOPSIS OF THE PARASHOT
Matot – Tribes
This portion discusses three subjects:
- Laws concerning the making of the vows. Men and women would take on special obligations which went beyond those required by law from time to time. It might be a promise to contribute something unique to the service of God or avoid particular food or drink. A specific procedure was to be followed once a person could no longer fulfill that extra vow they took on.
- A narrative concerning the war against Midian. The Midianites had tried to corrupt the Children of Yisrael by getting them to worship their deity, Ba’al Peor. One thousand warriors from each tribe were led by Pinhas and defeated the Midianites in battle.
- A narrative concerning the tribes who asked to remain east of the Jordan, a land rich in pasture needed for their large herds is considered. This situation is similar to the family discussing where they plan to settle in the promised land. Would you prefer the mountains or the oceans?
- Moshe criticized these tribes were separating themselves from the rest of Yisrael, who had yet to conquer the land. The leaders of the tribes – Ruben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh assured Moshe that they were fully loyal and would share in every responsibility.
Masséy – travels.
This portion begins by outlining the 42 stops in the desert wanderings that took place over 40 years. Later commentators say that each of us goes through a parallel series of 42 journeys in our lives. Perhaps we have paid close attention to the Torah over the centuries: it has clues about our journeys. The names of camps in Torah indicate significant aspects of the journey, for example, “The Mouth of Freedom, Bursting Pomegranate, or Graves of Desire”.
This Torah portion tells us to set up safe cities in the promised land where people who are being pursued can go for safety. Massey ends the saga of the Jews in the desert. Moshe appoints his successor, Yehoshua, to lead the people into the land. The whole next book, Deuteronomy, is a long speech by Moshe in which he recapitulates the entire story. The narrative account of Torah completes here.
Based in part on The Guide to Sedrot and Haftotot be Chiel, ktav publishing
This portion in the Sefirah cycle: MAttot-Massey is Tiferet of Yesod, Balance in intimacy
One of this week’s Torah portions issues is to create a safe refuge for someone who has committed the ultimate G’vurah, killing another person. This shows that we are dealing with a post-G’vurah (Discipline) unfolding and points to Tiferet (Balance) by making accommodations.
With Tiferet of Yesod, the development of Yesod is complete – the remaining S’firot adjusts the interface, focusing on how and when to connect. The character of Yesod’s connectivity, contactfulness, and degree of expansion and contraction has been integrated. The main part of Torah ends with Tiferet of Yesod completed. Tiferet of Yesod is another mini milestone in developing the S’firot of the Torah, the inner life of our year.
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SECRET OF SEVEN
These seven double Torah portions are related to the seven double letters in the Hebrew Aleph Bet and are referenced in the oldest known Kabbalah text Sefer Yetzirah. Adding a dagesh, a grammatical sign like a dot, gives these letters an additional significance and distinct pronunciation. See below for more on the Secret of Seven.
SEVEN DOUBLE LETTERS IN SEFER YETZIRAH
4:1 Seven Doubles: Bet, Gimmel, Dalet, Kaf, Peh, Reish, and Tav. (They operate with two tongues) their foundation is life, peace, wisdom, wealth, grace, and agency, and they operate with two tongues – Bet-Bhet, Gimmel-Ghimmel, Dalet-Dhalet, Kaf-Khaf, Peh-Pheh, Reish-Rheish, and Tav-Thav. A structure soft and hard, strong and weak, Doubles that are reciprocals.
The reciprocal of life – death, the reciprocal of peace – evil, the reciprocal of wisdom – folly, the reciprocal of wealth – poverty, the reciprocal of grace – disgust, the reciprocal of seed – desolation, the reciprocal of agency – subjugation.adapted from Sefer Yetzirah The Book of Creation by R Aryeh Kaplan p 159, 162
1.a mathematical expression or function so related to another that their product is one; the quantity obtained by dividing the number one by a given quantity:
Oxford Dictionary online
For example, the reciprocal of 3 is 1/3. Anything multiplied by its Reciprocal is 1. This points to The Unity, The One and Only, in a simple mathematical manner.
The Passover Seder asks – “Who knows One? I know One; One is Our Divine One in Heaven and on Earth.”
Moreover, each aspect mentioned in the mishnah represents opposite ends of a spectrum, like life and death. There is no life without death. The ongoing tension between the two extremes creates a unifying field.
It reminds me that while it is Summer here in Santa Monica, it is Winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
A reliable balance exists, and it is comforting. May it continue. May it be The Will,