The Torah refers to the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah as Hag HaShabuot, meaning the Festival of Weeks (Shemot 34:22). The name chosen for this holiday seems odd. Unlike the Torah's names for the other two pilgrim festivals, Hag HaMasot and Hag HaSukkot, which are based on the central observances of those holidays, the name Shabuot seems to be based on a secondary, insignificant facet of the holiday, namely, the fact that it happens to occur seven weeks after Pesach. Why does the Torah use this name, which refers to the period preceding the holiday, rather than a name like Hag Mattan Torah (The Festival of the Giving of the Torah) or some other such relevant description that would reflect on the essence of the holiday itself?
An answer to this question is suggested by Rabbi Pinhasi in his sefer, Imrei Shefer, that the main goal of the giving of the Torah to the Jews was actually the acquisition of the Torah by them, as the Sages teach us: " The Torah is acquired through forty-eight characteristics" (Abot 6:6). As is known, when the Jews were in Egypt they were entrenched in the forty-nine levels of spiritual impurity. As soon as they left that country, they began the process of purification, lasting forty-nine days, during which they gradually reached the level where they were deemed fitting to receive the Torah. Each day they realized another one of the forty-eight manners of acquiring the Torah, and on the forty ninth day they reviewed and reinforced all that they had achieved in the previous days. In this manner, through this intensive period of preparation, when the fiftieth day - Shabuot - arrived they were fully primed for the experience of receiving HaShem's greatest gift - The Torah. In other words, the key to successful acquisition of the Torah depended upon the preparations during the seven weeks that led up to that momentous event. Therefore, it is entirely fitting that the holiday should be given the name "Weeks", to stress the importance of this preparatory process. The crucial element to true acquisition of the Torah is the burning ambition and desire to achieve Torah wisdom. The counting down of the fifty days between Pesah and Shabuot is a sign of such eager yearning.
Wishing you a happy holiday!
Rabbi Isaac Farhi
LAWS & CUSTOMS OF SHABUOT 2016
1. This year Shabuot is on Sunday and Monday June 12 & 13, beginning on Saturday night. NO preparations may be done at all on Shabbat for the holiday.
2. All work is forbidden on the holiday, as on Shabbat. Carrying necessary things and cooking for that day only are permitted. Taking a fire from an existing flame is permitted, but striking a match is forbidden. Lowering a flame is forbidden unless the cooking requires a lower flame. If the stove is electric, turning it on from the 'off' position is prohibited. Whether or not one may raise or lower the heat on an electric stove depends on the type of unit involved. CONSULT THE RABBI.
3.All Night Reading - One of the special things we do on this holiday is to stay up the entire first night reading and studying Torah. This is to show our eagerness to accept the Torah. In our synagogue, we will have a special Tikun reading beginning Saturday night at 11:00 p.m. followed by stimulating classes. Everyone is welcome. There is an elaborate spread to help keep us awake. An early Shaharit minyan will follow at 4:30 a.m.
4. Azharot - Our community has a beautiful custom to read the 613 Commandments in poetic form, known as the Azharot. The first and last three paragraphs are read in the shul.
5. The Book of Ruth - Our custom is to read the whole book of Ruth during the two days of Shabuot, and we will discuss it in our class. It will also be read in the shul.
6. Yehi Shem - No Tahanun is recited beginning Tuesday, June 7th thru Sunday, June 19th .
Parashat Bemidbar is usually read on the Shabbat before Shabuot, which commemorates the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Midrash Rabah states that the Torah was given with three things:
1) Fire, as indicated by the verse "All of Mount Sinai was smoking because G-d descended upon it in fire" (Shemot 19:18).
2) Water, as indicated by the verse, "Even the Heavens trickled, even the clouds dripped water" (Shoftim 5:4).
3) Wilderness, as the pasuk states, "And G-d spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai" (Bemidbar 1:1).
Why was the Torah given under such conditions and not on a serene day in a heavily populated area?
Each of these portrays an eternal and profound message to the Jewish people about the correct approach to Torah.
1)The fire teaches that the Torah should be studied and practiced with warmth and vigor.
2)Water fulfills a physical need, but unlike other physical needs, people have little desire to overindulge in it and are usually satisfied to simply quench their thirst. This teaches us to be satisfied with our physical circumstances and indulge entirely in the study of Torah.
3) Wilderness is an abandoned property where anyone may step foot. Giving the Torah in a wilderness teaches that to succeed in Torah study a person must be very humble and consider himself insignificant. He should permit all Jews to associate with him, and not conceitedly select his company. (Vedibarta Bam)
The Magen Abraham cites the following Midrash as a reason for the custom of studying Torah throughout the night on the first night of Shabuot. During the month of Sivan, the day is considerably longer than the night and the dawn comes quite early. On the day Israel was to receive the Torah, the people overslept. The sun had already risen and G-d's presence was manifest upon Mount Sinai, yet the people were still sleeping! Moshe went through the camp to arouse them; he cried, "Arise from your sleep! The groom [G-d] has already arrived. He seeks the bride [Israel] that he may lead her to the huppah. He is waiting to present her with the Torah." As atonement for the Jews having overslept, the pious of earlier generations would study throughout the night of Shabuot. In later generations, the custom was adopted by Jews of all walks of life and levels of scholarship.
The Chosen Ones
"And you shall be to me a chosen nation
As Hashem approached the Jewish nation with the suggestion to receive the Torah, He described to us what it would mean if we accept the Torah. Our nation, despite its small size, would be the special nation dedicated to the Torah and Hashem. There is a mistaken notion that many people have, and this verse comes to set the record straight. The general opinion is that it would be enough for a few individuals to be dedicated to Torah study. These individuals will spend all their time studying and serving Hashem. This is not the plan. Our nation is called a chosen nation, not chosen individuals. Hashem's desire is that one entire nation from the rest of the nations would be dedicated to study and service
On the holiday of Shabuot we should reflect on how it used to be. The community in Aleppo was known as a community that knew full well the ins and outs of Torah study. Everyone knew how to learn, besides knowing how to earn. We all have the ability to be accomplished scholars. If we decide on Shabuot that we will begin to attend study classes during the weekdays and/or nights, Hashem will help us to achieve the goal of being a chosen nation.
We have been counting. We have night and day declared the "benchmark" of where the Jewish people are holding in the countdown to the most important event in Jewish History - the day that HaShem, in his love for Am Yisrael, gave us His most prized possession, the Torah.
It was a process. A huge mob of people, from twelve different tribes, disheartened and downtrodden, men, women, children - old and young - were given the signal. The sign that the exodus was to begin. And we left. We marched faithfully after Moshe Rabbenu into a land that we did not know. A barren desert, far from the home that we had always known.
We left together, one people following our leader. We were down, each on a different level, but unified in following the leadership of Moshe, who spoke of HaShem and his wonders. Each day we grew and improved, individually, spiritually, morally we grew as a nation, growing more unified and molded as a group, yet divinely separated as different individuals, belonging to separate tribes.
When Moshe Rabbainu went up, the nation stood together waiting expectantly for the Revelation. United. One. A Nation. Am Segulah. That is what we must strive for- unity. We are all different, each one 'holding' at our own private level, but through love of one another, through the desire to be worthy of HaShem's Torah, and His other, beloved gift to His People - Mashiach - who we pray will come speedily in our day - to merit that, we need to come together, to overcome any negativity and stand together as one. A Nation - HaShem's beloved people! In Unity - The ultimate vessel for HaShem's Blessings.
The Impact of Hesed
It has been told to me..." (Ruth 2:11)
When Boaz first saw Ruth gathering sheaves in his fields, he greeted her with admiration, "It has been told to me all that you've done for your mother-in-law...and that you left your mother, your father and your homeland and followed a nation you had not known before." The Targum Yonatan ben Uziel explains that Boaz had been told through prophecy that Ruth's descendants would be bestowed the kingship of Israel because of two deeds: firstly, her care for her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, and secondly, her decision to relinquish her regal status as a princess of Moab in order to live a life of hardship and poverty as a common Jew.
The connection of these two reasons seems strange. The second seems so much more important than the first. To leave the lap of luxury and step down from the royal palace in exchange for hunger and isolation is an achievement indeed. Compared to that, the first reason seems hardly worth mentioning. Wouldn't it be expected, out of simple common decency, for Ruth to care for her mother-in-law?
The fact that these two reasons are stated, not only in the same breath, but in this specific order, teaches a great lesson. Ruth's caring for Naomi might have been overlooked as less significant had it not been placed as the primary reason. The Tanach explicitly puts it first to teach us the value of hesed - kindness - performed with perfection. It is hard to imagine how the kindness of Ruth's care and support for Naomi was actually greater than her even more difficult life decision, yet such was the case.
A small hesed done in a meticulous and loving manner, with strong and sincere kavanah- intention - to do the will of Hashem, can have a spiritual impact greater than Ruth's monumental sacrifice to become a Jew. Ruth cared for Naomi in such a beautiful and special way that it shined forth much brighter than just a common courtesy. It was this act of heartfelt hesed that was the primary reason for deserving the eternal reward of the royal dynasty of King David and his descendants. (Majesty of Man)
Nature's Wealth- from the wisdom of the Rambam
We all know that Shavuot is the holiday of Matan Torah. However, in the Torah, this Chag is known as Chag HaBikkurim, the festival of the Harvest of the first fruits. Hashem in His great kindness has given us a wide variety of foods that are the basis of a healthy diet. Appropriately, we will begin with this bulletin, and continue throughout the summer season, a series on the health benefits that HaShem has endowed in the foods that we eat.
The Rambam, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimonides was the greatest physician of the Middle Ages and a giant in Torah. He began his medical career in 1170 in Egypt, at the court of the Sultan Salah ah-Din (Saladin), where he served as the royal family"s official physician. At the time, medicine widely focused on spirits, demons, black magic and astrology. The Rambam refuted these ideas, and wrote over 10 books on medicine, nutrition and healthy living based on diet and exercise. The ideas that he set down over 900 years ago are still held today! He wrote in Hilchot De"ot that "Each food was endowed by HaShem with amazing and powerful potential. Through proper eating, a person can ensure that the human body, which Hashem created, can function optimally, and can even heal itself."
Fresh fruits, vegetables and other plants provide primary nutritional needs and the elements necessary to build blood and body tissue, stimulate circulation and allow healthy functioning of the internal organs. At the same time, they strengthen and immunize the system against a long list of ills. In his writings on healthy diets and food based cures, the Rambam wrote many things on different herbs, fruits and vegetables. Much of that knowledge is contained in a wonderful book called Nature"s Wealth.
On this Holiday of Bikkurim, the first fruits of the seven varieties that the Land of Israel is praised for were brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a means to thank the Creator. These are listed in the Torah (Debarim 8:8) as "Wheat, Barley, Gefen (grapes\wine), Fig and Pomegranate; A land of Olives (Oil) and Honey (Dates)." With much fanfare and celebration these choice items, the fruits of their labor were placed in beautiful baskets and paraded up to Jerusalem.
In longing commemoration of this, we will discuss several of these special foods and how they can help us achieve good health and wellbeing.
Wheat is mentioned some thirty times in the Bible. In the Prophets, wheat is a symbol of wealth, prosperity, peace, and tranquility. Grains are in many ways superior to all other forms of vegetation. Grain is nourishing and filling, the mainstay of the human diet. The Hebrew words dagan, grain, and zan, nourishment, have the same numerical value, fifty"seven. According to Kabbalah, there is the custom to recite Psalm 23, as a segula, a helpful merit for a good livelihood. This Mizmor contains 57 words and is recited on Shabbat to affirm our belief that in the merit of Shabbat, Hashem, our Shepherd, is zan (57), nourishing the world with His Goodness. It is He alone who provides grain and livelihood for all mankind.
The wheat is used for baking bread, which the Shulchan Aruch says is the standard food, the staff of life. The Rambam however warns against consuming white bread and foods made of white flour as they are missing so much of the beneficial parts of the grain.
The blessing on bread is "HaMosee Lechem min HaAretz" . Why is the term earth, eretz used rather than adama, land? According to the Chida, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azouli, this is proof that the origin of wheat is in the Land (Eretz) of Israel. The term Eretz, also indicates an entire country, the entirety of mankind. Although it will grow almost anywhere, wheat thrives best in valleys. Barley, on the other hand, grows in mountainous regions. Wheat ripens about two months later than barley. The Omer sacrifice, which consists of barley, was brought on Pesach, and the Shnai Halechem, the Double Loaves were brought in the wheat harvesting season, on Shavuot. We also see that one of the earliest sacrifices brought to G-d since the time of Abraham and Sarah, was the Lechem HaPanim, the loaves of fine flour that stayed fresh from week to week.
According to Midrash Eicha, there are over 500 listed varieties of wheat. Today, the two main categories are hard wheat and soft (also called winter and spring wheat). Wheat has many therapeutic properties. It strengthens the body, improves digestion, increases blood volume and improves circulation. In Midrash Rabba 48 our Sages tell us that "bread is the food of the heart".
Whole wheat also has health benefits for the kidneys and promotes lactation. The slow breakdown of the grain in the digestive system gives sustained energy, strengthens the brain and sharpens the mind. Whole wheat flour and semolina can be used together with other ingredients to naturally treat different skin conditions. Even the water that wheat grains are cooked in can be utilized to help hoarseness!