Why didn’t we catch up?
Last Pesach ended in Israel on Friday, and in the rest of the world on Shabbos. Which means that in Israel, Acharei Mos was read that week, while we in chutz la’aretz (outside of Israel; chu”l) read a holiday portion, saving Acharei Mos for the next week. In a leap year like this one, the two reading schedules stay out of sync until Israel reads Matos and Mas’ei separately, and the rest of the world will have a double parashah. In a regular year, it waits until the summer, with Chuqas and Balaq. Notice that in either case, Torah readings stay out of sync through an earlier opportunity, the double parashah of Behar-Bechuqosai.
So the question is frequently asked: Why don’t those in chu”l catch up as soon as possible?
(And then they give the Maharit’s explanation, which I describe below.)
I want to explain why this is the wrong question.
Our current schedule for Torah reading was set up in Bavel by geonim. At the time, Israeli communities were generally using a triennial cycle, in various variations. Starting and ending on Shavuos was common. Some would use a 3-1/2 year division, so that the Torah is read through twice per Shemittah cycle. The system was not designed for Israel.
Therefore, those of us in chu”l reading the Torah portion for the eighth day of Pesach rather than reading Acharei Mos a week earlier were actually following the ge’onim. It is Israel that got ahead!
And therefore the real question would be: Why don’t those in Israel fall back into schedule as soon as possible?
But the question doesn’t get started, because there is no earlier double-parashah being read together in chu”l for them to split up. The question as usually posed is asking the people of chu”l to change what they’re doing to catch-up, but there are no changes that can be done in Eretz Yisrael to fall behind.
Besides, it would be based on a false assumption. It makes sense to ask why those of us in chu”l wait until reading a double portion. After all, we should want to read as much Torah as we can. Torah reading should be like a child rationing his stash of candy — with a lack of self control in the early portions so that the later ones are tiny. And if we look at Nitzavim, Vayeilekh and VeZos haBerakhah, that seems to hold. But in any case, there is no reason to wonder why Israel doesn’t stall on reading less than they could get away with.
There are four rules (SA OC 428:4) that determine when parshios are combined. One of them is that the last parashah before Shavuos is usually Bamidbar, except when it’s a leap year that started on a Thursday when it’s Naso. This year is leap, but started on Monday, so the geonic rule would have us read Bamidbar. In Israel, years like this one are tolerable because putting Shavuos after Naso is done in other situations, but it’s against the rules.
We want the Tokhachah (rebuke) in parashas Bechuqosai to be two Shabbasos before Shavuos. Enough so that we enter the holiday of receiving the Torah with its full gravity, but not so close to the holiday that it brings down the mood. There is a parallel similar rule Ki Savo and Rosh haShanah. (My guess is that in Israel back when they were reading on a triennial cycle, these were read as special haftoros, the way we read the four special parshios in the spring. But I am just guessing.)
People read the Maharit (shu”t, vol. 2, OC #4) as saying this is why people in chu”l don’t double up parshios to catch up to Israel. But really the teshuvah is explaining how the rule was designed, and why Israel’s situation is sub-optimal.