Laws of Shavuot 5779
Laws of Shavuot 5779
Rav Shimon Golan
Since the holiday of Shavuot falls this year on Motzei Shabbat, one should be careful not to perform any preparations for the holiday on Shabbat until it is over at 20:27.
We add the bracha of “Va-todeeaynu” to the Amida on the eve of the holiday. Kiddush is according to the YAKNEHAZ formula, including the blessings of: wine, Kiddush, candle, Havdalah and Zman (“Shehechiyanu”).
The festival of Shavuot is exceptional in that there are no distinctive halachot that pertain to the holiday, aside from the general halachot that relate to every Yom Tov. However, Shavuot does merit three unique customs:
1. Consuming dairy foods
This custom is Ashkenazic in origin, as brought by the Ramah (Orach Hayim 494, para 3) “and it is the custom everywhere to eat dairy foods on the first day of Shavuot”. This custom is nowadays also practiced by Sephardim (Yalkut Yosef, Moadim, p. 444). The explanation for this custom is threefold:
The Ramah himself explains: “And it seems to me that the reason for this is that it is similar to the two cooked foods eaten on the night of Pesach, in commemoration of the paschal lamb (Korban Pessach) and of the festival sacrifice (Korban chagiga). Therefore we eat one diary food and one meat food and two different types of bread should be placed on the table which is in lieu of the altar, in commemoration of the two breads that were sacrificed on the festival of the first fruits”.
According to this reason, both dairy and meat foods should be consumed (to fulfill the mitzvah of rejoicing on the holiday) as the SHL”H writes “It is customary everywhere to eat first dairy foods and then meat foods on the festival of Shavuot to fulfill the commandment of rejoicing on the holiday and there is no rejoicing without meat. So one must be meticulous and be holy, especially on this holy day that is the day of the receiving of the Torah, to eat a dessert and wash up well and then finish off with the Grace after Meals and wait an hour. Then one may spread a different cloth, and lay a table with meat…. and whoever is more painstaking in this is commendable…”
The “Magen Avraham” writes: “There are many reasons and the reason brought by the Zohar is that the seven weeks were for Israel like the seven clean days that a woman counts before her ritual immersion that cleanses her from menstrual impurity and it is known that blood spoils and becomes milk; in other words, the quality of justice is transformed into the quality of mercy and our ancestors’ custom is binding on us. Yet care must be taken so as not to transgress (by mixing meat and milk).”
The idea that milk alludes to the quality of mercy is also cited in many Hassidic works as the origin of the custom.
Two additional reasons brought by the Mishnah Brurah are noteworthy: “And I once heard in the name of a great rabbi that the true reason for this is that when they stood on Mt. Sinai and received the Law (since all portions of the Torah were revealed to them within the Ten Commandments as R. Sa’adiah Gaon wrote that the entire Torah is contained in the Ten Commandments) and they descended and returned to their homes and there was nothing immediately available to eat other than dairy foods since meat requires advance preparation: to slaughter with an knife that had been inspected as G-d commanded, to extract the strands of fat and blood and to wash and salt the meat and cook it in new vessels since the vessels that they had previously used were now forbidden for use. Due to this they made do, at that point, with dairy foods and we commemorate this”.
And para. 13 states: “In some places honey and milk are consumed since the Torah was likened to honey and milk as it is written: ‘honey and milk are under your tongue’.”
2. Flora in the synagogue
Thus custom is also brought by the Ramah (ibid., 494, para. 3) “And it is customary to scatter greenery in the synagogue and the home on Shavuot, in commemoration of the giving of the Torah”.
The “Mishnah Brurah” explains the link between the giving of the Torah and this custom as follows: “ Because Mt. Sinai was encompassed by greenery as it says: do not let the cattle and sheep graze facing this mountain”.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef adds, in his responsa “Yichve Da’at” (part 4, 33) another connection with the giving of the Torah: “According to the manner in which Tractate Shabbat (88:a) explains the verse ‘his cheeks are like a bed of spices’ – that each and every statement made by the Almighty would fill the world with the scent of perfumes”.
The “Magen Avraham” cites another explanation: “And it seems to me that the reason is that they should remember that on Atzeret (Shavuot) judgment is proclaimed regarding the fruits of the trees and that they should pray for that”.
This is an ancient custom as the HID”A wrote in “Birchey Yosef” (ibid. 6): “This custom is affirmed by what is recorded in the Aggada (Targum Sheni on Megillat Esther 2:8) that Haman said to Ahasuerus that it was a Jewish custom to scatter greenery about on Atzeret (Shavuot).”
Though the Mishnah Brurah records that “the Vilna Gaon annulled this custom since it had since become a gentile custom to bring trees inside during their holiday”, his opinion was never accepted in practice (perhaps due to the ancient roots of the custom) as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef recounts in the following responsa: “And look in the Book of the Threefold Thread (p. 128) where it written that in the days of the Chatam Sofer it was the custom that on the festival of Shavuot the house of our Lord was glorified by decorating the synagogue with branches of trees and all types of herbs whose pleasant scent could be discerned from afar. In the Chatam Sofer’s town they would construct a special canopy from tree branches and roses. It once happened that one of the synagogue’s gabbayim cancelled the custom and ordered that this not be done and when the Gaon came to the synagogue and saw that the longstanding festival custom had been changed, he was very distraught and reprimanded the gabbay who received a very severe punishment.”
3. Tikkun Lel Shavuot
a. The Mishnah Brurah (494,para. a) writes “the Zohar states that the first Hassidim would stay awake the entire night learning Torah and most of those who studied used to do so and the Shulchan Aruch also states that the Ari said that whoever does not sleep at all but rather learns Torah is ensured that his lost sleep hours will be restored and he will sustain no damage. And the reason that the Magen Avraham wrote that the people of Israel were sleeping the entire night and the Almighty had to rouse them to receive the Torah as the Midrash states. That is why we need to seek redress for this.
b. There are various customs concerning the character of this study. A kabalistic custom that took root in some communities is to study a special tikkun allegedly composed by the Ari for the night of Shavuot contained in “Sha’ar Hakavanot” (p. 89;a) “That the first Hassidim would occupy themselves with Torah on the night of Shavuot: progressing from Torah to the Prophets and then to the Writings, and then to Midrash and the secrets of the Torah”. In most yeshivot the learning resembles the regular in depth-study while the custom of studying the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot is attributed to Rav Kook z”l. Many communities have the custom of holding shiruim on a range of topics. All the customs are based on precedent, the sole stipulation being that the intention of the study be genuine and for the purpose of tikkun and not in vain.
c. It is important that the person who chooses to stay awake the entire night should attempt to attend the next day’s prayers and Torah reading, that recalls the giving of the Torah, in a state of wakefulness and “kavanah”, so as not to squander the merit of having studied Torah the previous night.
d. There are different halachic opinions concerning the obligation to recite Birkot Hashachar in respect to a person who stayed awake the entire night. The Mishnah Brurah writes, concerning netillat yadayim and Asher Yatzar: “And those who stay awake the entire night should be careful not to recite the blessing for netillat yadayim until after visiting the bathroom before the time for prayers and only then should they recite the blessing for netillat yadayim and Asher Yatzar”
e. Regarding the blessing over the tallit katan – he rules: “The Poskim hold various opinions and therefore one should have the intention of fulfilling one’s obligation with the blessing over the Tallit Gadol.”
f. Concerning the blessings over the Torah he rules (47, para 28) : “And if the person was awake the entire night some say that there is no need to recite the blessing in the morning and there are those who say that he should since the sages established this blessing as a daily obligation similar to the other blessings of Birkot Hashachar, and when there is a doubt regarding blessings then you take the lenient view. However, if possible, the person should attempt to hear the blessing over the Torah being recited and it would be to him as if the person saying the blessing were intending to fulfill his obligation for him and he likewise would intend to fulfill his obligation and should respond amen. He should then recite a few verses that could be considered as Torah study or alternately he should have the intention of fulfilling his obligation with the blessing of Ahava Rabah and then study a bit immediately upon completing his prayers.”
g. Regarding the blessing “Elokay Neshama” and “Hama’avir Sheyna”,he rules (46,para 24):“Study the book of Eliyahu Rabba who wrote that the blessing of Elokay Neshama and Hama’avir Sheyna should not be recited if the person was awake the entire night and the Pri Megadim and the Sha’arey Tshuva left his words open and the Sha’arey Tshuva concludes that one should hear these two blessing being recited and intend to fulfill one’s obligation. And if the person slept for a period of sixty breaths then according to all opinions he is obligated to recite these blessings.”
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s opinion in his responsa “Yechave Da’at”, (part 3, para 33) differs in respect to some of the details. He writes thus: “The person who stays awake the entire night must recite all the Birkot Hashachar including the blessings over the Torah after daybreak. Yet regarding netillat yadayim, he should wash his hands without reciting the relevant blessing.