In pastoral Israel, Shavuot was celebrated as –Chag Hakatzir– an agricultural festival. It was the season when we brought an offering of the first produce of the field and orchard as a thanksgiving to the Almighty for his bounty. Today Shavuot is primarily celebrated as the great occasion on the Jewish calendar as it commemorates –Z’man Mattan Toratenu— the giving of the Tora to Israel, on Mount Sinai over 3000 years ago. It has been estimated that since the Tora was given, mankind has passed millions of laws in order to enforce the laws contained in the—Aseret Hadibrot-the Ten Commandments . The exact number is not significant; what is significant is man’s struggle to live a good life inspired by Divine Commandments.
Consciously or unconsciously, great thinkers of the past based their doctrines on ideas expressed in the Aseret Hadibrot . But in the process, people have forgotten the source, and began to think of the content of those commandments as the product of earlier civilizations or legislators. Civil laws concerning human relationships are poor substitutes for the biblical commandments. Today’s society has neither outgrown the Ten Commandments nor has it reached a point where they are no longer needed. Daily events prove not only that the world needs them but that the world accepts them as guiding principles in everyday life.
Of the Ten Commandments, the First and Second are considered those that are primary. The First is positive and states, “I am the Lord your God who has taken you out of the Land of Egypt from the house of slavery.” Exodus 20:2. The Second is negative and states, “You shall have no other Gods before me.” Exodus 20:3. Immediately after receiving the Ten Commandments, it seems that God is repeating the first two. The Torah says, “And God says to Moshe, Thus you shall say to the Children of Israel, ‘you have seen that I spoken with you from the heavens.’” Exodus 20:19. This is a positive statement of what God did. And it immediately follows with a negative corollary, “do not fashion with me gods of silver and gods of gold, do not make them for yourselves.” Exodus, 20: 20.
What was the need for God to repeat these again? The Rabbis were sensitive to this issue and attempted to explain that it referred either to those who serve God through the worship of the heavenly constellations or these referred to the construction of the cherubs on the aron. “Do not make an image of my servants who serve before me in heaven.” Rashi, Ad Locum.
The plain meaning of the text, however, even with the Rabbinic interpretation, is that this is another prohibition against idolatry, albeit with a broader definition of idolatry.
With the approaching ‘3-day Yom Tov’ this Shavuos, and the accompanying sociological challenges, this essay will reexamine the origins of Yom Tov Sheini shel Goluyos.
Most are familiar with the Gemara in Beitzah 4b:
In early times they used to light bonfires, but on account of the mischief of the Samaritans the Rabbis ordained that messengers should go forth. But now that we are well acquainted with the fixing of the new moon, why do we observe two days? — Because they sent from there: take care of the custom of your fathers in your hands; for it might happen that the government might issue an antisemitic decree and it will cause a blunder.
Rashi explains that the inability to learn Torah would lead to confusion regarding the fixing of the calendar. Were they only to observe one day of Yom Tov, their negligence might result in an error concerning the calculation and setting of the correct day of Yom Tov.
The Meshech Chochma (Bo ch.12 s.v. Uvazeh), however, asks: What makes the Diaspora unique in this regard? Theoretically, such a decree could also be enacted in Eretz Yisrael, causing confusion around the correct day of Yom Tov!
In the recent few weeks, Mossad operations have generated considerable attention. From lifting hundreds of kilograms of the most classified materials in the heart of Teheran by dozens of agents to the mysterious assassination of a Hamas terror engineer deep in Indonesia, the Mossad is in the headlines.
So, consider the following description:
Job Description: N/A
Sounds like a standard description of a Mossad operation, doesn’t it? And yet, it also happens to be the description of the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is the only Jewish holiday for which the Torah does not give a set date, does not oblige individuals in any Mitzvahs, and does not inform us about the specific spiritual mission of the holiday.
The Torah mysteriously states:” From the day after the Sabbath… count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord . . . On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. (Leviticus 23: 15-21)
The Torah gives no date, just tells us to count 50 days. And when do we begin? What day after the Sabbath were we to count from? This mystery erupted into a full-scale fight between the Pharisees and the seduces as traditional Jews interpreted “the Sabbath” as referring to Passover while the seduces believed it was referring to the actual Shabbat following Passover. To make things worse we don’t count 50 days. We count 49 and celebrate Shavuot on the 50th day.
Furthermore, in the Shavuot prayers, the holiday is described as “zman Mattan Toratenu-the time we received the Torah”. Where was that? We know where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are buried, we know where Rachel is buried, we know where the Temple stood, where Jericho, Shechem, and even Mount Carmel are—we don’t know where Mount Sinai is. Not a clue. Why all this Mystery?
Rabbi Barry Kornblau is the rabbi of Young Israel of Hillis Hills-Windsor Park
Taken as a whole, the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach/Chag Hamatzot, Shavuot, and Sukkot share much in common – the mitzvah of aliyah le’regel, ascending to the Temple in Jerusalem to encounter God with special offerings; the laws of Yom Tov; the duty to rejoice, and much more.
Taken in sequence, the three festivals also reflect two primary stories. The first is an agricultural progression, where each holiday reflects a successive stage of the growing and harvesting season in Eretz Yisrael. The second is an historical sequence, moving from the physical redemption of our nation from Egyptian slavery, to the spiritual covenant struck at Sinai on Shavuot, and concluding with the nation’s ongoing dependence upon Hashem for its sustenance in the desert that we commemorate on Sukkot.
The progression of the three pilgrimage festivals also appears in another way: Pesach focuses on the family; Shavuot, on the specific region of Eretz Yisrael where in Bibical times, a Jewish farmer lived; Sukkot, on the totality of the Jewish nation. This thematic movement from family to local community to nation is reflected in laws characteristic of each holiday.
The process of Matan Torah occurred in two stages. Both of these stages were subject to unintended consequences which severely detracted from their impact. The issue of time was a significant factor in the difficult outcome of these stages.
The first stage of Matan Torah was God’s revelation at Sinai and His transmitting the Ten Commandments to Israel. There is a controversy in the Talmud between Rav Yosi and the Rabbis whether this process was of a six or seven day duration.
Rava stated, “everyone agrees that they (Israel) arrived at the wilderness at the first day of the month (Sivan) . . .and all agree that the Torah (Ten Commandments) was given to Israel on the Sabbath . . .they argue about when the new month began. Rav Yossi believed that the new month began on the first day of the week (Sunday) thus the Ten Commandments were revealed on the seventh day of the month, . . .and the Rabbis believed that it (the beginning of the month)was on the second day of the week (thus the Ten Commandments were given on the sixth day of the month.” Shabbat 86b-87a.
In the intervening days between Israel’s arrival and God’s revelation, Moshe conveyed to them (Israel) both God’s covenant and the restrictions that they were to observe before the revelation could occur. If they were to heed God’s word and observe His covenant, they would be His special treasure, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus, 19: 5-6. The people were thrilled by this pronouncement and immediately answered in unison, “everything which God stated, we will do.” Exodus 19:8.
While being a potential bestseller and most viewed on Netflix, the story of a Moabite princess who took upon herself poverty and estrangement in following her ex-mother in law into a strange land, would not be your predicted required text for a solemn day marking receiving the Torah at Saini. And yet, it is. Why did the rabbis Institute reading the book of Ruth on Shavuot and how did this once-impoverished-immigrant become the Royal Matriarch of the most powerful bloodline the Jewish people have ever seen–the House of David.
To properly understand this, we zoom out on the journey, which brought Ruth to the land of Israel. Midrashic sources teach that when Elimelekh, Ruth’s father in law, left Israel, he left in a cowardly manner. Hunger and poverty descended on the land of Israel. Elimelekh, a wealthy man, did not want to hear more beggars knocking on his door nor did he want any more hungry neighbors dwindling his supply of food. He packed up and left for Moav. Elimelekh, the philanthropist and community leader, leaves his townsmen at the peak of their most difficult moment. Even as famine and poverty strike, he dives for the exit.
After Elimelekh’s family arrives in Moav and his two sons marry girls from among the Moabite aristocracy, he and his tow sons die in Moav. His two daughters in law, Ruth, and Orpah face a similar, yet far more difficult, choice than the choice Elimelekh faced not long ago. They can leave their old and impoverished ex-mother in law to her own fate of poverty and loneliness, or they can risk joining that very same fate, by joining her. Ruth and Orpah now can either remain with their well-established families in Moav, or they can join an old (former) mother in law who can guarantee only poverty and loneliness.
The right choice seems obvious—leave Naomi. And yet, unlike her sister-in-law Orpah, Ruth decides to stay with Naomi. She accepts Judaism, its commandments, difficulties, and begins traveling with Naomi to an unknown land—the land of Israel.
The Torah calls the festival of Shavuot “Yom Habikurim” or the day of the ripening of the first grains of the wheat harvest. Bamidbar, 28:26. Rashi explains the text as follows, “the festival of Shavuot is called the first ripening of the wheat which was cut, because of the two loaves of bread (Shtei Halechem) which were the first offering of wheat which comes from the new wheat.” Rashi on Bamidbar 28:26. The Torah calls this offering of the Shtei Halechem, “Mincha Chadasha” or the “New Offering.” Vayikra, 23:17. It was only after the Shtei Halechem were brought that any of the new wheat was permitted to be used as a Mincha (wheat sacrifice). The Shtei Halechem always had to be the first offering of the new wheat.
The Rambam elaborates on this festival and tells us:
On the fiftieth day from the counting of the Omer is the festival of Shavuot and it is Atzeret, (i.e. that is the completion of the holiday time frame that began with Pesach) . . . and also we bring over and above the normal musaf sacrifices on this day a new meal offering, the two loaves. . .
Mishneh Torah, T’midim Umusafim, 8:1.
The Torah sets several conditions for this offering: The wheat must be cut from crops that are grown in the land of Israel; it should be from new wheat (Chadash) of the current year which is valid for use only after the 16th of Nisan; finally, and most unusual the two loaves, unlike all other meal offerings, must be leavened (Chametz) and as a result, are unable to become a burnt offering on the altar. There is a major controversy in the Talmud as to whether the Shtei Halechem may be brought from Yoshon (last year’s wheat) if Chadash is not available. See Menachot 73b. There also seems to be a controversy on this issue between the Rambam and the Raavad where the Rambam rules that in the absence of Chadash the Shtei Halechem may be brought from Yoshon. See Mishneh Torah, T’midim Umusafim, 8:2. There is no question that the Shtei Halechem must be Chametz for the Torah clearly states, “they are to be baked Chametz.” Vayikra 23:17. The consequence of making the Shtei Halechem into Chametz is that they could not be brought upon the altar. Mishneh Torah, Maaseh Hakorbanot, 12:3. See also T’midim Umusafim 8:9.
Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA”M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com
There is a widespread custom to remain awake all night on Shavuot immersed in Torah study. The Arizal teaches that those who do so will live out all their allotted years and be saved from every trouble and woe. Although the custom of staying awake all night on Shavuot is certainly commendable, it might just be that it is overemphasized. This is especially true considering that observing this custom often results in a laxity in other, more important duties.
Let us examine the custom in its original sources, as it appears in the Magen Avraham. It is stated in the Zohar that the chassidim harishonim would remain awake all night immersed in Torah and that it has become the custom of most scholars to do so. The reason for this custom is to remedy the behavior of the Jewish people, who were fast asleep as God was about to reveal the Torah at Mount Sinai, forcing God to awaken them. We, therefore, remedy their behavior.
Does being Jewish mean that you are a Zionist? Realizing that Judaism is around for more than 3,300 years while Zionism is around for no more than 200 years, can easily lead to the conclusion that they are not the same. Sadly, such an understanding is no longer even thinkable. The existential threats made to Jews around the world, in the name of “anti-Zionism”, and our shared fate as a people, say it very clearly-if you are Jewish, you are a Zionist.
The term “Zionists” used by the enemies of the Jewish people, refers not only to one kind of Jews, nor does it refer to all kinds of Jews living in Israel, but it is used to refer to all Jews living anywhere in the world. When Hezbollah claims to be an anti-Zionist organization fighting Israel’s occupation and then goes on to call for killing Jews all over the world, that should be pretty clear evidence for this. When Gaza girls who are supposedly taught to hate only the “occupier”, sing for the death of all Jews, that should be pretty convincing. When Chassidic Jews are stabbed and beaten in Brooklyn, Antwerp, London, Melbourne, and Jerusalem-all when “anti-Zionism”, that should give a clear idea of what this is all about. When they attack the “Zionists”, they are really attacking all Jews.
Why is this so important? Can the enemies of the Jewish people really affect our religious and political outlook? It’s important because this has to do with the core of what being Jewish means.