There are 5,845 p'sukim
(verses) in the Torah.Divided out over fifty-four parshiot
(weekly reading portions), on any particular Saturday morning one could expect to read anywhere from thirty (Vayeilech)
to one hundred seventy-six (Naso)
verses; this week's reading is closer to the mean, at one hundred six. For many modern Jews the prospect of a lengthy Torah reading can off-putting, and several solutions have been suggested to make it shorter. Within the Conservative Movement we use what is known as the Triennial Cycle (https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/19861990/eisenberg_triennial.pdf
): each year we read a different third of the Torah, but we skip around in order to stay on the same schedule as congregations who read the entire thing. In the first year we read the first third of every parsha
, in the second year the middle third, and in the third year we read the final third.
This has the practical effect that while it is true that at the end of every three years we "complete" our reading, anyone coming to services on a regular basis to hear the reading is missing out on two-thirds of the story.
Which brings me to this week.
The story of Joseph in Egypt already spans four weeks worth of text, but divided out into thirds it splinters into twelve non-contiguous slices, and sometimes we find a slice that doesn't have much to say.
Our reading in the synagogue begins with Genesis 45:28:
"Enough!" said Israel. "My son Joseph is still alive! I must go and see him before I die."
which is the end of a chapters-long saga that we have more-or-less entirely skipped over this year. Next we have a paragraph or two describing Jacob and his family setting out for Egypt with a brief visitation from God (go to Egypt, don't be afraid, I'll be with you, Joseph will be by your deathbed), followed by the bulk of the morning's reading, which is really just a list of names. There's not that much talk about, really.
It reminds me of a story I once heard about a person who came to synagogue for the first time in many years and was captivated by the morning's reading: Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery. The person was fascinated, and came back a second time to hear how the story would unfold. Over the course of the year the person heard about the enslavement and redemption of the Israelites, followed their adventures in the wilderness, and thrilled to Moses's closing orations. As the story turned to the creation of the world and the generations of humanity the person continued to come to synagogue, anxious not to miss a jot or tittle. On the anniversary of first showing up, the person heard again the story of Joseph being sold. Enraged he stormed out of the synagogue, never to return: "Enslave him once, shame on them! Let them enslave him a second time? Shame on him!"
Each week I endeavor to offer up a comment on the slice that we will be studying in synagogue. My hope is that this taste will encourage you to take out a copy of the Torah and read the entire story.