Illustration Credit: Elad Lifshitz, Dov Abramson Studio
You might know that, every Shabbat morning, the Torah reading is divided into seven sections called aliyot. How do we decide where the breaks are? Where do we stop and why? There are a few rules about where you can and can’t stop, but in general, we try to divide things up sort of evenly. For instance, here is the length of the aliyot in last week’s Torah reading, Tetzaveh:
Pretty good division, right? Some aliyot are longer and some are shorter, but they are all basically in the range of 10-20 verses.
Now, check out the division for Ki Tissa:
Yikes! Look how long the first two are, and then how short the others are. Why would you ever do that?
The answer is based on two things:
1) It is traditional for a כֹּהֵן (kohen) to say the blessings for the first aliyah and for a לֵוִי (levi) to say the blessings for the second aliyah.
2) If you pay attention to aliyah #2 you will see that it contains the entire story of the חֵטְא הָעֵגֶל (heit ha-eigel, sin of the golden calf). That story was a really bad moment for all of בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל (Benei Yisrael, the Israelites), except for the one tribe that remained faithful to God: the tribe of Levi!
Based on that, look at this practice:
נָהֲגוּ שֶׁהַלֵּוִי קוֹרֵא כָּל פָּרָשַׁת הָעֵגֶל... וְהַטַּעַם, מִשּׁוּם שֶׁבְּנֵי לֵוִי לֹא נִמְצְאוּ בַּעֲשִׂיַּית הָעֵגֶל. (כף החיים מצטט את כנסת הגדולה הגהות בית יוסף אורח חיים תכח)
It is a custom for a levi to get the aliyah that covers the entire story of the eigel… because the tribe of Levi was not involved in that sin. (Kaf HaChayim quoting Kenesset Ha-Gedolah on Beit Yosef Orah Hayyim 428)
Our aliyot are divided unevenly this week so that we can honor the tribe of Levi and avoid embarrassing anyone else by calling up someone whose ancestors might have been involved in the sin! But the only way to make this work is for aliyot #1 and #2 to be really long.

Mystery solved. Hope you can be patient listening to those long aliyot!