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Shavuos: A Beautiful Bouquet of “Flour”

I am happy to announce that as of today – the day I write this article – I have not missed one day of Sefirah, and I am very proud of it! Reportedly, a CNN/Zogby poll (Somebody told me that CNN stands for the “Crescent National News”!) recently revealed that a majority of people have trouble keeping up with the entire forty-nine days of Sefirah, an even smaller percentage are still making a brocha – and of course, there can always be found that 8%-10% who are undecided!

Well, either way, I don’t think people truly understand how important and how serious this mitzva of Sefiras Haomer is. Of course, if some old sefer will be unearthed that revealed that counting Sefirah every night with a brocha is a segulah for say, long life or Parnassah, or better yet an ability to pay off all those lingering Pesach food bills, well there wouldn’t even be a question of fulfilling it or not. As a matter of fact, there would even be study groups, “Sefirah Yomi”s, and constant reminders that before your “hour-a-day” of not speaking Lashon Hara starts, you had better count sefirah!

This mitzvah is a D’oraysa (Biblical commandmant) with special significance, no less important than blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah and fasting on Yom Kippur, but with significantly more implications than carrying on Shabbos or eating milchigs after fleishigs. The Torah tells us that we must count, “From the day after Shabbos (First day of Pesach), from the day you bring the Omer, seven weeks complete they shall be.” According to the written law, on each day of Sefirah, the Jews were commanded to bring the korban Omer, an offering of barley flour to the Bais Hamikdosh in fulfillment of the mitzva. Obviously, this would last each year until the fiftieth day which marks the Yom Tov of Shavuos, when all Jews were required to travel up to Yerushalayim to celebrate the holiday known as “Chag Habikurim” – the holiday of the first-fruit, or “Chag Hakatzir” – the holiday of the first harvest of the wheat. There are many scriptural mitzvos to be performed on Shavuos, including the extra korbonos that were brought and the “Shtay Halechem” – two loaves of bread made from the new wheat, as well as a total rest from work like on Shabbos and other Yomim Tovim. However, since the Bais Hamikdosh had been destroyed, the mitzvah of counting the Omer was established by Chazal as a remembrance, and we fulfill it by counting out loud the day of the Omer for forty-nine straight days and on the fiftieth is the Yom Tov of Shavuos.

Wait a minute! Hold the press! Did you notice that in the entire previous paragraph, where a full explanation of the mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer as it relates to, and flows into, the Yom Tov of Shavuos, was clearly spelled out and explained, there was not even the slightest mention of …… Matan Torah. No  recounting of the story of Har Sinai and the pillars of clouds and fire! I didn’t once bring up Moshe Rabbeinu accepting the Ten Commandments or how the Jewish people needed forty-nine days from their exodus from Egypt to rise spiritually and prepare themselves for this great day. What about Hashem holding the mountain over the Jews and threatening to crush them if they were not to accept the Torah? And who could ever forget those immortal words that until that moment, only the angels knew how to utter, “Na’aseh V’nishma” – We will do and we will hear! Isn’t this the basis of the holiday of Shavuos – the day the Jewish people received the holy Torah from Hashem?

We say it in kiddush and in davening – “Zman Matan Torasenu”. My children come home from school singing songs about “Little Har Sinai”, with projects and drawings of the Luchos or the Jewish people camped together, as one, under the mountain. I never once saw them bring home a “Wheat-barley” planter! (At least I don’t think they did, unless, that’s what that was!) We read the entire parsha of Kabbolas Hatorah on Shavuos and we stay up the entire night learning to commemorate that fateful morning when the Bnei Yisroel did their best “Yeshiva-Bochur-after-late-night-shmoozing” impression! But we don’t find any mitzvah to bake two loaves of bread made from new wheat. So we must understand, how do these two concepts relate to each other? What is the bottom-line connection between the scriptural version of the Yom Tov of Shavuos – the two loaves of bread, waving the Omer offering, the korbonos – and the well-known concepts that are associated with the holiday of Kabbolas Hatorah?

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One of the myriad explanations given by the Meforshim is brought down by the Mahara”l M’Prague. The Mahara”l quotes from the third Perek in Pirkei Avos, “If there is no flour (Kemach), there is no Torah. And if there is no Torah, there is no flour.” It’s kind of like the Jewish version of the chicken and the egg enigma! The basic understanding of this mishna is that spiritual needs – represented by Torah – must be accompanied and enhanced by physical necessities, as portrayed by flour. Consequently, learning Torah and full fulfillment of all the mitzvos in their proper manner cannot be realized if one’s basic physical needs are not seen to. If a person is in a constant state of anxiety, worrying about where his next meal will come from or how he will be able to clothe his family, he will be wholly unable to concentrate and produce in his Torah study. On the other hand, Chazal give us an unequivocal warning that if a person only concerns himself with material desires and bases his entire life around the pursuit of pleasure, without question he will not succeed, in any form, in a life of Torah and service of Hashem. One is impossible to maintain without the other.

And this, explains the Mahara”l, is the fundamental basis of the Yom Tov of Shavuos. As we explained, the two concepts that form the makeup of this holiday, is the offering that was waved in all directions in the Bais Hamikdosh, subsisting of a combination of wheat, barley and flour, and the concept of Kabbolas Hatorah, when Hashem chose the Jewish people to receive His holy Torah and mitzvos. Thus, these two concepts are intertwined during this holiday – “If there is no flour, there is no Torah. And if there is no Torah, there is no flour” – Each idea totally permeates the spirituality of Shavuos, and one cannot exist without the other. (It’s even possible that the custom to display flowers on Yom Tov, comes from this idea of “Flour”! Or … maybe not!)

That is the lesson of Shavuos and one that keeps us focused the entire year. On Pesach, our focus is of the tremendous miracles that brought about the redemption of the Jewish people, both physically and spiritually. Sukkos, shows us that our total dependence must be on Hashem and we live in a temporary state as Hashem sees fit. But Shavuos is the day that incorporates our daily existence and guides us in the proper path of Torah. Physical necessities are important and a Jew is forbidden to release himself from all matters of the world, even if it is to focus on his studies. Because he won’t be able to study, if not for it. And likewise, his focus cannot solely rest on materialism, in the belief that that will be the answer to all his problems, because a Jew needs to live by the Torah and follow in it’s ways.

The Torah wants us to always remember that the greatest event in human history – short of the actual creation of the world – when the Jews stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and heard the voice of Hashem speak directly to them, and accepted upon them the full responsibility of the Chosen Nation, is of equal importance to the seemingly unremarkable daily action of providing food and sustenance to oneself, one’s family and another human being, insuring that the poor and needy have what they must, and maintaining one’s physical health to be able to serve Hashem.

The Yom Tov of Shavuos teaches us this important lesson and in these dire times of stress and hostility to the Jewish people, we should all do our best to serve Hashem in the way that He most wants us to. As a result, He will see to our well-being, safety and prosperity, both spiritually and physically, as we all brace for the coming of Moshiach.   


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