Passover and Shavuot, most commonly known as the festivals that commemorate, respectively, the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah, each also have a pronounced agricultural element.

The Torah instructs that on the second day of Passover we should bring the first cutting of our barley harvest to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as an offering to G‑d, and not to partake of that year's barley crop until that offering is made. On Shavout, we are commanded to bring the first of our wheat harvest as an offering to G‑d, and not partake of that year's wheat until this is done. Hence, the 49-day count leading from Passover to Shavuot is called "The Counting of the Omer"--a reference to the omer (a biblical measure) of barley that was brought on the first day of the count—and Shavuot is called Yom Habikkurim, "The Day of the First-Fruits Offering."

In Biblical tradition, barley is primarily animal food. Wheat is the key and ideal human food.

The instruction that we gain from these offerings is:

In each one of us there is a human and a beast, or—in the words of the Chassidic masters—a "G‑dly soul" and an "animal soul." As regards our animal soul, most of us would agree that a "barley offering" is in order. Obviously, my animalistic passions and desires need taming and binding to the divine. I must therefore offer up my physical drives and desires to control by G‑d, lest they get the better of me.

I may, however, believe that all intellectual and artistic endeavor is good and safe, inasmuch as it is uniquely human and refined. The Torah teaches us: No! We must also bring an offering of the first of our "wheat"--our human endeavor—to G‑d. If we do not bind our intellect and creativity to G‑d, no matter how profound our musings and how refined our aesthetic, we risk creating and inspiring falsehood and evil. Not all art inspires positive behavior or attitudes; not every philosophy is helpful or even benign.

Indeed, there is nothing more destructive than bad ideas and beliefs. All the worst evils of the 20th century stemmed not from greed and base animal passions, but from malignant ideologies. Only by shining the light of G‑dliness as embodied in the Torah into our souls can we distinguish between the ideas and creations that elevate humanity and those that pollute it.

Each and every one of us, always, must begin every intellectual and creative endeavor by asking: "Does this essay or work of art or music move the world closer to being a dwelling place for G‑d?"

This is the eternal question asked of each of us our by obligation to bring the first fruits offering on Shavout: "Did you offer the first of your wheat—your humanity—to G‑d?"

May we all merit to receive the Torah anew with joy and inner meaning.