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.
Chazal often link rabbinic laws to the text of the written Torah via a link called an asmakhta. The Rambam (MN 3,43) and Kuzari (3,73) explain that after the rabbinic legislature voted to enact a law, they sought a mnemonic in the written Torah. The Otzar Nechmad, a commentary on the Kuzari, explains that rabbinic laws are part of the oral Torah, and hence could not be committed to writing. The rabbis feared that their laws would be forgotten, and this fear inspired them to seek mnemonics in the written Torah.
The Otzar Nechmad’s assumption, that rabbinic legislation could not be committed to writing, is somewhat controversial. First, Rambam maintains, in his introduction to Mishneh Torah, that while the oral law could not be transmitted and disseminated in print, it nevertheless could be committed to writing as an aid to memory. Second, the Talmud (Temurah 14b) records that the oral law was sometimes even disseminated in writing, when communities were in need of halakhic guidance and no reliable messenger was available to convey that guidance verbally.