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Questions and Answers on the Names of the Festival of Shavuot

Questions and Answers on the Names of the Festival of Shavuot

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QUESTION: What are the different names for the Yom Tov — Festival?

ANSWER: The Yom Tov has five different names. In the Written Torah, the Yom Tov is called by three different names.

1) Chag Shavuot — Festival of Shavuot

וחג שבעת תעשה לך בכורי קציר חטים

You shall make a Festival of Weeks for yourself with the first-fruits of the wheat harvest. (Shemot 34:22)

ועשית חג שבעות לה' אלקיך

Then you shall make a Festival of Shavuot for Hashem your G‑d. (Devarim 16:10)

2) Yom HaBikkurim — Day of the First-Fruits

וביום הביכורים בהקריבכם מנחה חדשה לה' בשבעתיכם מקרא קדש יהיה לכם

On the day of the first-fruits, when you offer a new meal-offering to Hashem, on your [Festival of] Weeks, it shall be a holy convocation to you. (Bamidbar 28:26)

3) Chag Hakatzir — Festival of Harvest

וחג הקציר בכורי מעשיך אשר תזרע בשדה

And the Festival of Harvest of the first-fruits of your labors that you sow in the field. (Shemot 23:16)

4) Atzeret

In the Mishnah, (Rosh Hashanah 16a) and Gemara (Pesachim 68b) it is called “Atzeret.”

The Targum to Bamidbar 28:26, interprets the word “beshavu’oteichem” — “your Festival of Weeks” — “be’atzrateichon.”

5) Zeman Matan Torateinu

In the Kiddush and Amidah prayers recited during Yom Tov, it is referred to as “zeman matan Torateinu” — “the time of the giving of our Torah.”


חג השבועות
The Festival of Weeks

QUESTION: What is the significance of the name Shavuot?

ANSWER: 1) “Shavuot” means “weeks”: From the time the Jews left Egypt they waited for seven weeks and eagerly counted the days in anticipation of the day when they would be worthy of receiving the Torah. We, too, count Sefirah for seven weeks starting from the night following the first day of Pesach, and then we celebrate the Festival of “Shavuot” — “Weeks.”

(עי' ר"ן סוף מסכת פסחים)

2) “Shavuot” means “promises”: When Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people, they promised to obey it and remain faithful to Him. In return, Hashem promised that He would cherish the Jews and not exchange them for any other people.

(טור ברקת על שו"ע או"ח)

* * *

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidut, interpreted the verse, “ ‘You shall make the Festival of Shavuot” (Devarim 16:10) as follows: ‘Shavuot’ in Yiddish means ‘vachen’ — ‘weeks’ — and is the root of the word ‘vachedigkeit’ — the quality of weekdays, i.e. secularism or profaneness — and this must be converted into a festival.”

The message is that one should endeavor to change and elevate vachedigkeit (the profane) into Yom Tov, for the goal of Torah is to sanctify the profane.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ב)


"בהקריבכם מנחה חדשה לה' בשבעתיכם"
“When you offer a new meal-offering to Hashem on your Festival of Weeks” (Bamidbar 28:26)

QUESTION: Since the Festival is called “Shavuot” (Shemot 34:22), why does it say “beshavuoteichem — “in your Festival of Weeks” — and not merely beShavuot?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Menachot 65a) relates that there was a major dispute between the Sages and the heretical Boethusians as to when Shavuot should be celebrated. The Torah’s instruction is that “You shall count for yourselves, mimacharat haShabbat for the morrow of the rest day... seven weeks, they shall be complete, until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days. You shall convoke this very day — there shall be a holy convocation for yourselves” (Vayikra 23:15-21).

The Boethusians interpreted “mimacharat haShabbat” literally, as referring to the Shabbat, thus claiming that the Omer was offered on the morrow of the Shabbat, which is Sunday. According to them the counting of the fifty days commenced then as well. Hence, the fiftieth day of counting was always on Sunday seven weeks later. On the other hand, the Sages contended that “mimachrat haShabbat” — means the day after Yom Tov (the first day of Pesach — in Eretz Yisrael), which is called a rest day because ordinary work is forbidden on it. Consequently, Shavuot will always be celebrated on the same day of the week as the day the Omer counting commenced fifty days ago.

To refute the erroneous approach of the Boethusians, the Torah wrote specifically “beshevu’oteichem“your weeks” — to emphasize that the Festival is determined by the counting of seven of your weeks and not by the passing of seven calendar weeks (which since creation runs from Sunday to Shabbat).

(אור החיים – במדבר)


יום הביכורים
Day of the First Fruit

QUESTION: Why is the Festival of Shavuot called “Yom HaBikkurim” — “the day of the first-fruits?”

ANSWER: There are two reasons:

1) Shtei Halechem — Two Loaves

Among the different offerings brought in the Beit Hamikdash were menachot — meal offerings. All meal-offerings were made with wheat flour. The only two exceptions were the Karban Omer — the offering of the Omer — which was brought on the day following the first day of Pesach (16 Nissan, which in Eretz Yisrael is the first day of Chol HaMo’eid) and the Karban Sotah — meal-offering brought by a woman suspected of adultery — which consisted of barley flour.

The harvest season for barley is in Nissan and the harvest season for wheat is in Sivan. According to Biblical law, chadash — new crop — may not be eaten. It becomes permissible on the 16th of Nissan after a measure of ground barley was brought to the Beit Hamikdash as a meal-offering. Once it is brought, all grains that were harvested or had taken root prior to that time may be eaten; later grains must wait until next year’s Omer is brought. (Nowadays, in the absence of the Omer-offering, we may not eat from the new crop until the 16th day of Nissan is over.)

The Omer offering of barley which was brought on 16 Nissan made all the new grains permissible only for private consumption. In the Beit Hamikdash, however, they could not bring any meal-offerings from the new grain until they offered the Shtei Halechem — Two Loaves — on Shavuot.

Shavuot is called Yom HaBikkurim because on this day they would bring the offering known as “Shtei Halechem” — “Two Loaves” — from the “bikureiketzir chitim”“first-fruits of the new wheat harvest” (Shemot 34:22). After the Shtei Halechem were offered, it would become permissible to bring meal-offerings in the Beit Hamikdash from newly harvested wheat and barley.

Thus, the Shtei Halechem were Bikkurim — first-fruits — because they were the “First of all meal-offerings” from the wheat crop, and they also preceded an offering from the new crop of barley meal brought by the Sotah. That is, up until Shavuot a Sotah would bring her offering to the Beit Hamikdash from the harvest of a year earlier, and from Shavuot on, after the Two Loaves were brought, a Sotah could bring her offering from the crop which became permissible for the general public, through the omer-offering brought on Pesach.

(רש"י ויקרא כ"ג:י"ז, במדבר כ"ח:כ"ו)

2) First Ripened Seven Fruits of Eretz Yisrael

The Torah commanded (Devarim ch. 26) that after the Jews settle in Eretz Yisrael they should annually bring to the Beit Hamikdash and present to the Kohen the Bikkurim — choicest of the first-fruits — of the seven species for which Eretz Yisrael is known: wheat, barley, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives and dates (ibid. 8:8).

Upon arriving at the Beit Hamikdash the Kohen together with the owner lift and wave the basket with the fruit. The bringer of the Bikkurim then takes back his basket from the Kohen and recites a brief declaration recounting some Jewish history and expressing gratitude to Hashem. At the conclusion of his declaration, the bringer puts his basket down before the altar, and it becomes of gift to the Kohen (see ibid. ch. 26).

Since the Biblical portion regarding Bikkurim, states “You shall rejoice with all the goodness” (ibid. 26:11) the Sages derived that “the declaration over Bikkurim is recited only at a time of joy, that is, from Shavuot until Sukkot. During that period a person experiences joy since he gathers his produce and fruits, and his wine and oil. But from Sukkot onward, although one may bring the offering of the first-fruits, nevertheless, the declaration is not recited” (Bikkurim 1:6, Pesachim 36b).

In view of the fact that the preferred time to bring Bikkurim — first-fruits — commences on Shavuot (and the majority of the people would bring it then), the festival is also known as “Yom HaBikkurim.

(רש"י במס' סנהדרין י"א ע"ב ד"ה ועל הפירות, ורש"י בפירושו עה"פ ויקרא ב' י"ב)


חג הקציר
The Festival of Harvest

QUESTION: Why is Shavuot called “Chag Hakatzir” — “Festival of Harvest”?

ANSWER: In Eretz Yisrael this was the season of the harvest, especially the wheat harvest. It would culminate at the time of Shavuot.

During the harvest season the field owners had an opportunity to fulfill many mitzvot, e.g. leave for the poor the leket — gleanings [the ears of grain that fell from the hands of the harvesters], — pei’ah — corner of the field, and shikchah — forgotten stalks of grain and bundles.

“Whoever gives gleanings, “forgetting” and the corner of the harvested field to a poor person properly is considered as if he built the Beit HaMikdash and brought his offerings inside it.”

(רש"י, ויקרא כ"ג: כ"ב)


עצרת
Atzeret

QUESTION: In the Gemara the Sages refer to the festival with the name “Atzeret”; what is the significance of this name?

ANSWER: There are a few reasons for this. Here are some of them.

1) Refrain

“Atzeret,” means “refraining” or “holding back.” On all festivals, in addition to refraining from work unconnected to food preparation, there is also a special mitzvah to perform: on Pesach one eats matzah, on Sukkot one sits in a sukkah and takes the four species, on Rosh Hashanah one blows the shofar, and on Yom Kippur one fasts. Shavuot, however, has no special mitzvah connected to it, except for refraining from work. Thus, we emphasize that the obvious mitzvah of the festival is “Atzeret” — refraining and holding back from doing any forbidden work.

(קדושת לוי)

* * *

The Festival of Shavuot is called “Atzeret” in the Gemara but not in the Chumash because, according to the Torah, the unique aspect of this holiday was the offering of the shtei halechem — Two Loaves of wheat — which made permissible the use of the new crop for meal-offerings in the Beit Hamikdash (seeYayikra 23:16-18) or the commencement of bringing Bikkurim — the first ripened fruit — with which Eretz Yisrael was praised, to the Beit Hamikdash.

The Gemara, however, was compiled in Babylon, after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, and at that time the only unique thing about the holiday has been that it is “Atzeret” — a time to refrain from work — unconnected to food preparation.

(קרבן העני, ועי' התועדיות תשמ"ג-ג' ע' 1602, ושער המועדים – שבועות, ע' שמ"ט)

2) Holdover

Alternatively, after celebrating the Festival of Sukkot for seven days, we celebrate the Festival of Shemini Atzeret for an additional day. The meaning of the word “Atzeret” is “holdover.” During Sukkot we were in a joyous mood for seven days and made offerings for all the seventy nations. Hashem, made Shemini Atzeret so that the festivities not stop abruptly but “holdover” and continue on an additional day.

A parable for this is a king who made a seven-day festival for all his government dignitaries. When all prepared to take leave the king told his immediate family, “it is difficult for me to part with you, please stay over another day so that we celebrate together.”

The name of each Yom Tov is connected with an event that occurred on that day or the mitzvah fulfilled on that day. The name “Shavuot” however, has nothing to do with an event that occurred on that day, but rather refers to the counting of seven weeks that culminated the day before.

Therefore, the Sages named it “Atzeret, because after completing the mitzvah of counting seven weeks Hashem designated the festival of Shavuot for the purpose of Atzeret — a “holdover” — to celebrate joyously the milestone accomplished.

(קדושת לוי)

3) Conclusion of Pesach

Alternatively, the mitzvah of Omer counting links the Festivals of Pesach and Shavuot together. Just as Sukkot concludes with a day of Atzeret, similarly, the day of Shavuot is the Atzeret of the Pesach Festival.

(רמב"ן ויקרא כ"ג:ל"ו)

4) Kingdom

Alternatively, the word “Atzeret” is a reference to “kingdom” and “rulership.” As the pasuk says (I Samuel, 9:17) “When Shmuel saw Shaul, Hashem spoke up to him, “This is the man of whom I said to you, zeh yatzor be’ami — this one will rule over My people’.”

On Shavuot we read the story of Ruth, who earned the title “ima shel malchut — “the Mother of Royalty” (Bava Batra 91a). She was the ancestress of King David who was born on Shavuot. King David lived in this world thanks to the 70 years of life extended to him by Adam who was the first king of the world. David was also the ancestor of King Mashiach, whose revelation we eagerly anticipate.

Hence, the name “Atzeret” — which connotes kingdom and rulership is a most appropriate name for Shavuot.

* * *

Incidentally, the word “Adam” (אדם) is an acronym for Adam, David, Mashiach, the kings of the world.

(אהבת דוד להחיד"א דרוש ח', לשבת כלה)

The word “Shavuot” (שבעת) as spelled in Shemot (34:22) is an acronym for four titles of the festival. The "ש" is for “Shavuot”שבעת. The "ב" is for “Bikkurim”ביכורום. The "ע" is for “Atzeret”עצרת. The "ת" is for “Torah” — תורה.

(הגר"א)


זמן מתן תורתינו
The Time of the Giving of Our Torah


בחדש השלישי לצאת בני ישראל מארץ מצרים ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני
“In the third month from the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, on this day (Rosh Chodesh, Rashi) they arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai.” (Shemot 19:1)

QUESTION: On which day in the month of Sivan was the Torah given?

ANSWER: In the Gemara (Shabbat 86b) the Chachamim (Sages) say that the giving of the Torah took place on the sixth of Sivan and Rabbi Yosi says it was given on the seventh. (The Gemara speaks of the Aseret Hadibrot — Ten Commandments — but in reality all 613 commandments of the Torah are incorporated in them — see Shemot 24:12, Rashi).

* * *

QUESTION: What is the basis of their dispute?

ANSWER: The Gemara (ibid.) says that all agree that the Jews arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. It is also unanimous that the Torah was given on Shabbat. They disagree, however, concerning the day of the week which was Rosh Chodesh. The Sages are of the opinion that it was on Monday, and six days later, on Shabbat, Hashem gave the Torah. Rabbi Yosi opines that Rosh Chodesh was on Sunday, so that the following Shabbat, 7 Sivan, the Torah was given.

* * *

QUESTION: The Jews arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, why did it take 6 or 7 days until Hashem gave them the Torah?

ANSWER: For the next few days Moshe was busy preparing them for the glorious Revelation. On the first day (Monday, according to the Sages) he did not convey any instruction from Hashem due to their exhaustion from the journey. He just told them of the reward for observing Torah and the punishment for transgressing it (Shabbat 87a).

On the second day of Sivan (Tuesday) he repeated to them what Hashem said “You shall be to Me mamlechet kohanim — a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.” The Torah relates that upon hearing this, “All the people answered together ‘everything that Hashem has spoken we shall do’ ” (Shemot 19:6-8).

On the third of Sivan (Wednesday), Moshe gave them the commandment of hagbalah — setting boundaries — around the mountain.

On the fourth and fifth of Sivan (Thursday and Friday) Moshe was commanded to “sanctify them today and tomorrow” (ibid. 19-10). The people were instructed concerning prishah — abstinence — from marital relations. Following this, on Shabbat, the Jews experienced The Revelation.

According to Rabbi Yosi, Rosh Chodesh was Sunday. Basically, the order of events was similar except that Moshe added an additional day of abstinence, based on his own understanding. Thus, perishah — abstinence — was on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday — and The Revelation was on Shabbat.

(שבת פ"ו ע"ב)

* * *

QUESTION: What is the basis of the argument between the Sages and Rabbi Yosi whether Rosh Chodesh Sivan was Sunday or Monday?

ANSWER: It is contingent on the following:

They both agree that the Jews left Egypt on Thursday, 15 Nissan. The question is, however, whether Nissan and Iyar were both “full” months of thirty days. The Sages say they were. Thus, Nissan finished on Friday and Iyar concluded on Sunday, so Rosh Chodesh Sivan was on Monday. According to Rabbi Yosi, Nissan had 30 days and it concluded on a Friday. Iyar, however, was only 29 days long and concluded on Shabbat. Hence, Rosh Chodesh Sivan was on Sunday.

Consequently, according to both, the Sages and Rabbi Yosi, the giving of the Torah took place fifty one days from the first day of Chol Hamo’eid (when the Omer counting begins).


Magen Avraham’s Question #1

QUESTION: The basis for the dispute between the Sages and Rabbi Yosi concerns laws of family purity (niddah). In Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei’ah (196) this dispute is decided in favor of Rabbi Yosi. Thus, he is correct that the Torah was given 7 Sivan. If so, why do we celebrate Shavuot on 6 Sivan, and say it is zeman matan Torateinu”the day of the giving of our Torah”?

ANSWER: It is only for the sake of extra carefulness in the matter of niddah that we rule lechumra — follow the stringent opinion of Rabbi Yosi. In terms of basic halachah, however, we accept the opinion of the Sages. Since this is only a stringency, it is in no way an indication that Rabbi Yosi’s date of the Torah giving is correct, but rather, the halachah is in favor of the Sages that the time of the giving of the Torah was 6 Sivan (see Shulchan Aruch HaRav 494:1).

* * *

Alternatively, even Rabbi Yosi would agree that the sixth of Sivan was intended to be the day of the giving of the Torah (see Tosafot, Avodah Zarah 3a). The reason the Torah was given on 7 Sivan was only because Moshe added one day on his own initiative.

Thus, with regard to the Divine Revelation, it was appropriate for the Torah to be given on 6 Sivan which was the fiftieth day of the Omer, for it is on this day that the fiftieth Gate of Understanding was drawn down.

According to the Sages, the actual Revelation took place on 6 Sivan, and also according to Rabbi Yosi 6 Sivan was the day Hashem designated for the giving of the Torah. On that day He brought down from above the Divine Heavenly revelations connected with Torah. Hence, on the Festival of Shavuot which the Torah said to celebrate on the fiftieth day of the Omer count, and which falls on our calendar date of 6 Sivan, even according to Rabbi Yosi, it is proper to say it is zeman matan Torateinu — the time of the giving of our Torah.

(קדושת לוי, ועי' לקו"ש ח"ד)


Magen Avraham’s Question #2

QUESTION: As explained above, the Torah was given at Sinai on the fifty-first day of the Omer count. If so, why do we celebrate Shavuot on the sixth of Sivan, which is the fiftieth day of our Omer count, and declare that it is zeman matan Torateinu — the time of the giving of the Torah?

ANSWER: The Torah did not set a specific date for the Festival of Shavuot. Neither did the Torah say that Shavuot occurs on the day when Torah was given. The Torah just says to observe the Festival of Shavuot on the fiftieth day of the Omer count. Thus, Shavuot can be on the fifth of Sivan when Nissan and Iyar are both 30 days, or on 6 Sivan when one month has 30 days and the other 29. It can also be on 7 Sivan in the event that Nissan and Iyar were both only 29 days.

In the time of the Exodus, both Nissan and Iyar, according to the Sages were “full” months and the Torah was given on the fifty-first day of the Omer, which that year was 6 Sivan.

Nowadays, according to our pre-calculated calendar, Nissan is always a “full” month and Iyar is always a short month thus, fifty days of the Omer count is 6 Sivan. So for us, the day we celebrate as Shavuot (6 Sivan), happens to concur with this “time of the giving of our Torah.”

(שו"ע אדמוה"ז סי' תצ"ד, א, חק יעקב – קושיות המג"א הם מספר עשרה מאמרות להרב מנחם עזריה מפאנו זצ"ל)


Chronological Order

According to the sequence of the events the description of zeman matan Torateinu — the time of the giving of our Torah — actually took place first, followed by Chag HaShavuot, and lastly Yom HaBikkurim — the day of the first-fruits.

In the first year of the Jews’ departure from Egypt, on the sixth day of Sivan, fifty-two days since the start of Pesach they received the Torah and celebrated zeman matan Torateinu.

In the following year, they observed the Biblical commandment of counting forty-nine days from the bringing of the Omer offering (16 Nissan) and after completing a seven-week period on the fiftieth day, they celebrated Chag HaShavuot — the Festival of Weeks.

Forty years after leaving Egypt the Jews came to Eretz Yisrael, and were required to bring Bikkurim — first-fruits — to the Beit Hamikdash (see Kiddushin 37b). This was to be done when they made their pilgrimage for Shavuot, and thus, the holiday acquired the new name of “Yom HaBikkurim” — “Day of the First-Fruits.”

(רשימות כ"ק אדמו"ר חוברת ל"ח)


Torah is Timeless

QUESTION: The Torah is precise in listing the exact dates of all yamim tovim. Why does it not specify exactly the day on which the Torah was given?

ANSWER: By not stating the exact date of the giving of the Torah, Hashem conveys to us the message that Torah is not restricted to, or connected with any specific date or time. Twenty four hours a day, every day of the year, a Jew must live in accordance with the Torah.

(כ"ק אדמו"ר)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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