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Parashat Emor:  The Various Aspects of Hag Ha-Shavuot

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Apr 27, 2009

There are various descriptions in the Torah of Hag Ha-Shavu’ot. Leviticus 23:15-22 does not even mention the name Hag Ha-Shavu’ot (the Feast of Weeks.) Moreover, Exodus 23:16 does not do so either.

Our Parashah (Emor: Leviticus 23:15-22), mentioning the holiday in the midst of the descriptions of the days of the festival calendar, focuses upon the fact that the holiday is the time of the first wheat offering. It states:

From the day after the Sabbath, the day that you bring the sheaf of wave offering, you shall keep count [until] seven full weeks have elapsed; you shall count fifty days, until the day after the seventh week; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the L-RD. You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as a wave offering; each shall be made of two tenths of a measure of choice flour, baked after leavening, as first fruits to the L-RD. With the bread you shall present, as burnt offerings unto the L-Rd, seven yearling lambs without blemish, one bull of the herd, and two rams, with their meal offerings and libations, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the L-RD. You shall also offer one he-goat as a sin offering and two yearling lambs as a sacrifice of well-being. The priest shall wave these- the two lambs- together with the bread of first fruits as a wave offering before the L-RD; they shall be holy to the L-RD, for the priest. On that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a law for all time in all your settlements, throughout the generations. And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the L-RD am your God.

Similarly, in Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 23:15-16), we find the description of the festival as the Feast of the Harvest:

You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread- eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you- at the set time in the month of Abib, for in it you sent forth from Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty-handed; and the Feast of Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Feast of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field.

In Parashat Pinhas (Numbers 28:26), the day is referred to both as “The Day of the Firstfruits” and “Your (Festival of) Weeks”:

On the day of the first fruits, your Feast of Weeks, when you bring an offering of new grain to the L-RD, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.

An explicit mention of the term Hag Ha-Shavu’ot (translated into English as The Feast of Weeks) does, however, appear elsewhere in the Torah: Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 16:9-10) states:

You shall count off seven weeks; start to count the seven weeks when the sickle is put to the standing grain, the n you shall observe the Feast of Weeks for the L-RD your God, offering your freewill contribution according as the L-RD your God has blessed you.

At the end of that parshah, the Torah reiterates (Deuteronomy 16:16):

Three times a year- on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths- all your males shall appear before the L-RD your God in the place that He shall choose.

In Parashat Ki Tissa (Exodus 34:22) we find the following:

You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Feast of the Ingathering at the turn of the year.

Interestingly, In Nach (the Prophets), in Sefer Yirmiyahu (the book of Jeremiah), we may also find an explicit mention of the term Feast of Weeks for the holiday:  In the midst of the prophet’s chastisement of the Israelites for not appreciating God’s kindnesses, Jeremiah 5:24 states:

They have not said to themselves,

“Let us revere the L-RD our God,

Who gives the rain,

The early and late rain in season,

Who keeps for our benefit

The weeks appointed for harvest.”

This last line might be more than a general description of the agricultural process, but a reference to the holiday! That is, this is another mention of the Feast of Weeks.

Although in our Parashah there is no explicit mention of the term “Feast of Weeks,” one may say that there are oblique hints to it.

In our Parashah (Emor) there is a mention of the fifty day period of counting (seven weeks) leading up to the festival, which is easily recognizable as a reference to the fact that the Festival at the conclusion of the counting is the Festival of Weeks. Thus, there is a reference to the name of the festival itself.  Moreover, there is also an oblique reference to the name of the festival as the Festival of First Fruits (as it appears in Parashat Pinhas), with the mention of the word first fruits.

Of course, nowhere in the Written Torah is there any mention of Hag Ha-Shavu’ot as the period in which God gave the Torah to the children of Israel, either explicitly or obliquely. Our identification of Hag Ha-Shavu’ot with Zeman Matan Toratenu is exclusively a function of our Torah She-Ba’al Peh: The Oral Torah. 

R. Isaac Arama (1420-1494), the author of the work ‘Aqedat Yitzhak, squarely addressed the following question; If we accept the principle that indeed Hag Ha-Shavu’ot is Zeman Matan Toratenu, why is there no mention of that fact in the Written Torah? He writes:

Regarding the sanctity of the great and holy day on which the Torah was given …reference is made to the completing of the counting, the offering of the two loaves. But why did not the Torah explain that it was on this day that we received the divine Torah, a theme which is central in our liturgy and customs from time immemorial?

His answer is as follows:

The commemoration of the giving of the Torah cannot be limited to a particular time like other matters connected with the festivals, but is a precept that applies at all hours and at all times, as it is written (Joshua 1:8) “The Book of the Law shall not move from your youth, and you shall meditate in it day and night.” Every day we are commanded that its contents should remain as fresh and as dear to us, as on the day they were given, as it is written, “This day the L-RD your God has commanded you to perform these statutes and judgments” You shall therefore keep and do them….”

Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997) (Studies in Va-Yiqra [Jerusalem, 1980], pp. 221-23) connects this answer with the answer of R. David Zvi Hoffman(1843-1921) to the celebrated question why there are no specific rituals for Hag Ha-Shavu’ot. R. Hoffman, in his commentary on Leviticus, writes:

No symbolic ritual was instituted for Shavu’ot to mark the Siniatic revelation, for the reason that it cannot be translated into the tangible symbol. The Children of Israel had been commanded to take heed “that you saw no likeness on the day that the L-RD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire,” so as not to become involved in any idolatrous, anthropomorphic conception of the divinity. They were simply bidden to commemorate the historic experience. They would celebrate on the day of the giving of the Law the conclusion of the harvest as well, to give thanks to him on bringing the first- fruits to the Sanctuary and acknowledge that He is the Lord of all to Whom it was meet to pay homage and Whose commandments they were to obey. By this they would reenact the promise they made on Sinai “we shall do and hearken (Exodus 24:7).”

According to this approach, one may say that as a concession of our human needs for anniversaries, we mark off Hag Ha-Shavu’ot as Zeman Matan Toratenu. But, as a religious value, every day is Zeman Matan Toratenu. That is why there are no specific biblical rituals to commemorate Shavu’ot as Zeman Matan Toratenu. And that is why the Written Torah does not even mention the fact that the Torah was given on Shavu’ot. The eternal Torah is forever reenacted in are hearts. As the Midrash Tanhuma, Parashat Ki Tavo states: “Every day let the Torah be as dear to you as if you had received it this day from Mount Sinai.”


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  1. Title: Questions about this passage
    Author: Eric Banks ,

    Hello David Horwitz,

    I would deeply appreciate it if you could answer a couple of questions. reguarding Exodus 23:15-16

    Did the grain harvest began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot?

    Did the feast of harvest (which was the first fruits) happen near the time of abib or nisan?

    Isn't Abib called Aviv in the torah and called the month of the Aviv, referring to the month in which barley was ripe?

    When did the feast of ingathering take place? was it at the end of the year December?

    Was the feast of ingathering a harvest of wheat?

    Exodus 23:15-16 Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:) And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.

    On the sixteenth day of the month, harvest was begun by gathering a sheaf of barley, which was offered as a sacrifice to God (Lev 23:4-11) when the Temple existed.

    I'm trying to find out if there were 2 harvest, one of barley(the feast of harvest ) and the other of wheat(the feast of ingathering).
    And if the first fruits was gathered before the feast of ingathering.

    Thank you,
    Watchman Banks

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