נוהגין לשטוח עשבים בשבועות בבית הכנסת והבתים זכר לשמחת מתן תורה
It is customary to spread out grass in the shuls and the homes as a remembrance for the joy of the giving of the Torah (Rama 494:3)

QUESTION: What are the reasons for this custom?

ANSWER: Mount Sinai was in the wilderness; nevertheless, grass grew around the mountain. Thus, it was necessary for Hashem to tell Moshe “The flock and the cattle, too, shall not graze facing that mountain” (Shemot 34:3). To commemorate this, grass is spread out in the shuls and homes.


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A question that arises is that while this is zeicher lematan Torah — a remembrance to the scene of the giving of the Torah, how is it a remembrance lesimchat — to the joy — experienced at the giving of the Torah?

The Jews interpreted the grass growing in the wilderness at the time of the giving of the Torah as a sign that just as a barren wilderness can be converted into an oasis, likewise, Torah can change man, who is spiritually debased and raise him from the lowest level to the highest spiritual realm. The realization of this message at the time of the giving of the Torah filled the hearts of the Jewish people with joy and happiness. Thus, we spread out the grass to commemorate the simchah — joy and happiness the Jews experienced when they saw grass around the mountain on which the Torah was given.

(ספר פרדס אליעזר בשם לחם שלמה מר' שלמה זלמן ז"ל עהרענרייך)

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Alternatively, the Torah relates that “Reuven went out in the days of the wheat harvest; he found dudaim (an aromatic grass) in the field and brought them to Leah his mother.” Rachel was supposed to be with Yaakov that night, and Leah got the opportunity in exchange for dudaim. On that night, “Leah conceived and bore Yaakov bein chamishi — a fifth son” (Bereishit 30:14-17). The Alshich in his commentary, Torat Moshe, writes that since the Torah says it happened “in the days of wheat harvest” we can surmise that this occurred on Erev Shavuot. Thus, Leah was with Yaakov on the night of Shavuot and she conceived Yissachar.

Now, the Torah does not mention the numerical position of any of the children while here it says “bein chamishi” — “a fifth son.” The reason is that “Yissachar was a strong-boned donkey” who bears the yoke of Torah “and he bent his shoulder to bear” — the yoke of Torah (ibid. 49:14-15, Rashi). The word “chamishi” — “fifth” — is an allusion to chamishah chumshei Torah — the five books of the Torah — which was Yissachar’s forte.

Since on Shavuot the Jewish people were given Yissachar, the Torah scholar thanks to grass, we spread out grass on Shavuot.

(מדרש תלפיות ערך דודאים מבעל שבט סופר ובשורת אליהו על רות)

QUESTION: When did this custom originate?

ANSWER: This may be a very old custom that dates back to the times of Esther and Mordechai when they would do something similar.

Haman slandered the Jews in order to get Achashveirosh’s approval to annihilate them. According to the Midrash (Targum Sheini, Esther 3:8) among the things he told Achashveirosh was the following: “In the month of Sivan, they make a two-day holiday. They assemble in their shuls and curse the king and his officers. They call the holiday Atzeret or the Festival of Shavuot. On the shul roof they spread out roses and apples. Then they gather them, saying “Just as we are gathering the roses and apples so may their children be plucked (picked out) from among us.’ ”

(חיד"א בברכי יוסף סי' תצ"ד אות ו')

המחלק עשבי בשמים להציבור בביהכנ"ס יזהר שלא לחלק להם מברוך שאמר עד לאחר ש"ע שקודם ברוך שאמר או לאחר ש"ע יכולים הם לברך על הריח המגיע להם
The one who distributes aromatic grass to the congregants should not do so between baruch she’amar and the amidah, so that they be permitted to recite a blessing over the aroma. (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 394:17, Shaloh, Shavuot 180b)

QUESTION: In addition to spreading out regular grass as a remembrance of the joy of receiving the Torah, people smell aromatic grass or roses (Maharil). What is the reason for this and why particularly on Shavuot?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Shabbat 88b) says that “with every single statement that emanated from the mouth of Hashem the whole world became filled with besamim — the fragrance of spices.” To commemorate the aroma that filled the world at the giving of the Torah, we smell aromatic grass (or roses).

(חתם סופר בדרשותיו לשבועות תקס"ב)

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Alternatively, based on the description of Mashiach that “Veharicho” — “He will be imbued with a spirit of fear of Hashem, and will not need to judge by what his eyes see nor decide by what his ears hear” (Isaiah 11:3), the Gemara (Sanhedrin 93b) interprets the word “veharicho” as from the root word “rei’ach” — smell – and says that Mashiach will posses the quality that “morach veda’in” — he “sniffs and judges” — i.e. he can decide unerringly through sniffing which of the litigants is the guilty party without having to actually weigh the evidence, (Rashi).

Why will Mashiach be distinguished by his extraordinary sense of smell?

Man has been imbued with various senses: Sight, hearing, tasting, speaking, feeling and smelling. When Adam and Chavah partook of the forbidden tree, all of their senses were involved and became affected except for the sense of smell. As the pasuk says “The woman saw ... and she took (feeling) of its fruit and ate (taste) and she gave also to her husband and he ate (taste) and they heard the voice of Hashem and the man said..., and the woman said” (Bereishit 3:6-13). When Mashiach comes, the iniquity of Adam and Chavah will be corrected. All senses will be restored to their original strength, and the sense of smell (which was not affected by their iniquity) will be enhanced and surpass all the other senses.

The Gemara (Shabbat 146a) says that when the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai “paska zuhamatan” — “all their impurities [caused by the serpent] were removed” as well as all their impairments, both spiritual and physical, and they returned to their original uncontaminated state. They were then on the same level as Adam before he sinned. When they succumbed to the sin of the golden calf, they returned to their defective state.

Accordingly, at Sinai the Jews were on the level they will be in the Messianic Era, and their sense of smell exceeded all their other senses. To demonstrate this, aromatic grass is distributed to the congregants. They can then recite a blessing to Hashem over the rei’ach — aroma.

(בני יששכר חודש סיון)

נוהגים להעמיד אילנות בביהכ"נ ובבתים כדי להזכיר שבעצרת נידונין על הפירות ויתפללו עליהם
It is customary to stand up trees in the Shuls and homes, to remind that Shavuot is a time of judgment of the fruits, and we shall pray for them. (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 494:15)

QUESTION: Isn’t it strange; on the fifteenth of Shevat, because the trees are judged (Rosh Hashanah 2a) we eat much fruit, and on Shavuot because the fruits are judged we fill our shuls and homes with trees?

ANSWER: When one is standing trial it is highly advisable that an outsider intercede on his behalf rather than the litigant represent himself and plead his case.

The tree and its fruit are analogous to a father and a son. Thus, on the fifteenth of Shevat, when the trees are judged, we make blessings over the fruit as if to say that the fruit (children) will pray and be good emissaries that the trees (parents) be victorious. On Shavuot, when the fruit (children) is being judged, the trees are emphasized as if to say they (fathers) will be the good emissaries for the fruit (children) that they should emerge victorious in their judgment and be plentiful and sweet tasting.

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Alternatively, a poignant message is being conveyed: When the Heavenly Tribunal judges parents it also takes into consideration the caliber of the children they have raised and often the good children are a merit for the parents. On the other hand, when children are being judged their parents’ identity is given consideration.

(הקושיא מובאה בספר אמת ליעקב מר' אברהם יעקב זצ"ל מסדיגרא, והביאור הוא מר' יואל זצ"ל טייטעלבוים מסאטמאר)

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Nowadays in many communities, including Chabad, the custom of placing trees in the shuls and homes has been discontinued, since the gentile world uses trees as a way to celebrate their festival.

Superficially, the ban should apply only to trees and not to spreading out grass or smelling aromatic grass or roses. However, to assure that we have no resemblance to their practices, the Rabbis instructed that not just trees but all greenery should be removed from the customs for Shavuot.

(בערוך השלחן סי' תצ"ד, ס"ו כ' אמנם בדורות שלפנינו ביטלו האילנות והעשבים מטעמים שידוע להם, ועי' ספר שבעים תמרים מר' חיים שמעון דוד ז"ל מהארקי, מחסידי הצ"צ, על צוואת ר"י החסיד סוסי' ד', ועי' בירחון אור ישראל חוברת כ' בעריכת הרב גדלי' שי' אויבערלאנדער)