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What is the correct name for Shavuot? Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 May 2018

In our prayers we call the holiday of Shavuot “Zman Matan Torateinu”, “the time of the giving of our Torah.” In the Torah reading for Shavuot we read the account of B’nei Yisrael’s arrival at Sinai and the receiving of the Ten Commandments (Shmot 19:1-20:23) yet we do not find the holiday being called “Zman Matan Torateinu” in the Torah itself.

According to Abravanel, we don’t need one day to commemorate the receiving of the Torah as the Torah and prophecies constitute their own testimony. The basis for Shavuot is to celebrate the beginning of the wheat harvest, just as Sukkot celebrates the end of the harvest. Shavuot is not about the giving of the Torah, it is about bringing the first fruits (Bikurim) to the Beit HaMikdash and the counting of the seven weeks (the culmination of the Omer).

Nechama Leibowitz points out that Abravanel’s explanation ignores the way that the holiday is celebrated with the traditional all night gathering (Tikkun Leil Shavuot) in the synagogue in preparation for receiving the Torah as well as the reading of the Ten Commandments in the morning with many communities standing during the reading, as if witnessing the Revelation at Sinai.

The Akedat Yitzchak says that there is no appointed time to remember the Torah and its acceptance since the Torah and its study are a permanent obligation, every day and at all times as it says in Yehoshua 1:8, “This book of the Torah shall not depart out of your mouth you shall meditate therein day and night.” The Torah must always be new and beloved to us as on the day it was given to us.

Rabbi Hayim Paltiel states that in the prayers for each of the Shalosh Regalim (Pilgrimage Festivals), we don’t mention every aspect of the holiday. Rather, we focus on God’s acts of kindness. Therefore on Pesach we say “Zman Cheruteinu”, “the time of our freedom”, on Sukkot we say “Zman Simchateinu”, “the time of our gladness” and on Shavuot we say “Zman Matan Torateinu.”

All of the names for Shavuot are valid. It is Chag HaShavuot since it is the culmination of our counting seven weeks from Pesach. It is Chag HaBikurim since when the Beit HaMikdash stood the first fruits were brought up to Jerusalem. And it is called Zman Matan Torateinu since after 49 days, B’nei Yisrael were finally worthy to receive the Torah. Ever since the Revelation at Sinai, as a nation, we have continued to receive the Torah every day.

As we say each morning in Birkot HaTorah (the blessings recited on Torah study) “Baruch Atah HaShem, Noten HaTorah”, “Blessed are You, God, Giver of the Torah.”

Each day is part of the marriage between God and the Jewish people and Shavuot is the anniversary.

Shavuot, the Sequel to Pesach Print E-mail
Friday, 01 May 2015

In Parshat Emor the holiday of Shavuot is presented as an extension of Pesach.


Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzva 306 explains how the two holidays are linked:


The very lifeblood of Israel is the Torah. Heaven and earth were only created because of the Torah… The principal reason for Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was their acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai and their observance if its laws…This was the main motive for their deliverance, this is their purpose in life and this was more important than freedom from serfdom…and it was for this purpose they were taken out of Egypt and were made into a great nation that they were commanded to count the days and weeks from the second day of Pesach until the day on which we were given the Torah. Thus we show our delight in and yearning for the great day as a servant longingly counts the days until his liberation. The counting is an expression of eagerness to reach that day…


Nechama Leibowitz points out that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (Shir HaShirim Raba 7:2) gave Shavuot the name Atzeret (concluduing festival of Pesach) to mark it as the sequel and culmination of the Feast of Deliverance from Egypt in the spirit of God’s promise made to Moshe at the burning bush (Shmot 3:12) “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve them on the mountain.”


We see from here that the Exodus from Egypt was not complete until we received the Torah. The holiday of Pesach is only fully observed after we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot.


Unlike Pesach which is a difficult holiday to prepare for and observe due to the food restrictions of not eating Chametz, Shavuot is relatively easy. Although there is a custom to eat dairy on Shavuot there really are no food restrictions and many eat meat as well since they believe that a holiday is only fully celebrated by eating meat.


Why then is Pesach celebrated so much more than Shavuot with many Jews outside of Israel not even knowing about the existence of the holiday?


Shavuot doesn’t have a set ritual like the Pesach Seder. In Israel, many Israelis, despite their affiliation or denomination attend all night learning programs on the eve of Shavuot where the Torah is made accessible to the Jewish community at large. Outside of Israel, these all night learning programs are usually set up in synagogues and those who are not affiliated may not know about them or may be hesitant to attend. The time has come for Jewish community centers throughout the world to bring the holiday of Shavuot to the entire Jewish community and to provide Torah study classes that Jews of all backgrounds would feel comfortable attending emphasizing the fact that the Exodus of Egypt was only complete once the Jewish people received the Torah.


The Mitzvah of the Omer Print E-mail
Friday, 04 May 2012

In Parshat Emor we read about the Omer.


The Mitzah of the Omer is only observed in the Land of Israel, Vayikra 23:10: “When you shall enter the Land that I give you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring an Omer from your first harvest to the Kohen…”


Before any grain produce of the new crop may be eaten, an Omer, a measure of ground barley (containing the volume of 43.2 eggs) must be brought to the Beit HaMikdash on the second day of Pesach as an offering showing that we appreciate the fact that the produce of the Land is a gift from God.


Even thought the farmers worked hard in order to work the Land, at the end of the day, the produce would not have grown without God’s help.


Today, we don’t bring the sacrifice since there is no Beit HaMikdash. We still count the days of the Omer which was a Biblical obligation but now is probably only a Rabbinic obligation since we don’t have the Beit HaMikdash.


The paragraph that we read before saying the blessing over counting the Omer comes from Parshat Emor, Vayikra 23:15 “You are to count from the morrow of the rest day (starting the Second day of Pesach), from the day that you brought the Omer offering that is waved- they are to be seven complete weeks- until the morrow of the seventh week you are to count fifty days and then offer a new meal offering to God.”


After we say the blessing and count the appropriate day we say “May God return for us the service of the Beit HaMikdash to its place, speedily in our days.”


Even though we are still counting the Omer by Rabbinic law, we pray for the day that we can fulfill the Biblical commandments of the Omer offering and the counting of the Omer in Yerushalayim.

Celebrating in Jerusalem Print E-mail
Friday, 06 May 2011

Sponsored by Midreshet Devora www.midreshetdevora.org

in Honor of

Josh Halickman's 37th Birthday!

Celebrating in Jerusalem by Emily Kozlow, a student at Midreshet Devora

In Parshat Emor, we read about various laws pertaining to the Kohanim. We continue, and find mention of the appointed festivals, אלה מועדי השם מקראי קדש אשר תקראו אתם במועדם (Vayikra 23:4). This seems like an odd placement, it seems that the festivals’ acknowledgement might appear in Shemot, where the events upon which they are based, occurred. What is the meaning of this juxtaposition of concepts?

Before the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, Kohanim served Hashem by operating the Beit Hamikdash, and teaching Torah. Only in a state of purity or taharah, could Kohanim fulfill this role, as they always directly served Hashem, always stood right before Hashem.

The privilege to stand before Hashem was not reserved only for Kohanim. However, on the Shalosh Regalim (pilgrimage festivals) Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, all of Am Yisrael came to the Beit Hamikdash as commanded by Hashem.

Though we can no longer come to the Beit Hamikdash for the Shalosh Regalim, we still step away from our everyday lives to come closer to Hashem.

This year, I was blessed to spend Pesach in Yerushalayim. While I ordinarily find myself eagerly anticipating the seder’s end, this Pesach, I appreciated each moment. Celebrating in Eretz Yisrael intensifies so greatly the remembrance of Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt ) and the feeling of Hashem’s presence.

Last week, I participated in a tour of Yerushalayim with Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum. On the trip, we had the opportunity to get very close to where the Kohanim entered Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount ) and see a breathtaking view of where the Beit Hamikdash stood.

May we all celebrate this Shavuot standing before Hashem in Yerushalayim!

Shabbat Shalom,

Emily Kozlow

Emily is a graduate from Beth Tfiloh High School in Baltimore , Maryland . She now studies at Midreshet Devora in Yerushalayim.


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The Significance of the Lulav and Etrog All Year Long Print E-mail
Friday, 30 April 2010

In Parshat Emor we read about the different holidays, the last one being Sukkot.


One may wonder why we read about Sukkot now and if there is a message from the Lulav and Etrog that we can take with us throughout the year.


In Vayikra 23:40 we read: “You shall take for yourselves, on the first day, the fruit of a beautiful tree (etrog), a branch of palms (lulav), boughs of thick-leaved trees (hadasim) and willows of the brook (aravot) and shall rejoice before HaShem your God for seven days”.


Why do we specifically take these species on Sukkot?


According to Rashi in Masechet Taanit 2a, the Lulav, Etrog, Hadasim and Aravot are dependent on rain for their survival. By holding them we highlight the fact that the world cannot exist without rain and we thereby entreat God for a favorable decision on the world’s rainfall for the year.


These species can teach us a lesson that we can apply throughout the year which is that we should not take the rain for granted and that it should be appreciated.


After using the four species throughout the holiday of Sukkot, as the holiday is about to come to a close, on Shmini Atzeret, we once again begin saying “Mashiv HaRuach U”Morid HaGashem”, “God makes the wind blow and the rain fall”. This prayer is only introduced after we have held and felt these species all week, giving us an opportunity to feel a spiritual connection to nature, gearing up for a winter where we should be saying those words in the Shmoneh Esrei each day with kavana (intent) as opposed to by rote.


In Israel, there is always a concern that there will not be enough rain. Throughout the winter season we wait with baited breath to see if enough rain will fall.


On the first day of Pesach, we stop saying “Mashiv HaRuach U’Morid HaGashem” and in Israel we say “Morid HaTal”, “God makes the dew fall” until the end of Sukkot when we start the cycle again.


The four species in essence help us “kick off” the rainy season and teach us not to take anything for granted.

Celebrate Good Times Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 May 2009

Parshat Emor includes a listing of all of the Biblical holidays and how they must be celebrated.


The springtime is full of Jewish holidays. Only a month ago, in Nisan, we were sitting around the seder table celebrating Pesach, the holiday of freedom. Now, we are busy counting the Omer, the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, the amount of time that it took B’nai Yisrael to get from Egypt to Mt. Sinai where they received the Torah. Before we know it, summer will be over and we will be celebrating Sukkot, which reminds us that God miraculously protected B’nai Yisrael in huts while they wandered in the desert for 40 years, as well as alludes to the final redemption in Messianic times.


The Jewish people are also celebrating modern day miracles during the spring. Last week, on the 5th of Iyar, we celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day which commemorates the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Yom HaAtzmaut is the only holiday that is not in the Torah which is an official day off from work in the state of Israel (Chanukah, Purim and unfortunately Sundays are workdays at many places of business!) and many holiday prayers including Hallel (Praise) are added to the Religious Zionist prayer services.


In two weeks, on the 28th of Iyar, we will be celebrating Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, when Israel liberated the Old City of Jerusalem, Har HaBayit, The Temple Mount and the Kotel, The Western Wall in 1967. This too is a day when holiday prayers including Hallel are recited (however it is unfortunately not a day off from work!).


When B’nai Yisrael left Egypt, God gave them the Shalosh Regalim- Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. Now that we have the State of Israel, two new holidays have emerged, Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim.


Rabbi Benjamin Blech comments: “For the sake of parallelism, it would appear that a third modern-day holiday is missing. Perhaps that is the last festival of all- the one that hasn’t happened yet but will be proclaimed when the end of the Jew’s journey through time will be marked by the moment of the Mashiach’s (Messiah’s) arrival”.


Let’s hope and pray that the new holiday will emerge speedily in our days.

Mitzvah Observance in the Land of Israel Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 May 2007


In Parshat Emor- Vayikra 23:10,14 we read the words: “Speak to B’nei Yisrael and say to them ‘ki tavou el haaretz asher ani noten lachem- when you come into the land that I give to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring an omer of the first fruits of your harvest to the kohen…Bread, parched grain or tender grain you shall not eat until this very day, until you bring the offering of your God; it is an everlasting statute for all your generations- bechol moshvoteichem- in all your dwelling places’”.

From these pesukim, we learn the prohibition of ‘chadash’, eating new grain before the omer is offered.

The Gemara in Kiddushin 37a asks if the prohibition of ‘chadash’ applies inside the Land of Israel as well as outside of the Land of Israel. Some say that this comes to teach us that we were not commanded regarding chadash until after taking possession of and settling the land, after conquering it and dividing it among the tribes.

The Mishna in Masechet Kiddushin 36b states: Every commandment that is dependent on the land (usually having to do with agriculture, the land and its produce) applies only in the Land of Israel. Every commandment that is not dependent on the land, applies both in the Land of Israel as well as outside of the Land of Israel. The exceptions to this rule would be the commandments of orlah (the fruits of a tree’s first three years are forbidden for all benefit) and kilayim (hybrids) which are dependent on the land yet even apply outside of the Land of Israel.

Rabbi Eliezer says the commandment of chadash is also an exception and would apply both inside and outside of Israel. Rabbi Eliezer’s reasoning is that at the end of the pasuk concerning chadash it said “bechol moshvoteichem, in all of your dwelling places” meaning both inside and outside of the Land of Israel. However, “in all of your dwelling places could denote all of your dwelling places in the land of Israel after the conquest and division of the land is complete and the Jews are then settled in it. Rashi comments that during the fourteen years that it took the Jews under Yehoshua to achieve that settlement of the land, the laws of chadash did not apply.

Today, there are communities outside of Israel who take the stricter opinion and will not eat chadash. In Israel, there is no question that chadash along with all of the other land related mitzvoth which do not involve the Beit HaMikdash must be observed.

Over a third of the 613 mitzvoth are linked to the land and can only be performed in the Land of Israel. The full Torah can only be observed in the Land of Israel when the Beit HaMikdash is rebuilt.

Aside from the mitzvoth that are linked to the land, the Chafetz Chayim comments that the value of a mitzvah which is performed in the Land of Israel like putting on Tefilin is twenty times greater than the performance of the same mitzvah outside of the Land.

Let’s hope and pray that the Beit HaMikdash will speedily be rebuilt so that we can perform all of the mitzvoth in the Torah. Until then let’s try to observe as many mitzvoth as we can in the land of Israel.


Counting the Omer- Quality vs. Quantity Print E-mail
Thursday, 11 May 2006

In Parshat Emor, Vayikra 23:15, we read in reference to the counting of the omer, "Sheva shabbatot temimot tihiyena", seven complete weeks shall there be.

Why is the word "temimot" used rather than the word "shleimot" (the normative word for full or complete)?

Nechama Leibowitz brings the opinion of HaKtav VeHaKabbalah, quoting Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim: Shleimot (from the root shalem) would refer to quantitative fullness, while temimot (from the root tamim) refers to qualitative perfection.

Other examples of tamim in the Torah would be (Shmot 12:5) "seh tamim", a lamb without blemish, (Breisheet 5:9) "tzadik tamim", a righteous and perfect person, (Devarim 18:13) "tamim tihiyeh im hashem elokecha", You shall be perfect with Hashem your God.

In Vayikra Raba, Rabbi Hiya taught: When are these seven weeks temimot (complete)? When Israel fulfills God's will.

It's not enough just to count the days of the omer, we must also use introspection. Just as one carefully examines the amount and integrity of the money he receives so as to avoid deficient and counterfeit coins, thus also when counting the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot one must make sure to complete the number and preserve the quality of each day and not detract from the spiritual integrity.

According to Rabbi Zeev Wolf Einhorn, a commentator on Midrash Raba, if we take our counting seriously then the crops will be "temimot", without any defect or shortcoming. The crops will receive ample dew and the ears will be full and sturdy.

If we take observance of the mitzvoth seriously, then God will in turn reward us.

Let's take the next few weeks of counting to a higher spiritual level as we anticipate the celebrations of Lag BaOmer, Yom Yerushalayim and Shavuot.