Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim

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Shavuos 5783
Rabbi Jablinowitz

The Gemara in Pesachim 68B brings a disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua as to whether there is an obligation to eat and drink on Yom Tov. Rabbi Eliezer posits that there is no specific mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov. One certainly may eat and drink, but he also maintains the option of not eating on Yom Tov, and instead, may spend the whole day in the Beis Medrash learning. Rabbi Yehoshua argues and holds that one must divide up the day; half the day eating and drinking, and half the day davening and learning. The Gemara adds, though, that there is one day among the three festivals where there is no disagreement. הכל מודים דבעצרת בעינן נמי לכם. Everyone agrees, i.e. Rabbi Eliezer concedes to Rabbi Yehoshua, that on Shavuos there is a mitzvah to eat and drink. Rashi explains that the reason for this unanimity about eating on Shavuos is in order to express our acceptance of the Torah and disposition towards its obligations.   

This idea seems to be counterintuitive. Of all the festivals, it would seem that Shavuos, the day we received the Torah, ought to be the most focused on learning as opposed to eating. And what better way to show our willingness and acceptance of the Torah than by sitting and learning all day, even at the expense of eating and drinking!?

On Shavuos, there is a special public sacrifice which is called the Shalmei Tzibur. This sacrifice includes two sheep, known as the כבשי עצרת, and two loaves, known as the שתי הלחם. The Shtei Ha’Lechem are an anomaly in that they are brought as Chametz. This despite the fact that there is a prohibition in the Torah in bringing Chametz as a karban, as the pasuk states (Vayikra, Chapter 2, Pasuk 11), כל שאור וכל דבש לא תקטירו ממנו אשה לד'. Nonetheless, as the next pasuk indicates, the Shtei Ha’Lechem are indeed brought as Chametz. Why is it that precisely after Pesach, when eating Chametz is a serious violation of the Torah, Chametz is brought on Shavuos in the Beis Hamikdash?

The Maharal gives a few different explanations as to why the Shtei Ha’Lechem are brought Chametz. One explanation he gives is that at Matan Torah there was a unique occurrence. Despite the fact that the whole year man is meant to focus heavenward toward Hashem, at Matan Torah the opposite happened. In describing Matan Torah, the Torah states (Shemos, Chapter 19, Pasuk 20), וירד ד' על הר סיני אל ראש ההר. Hashem, so to speak, came down to Har Sinai, along with the angels. On Shavuos when the Torah was given, man became the center of the universe. As an expression of this, explains the Maharal, the public sacrifice of Shavuos contains Chametz.  

This is because Chametz represents the yetzer hara. As a result, Chametz characterizes the human condition. Man was given a yetzer hara in order to exercise his free will and make the choice between good and evil, between mitzvah and aveirah. Without a yetzer hara, there are no choices, and when there are no choices, there is no reward and punishment. And since man is at the center of the giving of the Torah, Chametz, the defining nature of man, is brought as the sacrifice of the day.

The Maharal explains that the two loaves and the two sheep express the duality in the nature of man. On Shabbos, we received the Torah, and as such there was a combing of the physical with the spiritual. Man, the physical being with the yetzer hara, was now given a Divine code of how to conduct himself. It is the combining of these two elements that occurred on Shavuos when Hashem came to down to Har Sinai and revealed Himself.

The Sfas Emes explains that this combining of these two worlds is expressed in the pasuk in sefer Tehillim (Chapter 19, Pasuk 8), תורת ד' תמימה משיבת נפש. He quotes the Medrash Rabbah in Vayikra (4,2) which compares the soul residing in the physical body to a simple villager marrying a princess. Nothing the villager can provide his wife with satisfies her. In a similar vein, we live in a constant state of conflict between our yetzer hara and our longing soul. None of the physical pleasures of the world can satisfy us. It is only the Torah which is משיבת נפש; only the Torah allows for the soul to reside in the confines of our bodies in the physical world. Only the Torah allows for a respite from this constant struggle. And this is what Chazal mean in Avos (6,2), אין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתורה. Only one who learns Torah is free from this constant battle. And this resolution between the physical and the spiritual occurred on Shavuos.

The public sacrifice of the Shtei Ha’Lechem along with the Kivsei Atzeres is called Shalmei Tzibur. The name for the karban Shelamim is based on the fact that there is Shalom among all parties. As Rashi explains (Vayikra, Chapter 3, Pasuk 1), the Mizbeach, the Kohanim, and the owners all receive a portion of the Karban Shelamim. So too, on Shavuos, the Shalmei Tzibur represent a connection and a resolution of משיבת נפש, of the spiritual residing within the physical, and each side receiving their share.  

There is one problem with this last explanation. The term Shalmei Tzibur is a misnomer. This sacrifice is not eaten by the owners, as is the Karban Shelamim. It is Kadshei Kadashim, and only eaten by the Kohanim, as the Mishnah in Zevachim 54B teaches. Where is the harmony among all sides and the eating by the owners?

The Maharal explains that this is why on Shavuos הכל מודים בעינן נמי לכם. Everyone agrees we must have a Yom Tov seudah on Shavuos. This eating truly expresses the notion that we are fully accepting of the Torah and appreciate our ability to navigate the struggles of the world only with the dictates of the Torah. Our seudah is our role in the Karban Shelamim, our way of embracing our humanity and sanctifying it by receiving and accepting the Torah.

Good Yom Tov and Good Shabbos

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