“You shall hold a festival for the Lord your God seven days, in the place that the Lord will choose…” (Deuteronomy 16:15)
The ancient way of announcing the new Jewish month was to light bonfires on the hilltops, once witnesses had testified they had seen the new moon. Because the diaspora Jewish communities lived at greater distances from Jerusalem than ever before, the news could take a while to reach them. So the rabbis added a day to holiday observances to ensure the holiday was observed on the correct day-but only for communities outside of the land of Israel. This leads to a periodic anomaly in Jewish observance.
Pesach ends in Israel on Friday, even as it continues through Saturday night everywhere else (Reform communities follow the Israeli custom.) This means synagogues in Israel will read a regular parasha (portion) on Shabbat, while synagogues in the rest of the world will read the special parasha for the eighth day of Pesach. These two Jewish worlds will be “out of synch” until May 26, when everybody will read Parashat D’varim. (The two preceding weeks Israel will read parashot B’har and B’chukotai separately, while we combine them on one Shabbat.)
The Pesach reading reminds us why we celebrate Pesach (“…for it was in the month of Aviv that the Lord your God freed you from Egypt; Deut. 16:1) and lists each of the three pilgrimage holidays in turn (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot). Thousands of Jews from diverse communities streaming into Jerusalem to worship together at the Temple is a wonderful image. It also is a powerful reminder: what binds us together is not a specific practice on a specific day, but our ongoing commitment to the future and well-being of the Jewish people.
Good Shabbos, Good Yontif/Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach,