I just attended a Bar Mitzvah and the young man kept using the word parsha. What is a parsha? Is it a single chapter of the Torah? Just a few paragraphs? More?
A very good question, and not so simple to answer. (It’s Judaism, would you expect less?) But, let’s start with a little background.
Public reading of the Torah was established by Ezra the Scribe in the 8th century. Before then, only certain sections were read to the masses on a few select festival days. Ezra felt that it would be good for the people to be touched by the words of the Torah far more frequently. He set Monday, Thursday, and Saturdays as the days for public reading. Why those days? Saturday was/is Shabbat, and Monday & Thursdays were market days,when large numbers of merchants etc came into the city. Who doesn’t love a crowd? He also said that this way people would go no more than 3 days without hearing Torah. Torah Scrolls
The Torah as you know, contains five books, with a total of 187 chapters. These are divided into 54 portions or Parshot (singular=parsha). *50 in a leap year, which means some doubling up!
Now, there are two ways to read through the Torah: annually - as is done at Tanta Golda’s Temple-where the entire Torah is read over the course of a year. The annual cycle originated in Babylon, and is followed by the majority of Jews.
A second way is a triennial cycle - where each parsha further divided into thirds (for a total of 155 parshot). The first third of each traditional parsha is read one year, the middle third the second year, and the final third during the third year. By this method it takes 3 years to completely read the Torah. This cycle originated in Palestine during the Rabbinic period (70-500 CE). Some among the Conservative stream follow the triennial cycle.
Parshot vary considerably in length. In the annual cycle, the shortest is 30 lines. The longest 150 lines. A few are a single chapter, several are 6 chapters, but the average seems to be 3-4 chapters in length. Tanakh
Traditionally, each Parsha is begun during the afternoon service on Saturday, with a little read on Monday & Thursday, and completed on the following Saturday morning.
Now, if your congegation is small like Tanta Golda’s, you probably don’t have Torah readings during the week. If that is the case, quite often the rabbi will chose which part of the week’s parsha to read on Shabbat morning. At Tanta Golda’s Temple we encourage our bar/bat mitzvah students to choose a section from their parsha that is meaningful to them. However, this is the exception, not the rule for how Torah is read. Torah Commentary
I hope your young man did a wonderful job with his reading!