I generally do not explore the intricacies of “intercalation” (the way the calendar works) in this blog. They are just too confusing and of little interest to most people. However, I realize that, for some people, the most challenging aspect of entering the Jewish community is to get into the peculiar rhythm of its calendar. And this time of year, even more so than the fall holiday period, is quite confusing. But there is one thing that is unusual this year, even more than in most other years, for those who follow the regular cycle of Torah readings (one of the various things that identifies where we are in the ongoing journey of the Jewish people).
The weekly Torah reading is read publicly on Saturday (Shabbat) afternoons, Monday and Thursday mornings, and Saturday morning. It is also read on Rosh Chodesh (new moon/new month) mornings and festival mornings (and a few holiday afternoons), as well as on fast days. There are two basic systems for the cyclical reading of the Torah—either the annual cycle or the triennial cycle (for more information on the types of Torah reading cycles, click here)—although there are some institutions that have adapted these cycles to fit the needs of their own communities.
This year, because of the way Pesach (Passover) fell on the calendar, we read the beginning of the portion called Shemini on three Sabbath afternoons and numerous times during the week before and after Pesach (a total of eight times which, coincidentally, is what the root work for shemini means). While this is a peculiarity of the calendar, it is worth exploring that this portion has been read so many times, and why.