A short summary of Shavuot

You can also read previous studies on this site.


While staying up all night, learning Torah, is a beautiful Shavuot custom, Jewish Law prohibits afflicting or torturing oneself on a holiday-- so go to sleep if you don't feel well. If you can comfortably do so, join the crowd for sunrise services at the wall-- bring your own siddur.

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3-In-One Revelation

God reveals Himself in 3 interpenetrating simultaneous dimensions-- law (Torah), history and nature. The most significant revelation of His Presence, however, may be in the social and political efforts of His faithful children, who have integrated all 3 realms, to bring about God's Kingdom, the rule of justice and mercy among all his creatures (Rav Mendel Lewittes Z"l; Shalom Freedman interviews him, myself and 19 other contemporary teachers of Torah in "In The Service of God", published by Jason Aaronson-- $30 from TOP).


V. THE SHAVUOT TORAH READINGS-- with a new translation of the 10 Statements.


SHAVUOT IS CELEBRATED BY ALL JEWS ON SIVAN 6 AS Z'MAN MATAN TORATEINU, THE SEASON or TIME OF THE GIVING OF OUR TORAH. BUT THIS DESCRIPTION, THO USED IN ALL OUR PRAYERS, NEVER APPEARS IN THE TORAH ITSELF!! (at least at 1st glance). Indeed, we only HEARD the Decalogue then; Moshe brought and broke the 2 tablets only after his 40 day stint on Sinai. The Torah itself was only given gradually, thruout the desert trek, per Rav Yishmael; even Rebbe Akiva, who claims that the entire Torah was given at Sinai, is likely referring to Moshe receiving it Upstairs, not the folk from him; apparently those who composed the prayers for the holiday viewed the Decalogue as the essence of the Torah; perhaps z'man matan torateinu refers to the beginning of "the season", not the day, of Moshe receiving the Torah from God.


1a) "AND YOU SHALL MAKE (the natural festival of) THE FIRST FRUITS OF THE WHEAT HARVEST A FESTIVAL OF WEEKS FOR YOURSELF" (celebrating the first fruits of your own spiritual ripening, after the soul-building 7 week omer period-- Hirsch; Ex. 34:22).



2) "AND THE FESTIVAL OF HARVEST, THE FIRST FRUITS OF YOUR LABORS...-- Exodus 23:16 (first fruits are brought from Shavuout to Succot-- Mish. Bik. 1:6)".


4) "(COUNT 50 DAYS...) YOU SHALL PROCLAIM (a special day) ON THAT VERY DAY-- A HOLY CONVOCATION (mikra kodesh)IT SHALL BE FOR YOU (Lev. 23:21)"; Here Shavuot has no name-- it appears just as an extension of Pesach.

But the rabbis called the holiday ATZERET, except in prayer; Hirsch defines ATZERET: that which retains, or abides with, something else. So the day after the 7 days of Sukkot, called an "atzeret", is otherwise unnamed (Lev. 23:36, Num. 29:35); we simply call it The 8th Day, or The 8th Day of Atzeret. It's a reflective afterword, a ceremony-free culmination, to Succot, yet also a holiday unto itself; Shavuot plays a similar role, vis-a-vis Passover. The 7th day of Passover is also called Atzeret (Deut. 16:8 above); the term may thus also apply to the FEAST OF WEEKS immediately following in 16:10; then Passover would have 2 periods for reflection-- immediate and long-range (cf. delayed grief-reaction). Such a day doesn't communicate new truths, but keeps us before God's Presence a bit longer, to fix in our memories those perceptions already gained. We gather up and preserve the treasures of spirit gathered during the festivals, thereby preserving ourselves for God (Hirsch; so Yitzchak represents the disciplining and structuring (gvura) of Avraham's dynamic outreaching experience (hesed), per Kabala, as rationally and symbolically understood by Rav J. B. Soloveichik; Yaakov integrates both to achieve truth (emes), and glory (tiferes). So we make a "mini-atzeret", an overnight stay, after every offering to God at the Temple (Sifrei Num. 29:35).

Neither Philo nor Josephus refers to celebrating the Giving of the Torah on Shavuot. Yet the Talmud concludes that the Decalogue was indeed spoken on Sivan 6, Shavuot, 2448 (per the calendar of Seder Olam, never used as such in the Tanach; it was spoken on the 7th, per R. Yose, the preparation having been completed on the 6th-- Shabat 86b, Pes. 68b; the 6th would have been the day or "time" ordained by God to give the essence of His Torah, but that first Shavuot was delayed a day by Moshe, for technical reasons). But it's highly improbable that the commemoration of such an universe-shattering event, whose date IS indeed a holiday, would be ignored by the Torah itself!--

SOME APPROACHES TO THIS PROBLEM: RAV MOSHE ALSHICH (died 1593) was one of the few great scholars granted traditional ordination (not today's non-halachic smicha) in S'fat; he, in turn, ordained fellow kabbalist Chayim Vital. He claims that the Torah doesn't want to openly and joyously commemorate its own giving, due to its tragic outcome-- the Golden Calf debacle! But, if so, why did the rabbis later do the opposite? Perhaps much of Israel had by then indeed achieved that integrated faith and unity with God, which was to flow from the Decalogue at Sinai.

ABARBANEL views the giving and accepting of the Torah as a constant process, not to be limited to one day (cf. Mothers' Day). Again we ask: "Why didn't the rabbis continue the Torah's approach?" Exodus from Egypt's physical and spiritual enslavement is also commemorated by all the holidays-- yet it too is an ongoing constant process.

A MUCH SIMPLER APPROACH: "THE FESTIVAL OF WEEKS" does indeed imply the celebration of God's giving the Torah at Sinai. It refers to the 7 weeks counted from Passover to Shavuot. After the barley offering of the 2nd day of Pesach, new grain may be eaten, and the 49 day countup to Shavuot starts... AND YOU SHALL THEN (after the 49) OFFER A NEW MEAL OFFERING TO GOD, FROM WHERE YOU LIVE, YOU SHALL BRING BREAD OF WAVING. TWO, THEY SHALL BE, OF 2 TENTH PARTS OF FINE FLOUR (wheat), BAKED LEAVENED, FIRST FRUITS TO GOD (23:17-8). Why count and celebrate the simple passing of 7 weeks? Why a barley offering at one end, wheat at the other? No such procedure is mentioned by other holidays--

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Counting the omer is an exercise in human self-development, orderly progression toward a great goal. A necessary pre-condition is to govern and sanctify, not destroy, the vital animal side of man; this is symbolized by the barley offering, animal fodder. The 7 weeks terminate in higher human development, also dedicated to God-- the offering of the first wheat loaves. Wheat is that food uniquely designed by God for man to PROCESS, the beginning of his intelligence and civilization (a child does not utter his first words-- abba, ima-- until he's tasted wheat-- Ber. 40a). Passover is simple physical freedom, Shavuot the ultimate holy development of a free man, ready to receive the Torah-- "YOUR" WEEKS (Num. 28:26). Man who develops his Divine Image is a creature of free will, not just animal instinct, and requires a guide--

The Torah may prefer the phrase THE FESTIVAL OF WEEKS-- YOUR WEEKS, to THE FESTIVAL OF THE GIVING OF OUR TORAH. The latter only describes GOD'S role; the Torah wants to stress OUR role-- active, tho gradual, preparation for, and response to, His gift-- i.e. THE RECEIVING, and, even more important, THE LIVING, of our Torah; Divine Revelation becomes part of our souls via "our weeks", during THE SEASON OF THE GIVING OF OUR TORAH, culminating with the Decalogue. Pesach was a basically passive physical beginning of Jewish redemption, gradually leading to the inner spiritual liberation of Jewish ex-slaves. But God's KINGDOM OF PRIESTS (Ex. 19:6), those who receive and study His Torah, must also further develop them selves as a HOLY NATION (which develops every realm of collective existence; ibid)-- they mustn't abandon life for sanctity, but use sanctity to transform life, to give it meaning and depth (Rav Dovid Hoffman, an early critic of the Bible critics). Today we are still a dispersed people, unable to express our great Divine potential-- our "right hands", our power, has atrophied in exile; our "tongues cleave to the roof of our mouths", our message is subdued amidst an alien Diaspora majority; yet we retain our age-old covenantal relationship with a Supreme Being, chosen "to perform a revolutionary task: to witness, thru our behavior and a-historical fate, the presence of the absolute in history" (sociologist Dan Segre).

So women shouldn't be deprived of the great life-affirming religious experience of shabbat and holiday zemirot-- some arrangement should be made for them to join in, or sing separately; in permtting mixed male-female singing for Bnei Akiva, Rav Yechil Weinberg (in Sredei Aish) quoted an early decisor, cited in Sdei Chemed, who rules that a woman's voice creates a sensual environment only when she sings sensual songs-- shabbat zemiros or prayers at the Wall create no such effects in normal men (see our Vayera study).

19th Century East European oriented rabbis disagree-- their followers receive virtually no secular or professional education, and minimize activism and social involvement (except for elections and fund raising). The ideal of Torah combined with ways of the earth is stressed only by their Westernized counterparts, e.g. Rabbis A. Y. Kook, J. B. Soloveichik, S. R. Hirsch, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe (the latter 3 believed in higher learning for women, Rav Kook that they should not be involved in public affairs, e.g. elections). The Rebbe indeed so explains the kabbalistic custom of staying up all night on Shavuot-- we resist the temptation to enter the disembodied HIGHER soul world of sleep this night! Torah is for those who are truly awake in this world-- sometimes the shofar has to wake us up to reality. Yet Kabbala may never interfere with halacha-- one probably should not stay up if he'll then feel very uncomfortable on this day of rejoicing.

Per Rav. A.Y. Kook, early Zionist secular pioneers tried to rectify this East European historic imbalance-- to get back the BODY of the DISEMBODIED holy Jewish people, who could be beaten, killed and raped at whim (our greatest sages may have the most profane Cossack ancestry-- cf. Ruth). They would do so by physical redemption of the land and State of Israel; then they would begin a long countup to revive the holy Jewish SPIRIT (49 years?). The new combination of body and spirit (e.g. Yeshivat Hesder), eventually emerging from Israel, will have vast impact; it will be an existential model for the whole world-- even Esav was impressed by the new Yaakov-Yisroel (Gen. 33:4, 36:6). So Rav Kook hoped that H.U. would blend our holy mission with secular studies, to enlighten the world-- not only has his dream not yet been realized, but even that of Bialik-- that all university studies would be infused with Jewish culture and civilization-- remains a lost hope at H.U. & T.A.U.; so many of their teachers have assimilated the lifestyle, values and patterns of thought of Western Academia, as did their German predecessors; unlike BIU, one needn't take any Jewish studies whatsoever at H.U., whose mostly heretical Bible Department has so few students. Thus the Torah stresses its ultimate goal in talking about the first fruits, rather than the giving of the Torah, on Shavuot-- that normal life, agriculture-- wheat loaves and first fruits-- be dedicated and sanctified on Torah's anniversary-- the truest celebration of RECEIVING the Torah.

Once the Temple was destroyed by lack of proper integration of soul and body, in an overly materialist Israel, these offerings could no longer be brought; the rabbis THEN stressed SOUL on Shavuot-- the giving and accepting of the formal Torah per se, to be constantly reviewed on deeper and deeper levels. Eventually it will be truly accepted, leading to an indestructible 3rd Commonwealth & Temple, with renewed physical offerings. Even those who hold that bodily rejoicing is OPTIONAL on other holidays, declare feasting mandatory on Shavuot. As Nadav, Avihu, & Co., we "see" God and eat and drink (Ex. 24:11). R. YOSEF WOULD ORDER ON SHAVUOT: "PREPARE ME A THIRD GROWN CALF", saying: "BUT FOR THE INFLUENCE OF THIS DAY, HOW MANY YOSEFS ARE THERE IN THE MARKET"! (Pes. 68b)-- the Torah was his sole distinction.

Likewise, returnee yeshivot should especially celebrate Yom Haatzmaut-- a free state of Israel is a prerequisite to all their wonderful work. In the improved Hatikva, "To be a free people in our land" precedes "To be a holy people in our land!". Big public celebrations by such yeshivot and Habad, similar to the 19th of Kislev and Simchat Beit Hashoeva, would greatly enhance Jewish unity, and greatly increase their impact upon the Jewish people.

NIGHT & DAY, YOU ARE THE ONE: The Sochachover Rebbe explores Israel's day and night trek thru the desert. Just as there must be no interruption when progressing toward the holy land, so the whole performance of counting the omer is negated, if one day is missed. We must strive to grow, even during the unclear murky "night" of grave doubts as to the validity and clarity of our goals and insights (but see IX, infra).

Even our rests, encampments, must further our march. Night and day symbolize 2 paradoxical but necessary aspects of man. Clarity of vision, conviction, and decisiveness, together with a sense of knowing nothing for sure, of doubting oneself and one's actions, "ad d'lo yada", the mood of Purim and Yom K'purim. Beware of simplistic solutions.

Barley and wheat offerings portray a similar paradox. As a barley eating animal, subject to natural law, Man must be subservient, passive, in the hands of God; yet he must simultaneously retain the vitality and free will of a human wheat eater. He must challenge the godless with strength, while submerging his ego into that of God. The passive Exodus Jewish slave is to become the active Sinai Jew of free will-- he accepts the Torah after 49 "complete" days of self-cleaning of his impulsive oven; 49 years is called "forever", when a Jewish servant elects to remain such until the Jubilee year. Only God, the Rule Maker, is truly free; man can only approximate His freedom, insofar as he establishes links to Divinity, thru Torah (Arye Kaplan). Sefer Chinuch (mitzvah 306) views the counting as reflecting Israel's eager anticipation of the giving of the Torah.

Barley offerings are brought by a disloyal wife to establish her innocence of ultimate betrayal to her husband (Sotah). The Jews, so steeped in Egyptian corruption and idolatry (alternative life styles?), were also in such a lowly animal state at Exodus. R. Elazer b. Aruch makes a good heart-- lev tov-- a prerequisite for Torah. Lev Tov = 32+17 = 49, the levels of progress from the Omer offering. The first 32 days we mourn ever-present evil, for our Temple is still not rebuilt. TOV (good, 17) reflects the last 17 days, from Lag B'Omer, when glimmerings of goodness and good news break thru. Finally, on Shavuot, we're able to bring LEAVENED loaves-- to use man's aggressive free impulse itself, symbolized by fermented grain, for God's goals-- BODY AND SOUL UNITED.


RAV. M. GIFTER stresses that Sinai's theophany is'nt just a "bible story" of antiquity, but the account of a duly-witnessed event, passed on from fathers to sons in every generation; it gives the Jew the strength to survive the long dark night of history, until Messianic dawn arises in the State of Israel. It gives him a pre-disposition to Torah, coupled with his universal pre-natal religious and secular enlightenment. As soon as a child can speak, he is taught: MOSHE COMMANDED US THE TORAH, AN INHERITANCE FOR THE COMMUNITY OF ISRAEL. Deut. 4:5-11 stresses that the Jew can never forget his rendezvous with God at Chorev. It remains in every Jew's soul, prodding him toward his Divine potential. So Rambam assumes that every Jew, deep down, "in his kishkes" (Carlebachian parlance), wants to do God's Will, tho we may have "to beat the devil out of him" (M. T. Divorce 22:20). We're not to aid heretics in distress -- they destroy the unity and mission of Israel, e.g. early Karites and Spinoza; but this doesn't apply to their descendants, captives of their upbringing and environment, in an age where God's hidden (M.T. Mamrim, Hazann Ish, Rav J. Soloveichik; unfortunately many haredim are unaware of the distinction; When The Messiah Comes, praised by leading misnagdic "gdolim", opens with a tragic perversion of halacha- a "mitzva" to hate even mistaken or ignorant non-believers; these "gdolim" apparantly read neither the book nor true "gadol" Norman Lamm's exposition of the Rambam, and how to relate to the non-Orthodox).

Rabbi Dovid Hartman (who is speaking this Shavuot night, God willing, at 10:30 at The Hartman Institute) rejects both the above concept of the "pintele yid" and unconscious secular Zionist piety, posited by both Rav Kook and Rav Soloveichik. He acknowledges the seriousness and "inner integrity" of A.B. Yehoshua, Yosi Beilin, and other knowledgeable avowedly secular Zionists, who deny and ignore the Biblical purpose and mission of Israel (and the Jewishness of the Jewish state?); he debates them ardently, but without assuming that he's igniting some buried inner spark.

WHO KNOWS 10? GOD'S 10 STATEMENTS contain the basic principles of His 613 commandments, per Saadya Gaon (so does every word of the Torah, per the Besht). This system is developed in a commentary to Song of Songs, attributed to Ramban; Rabbenu Bachye b. Asher (Kad HaKemach) expands and expounds the 10, divided into 3 catagories-- commandments affecting heart, speech and action. The central heart is man's most important realm (cf. R. Elazer above), with which the Decalogue begins, in declaring basic faith in Divine Providence. Non-Jewish faiths stress general principles, rather than specific laws, of religion, one reason why Zen Buddhists are inappropriate guides for Jews, per Rav M. Gafni; our great rabbis, in response to heretics (e.g. early Christians), deemphasized the central role of the 10 Statements-- you can't grow a forest without trees! Yet the rabbis equated the decalogue with the entire Torah, in calling Shavuot "the time of the giving of our Torah" in our prayers; but the prayers were composed long before Christianity arose, with its attempt to substitute the Decalogue for the 613 mitzvos.

IV. A MESSAGE FROM RUTH, the book of the O.T. (Only Testament), read on Shavuot.

Ruth reminds us of individual non-Jewish acceptances of Torah, often harder than that of collective Jewry at Sinai. Ruth also reminds us of the need for CONSTANT day-in, day-out commitment, of halacha. Orpa's impulsive kiss, howbeit sincere and "turned-on", is quickly forgotten by both her and her descendants (cf. a tourist's half hour at the Wall). Ruth's committed embrace leads to an unbreakable link; it will eventually bring David's descendant, the great, but human, messianic teacher-- it's sort of a shame that it wasn't the rebbe. Ruth's theme, that the greatest good can emerge from the most sordid scene (Ruth's ancestor Lot), is itself a Shavuot message-- even the puffed up leavened bread can become a sacrifice to God. Ruth also reminds us that the intense, quiet, and constant devotion of a downtrodden woman, born pagan, may be deeper and more stable than the Pre-Calfian enthusiastic mass Jewish response to Sinai. Amy Klein surveyed all sorts of Jewish reactions to Ruth in her interesting "with it" article in the JP Shavuot magazine; but I feel that she should not have cited the silly lesbian attempt to bring Ruth and Naomi into their perverse lifestyle, tho it's politically correct for such Post articles to include some shocking controversial matters, no matter how ridiculous.

Eliyahu Ki Tov notes that Moabite Ruth could marry Boaz, eventually producing David and the Messiah, only due to the Oral Law transmitted from Moshe-- it banned only male Moabites from marrying native Jews (Deut. 23:4); so Ruth is read on Shavuot to stress the equal or greater importance of God's Oral Law, His main unique covenant with Israel (per Rav Yochanan-- see Jer. Talmud Peah 2:4). Rav Nathan T. Lopes Cardozo portrays the necessity for the oral tradition in The Infinite Chain (his many tapes are available at TOP): "Despite the beauty of its messages and the profundity of its thoughts, with no traditional explanations and interpretations to unlock its secrets, the written Torah would remain a closed book. Indeed, it cannot really exist without the orally transmitted Torah, for its brevity and style presuppose that the reader has received instruction in decoding its message"; so the Torah refers us to the Talmud in Deut. 12:21, where ritual slaughter is ordained, but not explained, except in the accompanying oral tradition. Rav Dr. Jose Faur, in a TOP-Ohr Hachayim lecture, noted that one cannot fully understand and appreciate any literary work, unless he/she's well grounded in that culture and background, within which the work is written. So his grandchildren must explicate the implications of Mad Magazine for him, and his New York background renders the L.A. Times obscure to him, relative to the N.Y. Times.


PROLOGUE, EXODUS 18: Moshe's father-in-law Yisro hears of Exodus and arrives at Israel's desert camp with Moshe's wife and two sons. He delightedly praises God for delivering Israel, and acknowledges His supremacy. He advises overhaul of the Rabbinical Court, when he sees the huge queue waiting all day for Moshe's justice-- Moshe should teach the law directly, rather than by the case method. Yisro recommends a hierarchy of leader-judges for groups of 10, 50, 100, and 1000; Moshe is only to judge the BIGGEST cases, i.e. those of the greatest economic importance. Moshe agrees, but with one change-- he'll take only the HARDEST cases himself; justice per se, not the sum involved, is of primary importance. Righteous gentile Yisro appears in the Torah just before the Decalogue, tho, in fact, he may have arrived at Israel's encampment later. Jewish priestly separation is ultimately to benefit, and be benefitted by, universal mankind. No man's blood is redder than another's. While the unauthoritative kabbalistic tradition stresses innate qualities of the "Jewish Soul", Rambam disagrees; Kabbala's a set of metaphors for transcendental Divine states, not a guide for practice, or a reflection of reality, in this world (Rav A. Brandwine, quoting Rav Ashlag). For every Amalek, there's a Yisro! Both the pursuit of peace and the welfare of Jews thruout the world require us to treat gentile lives and property as Jewish ones, though theoretical theological and philosophic constructs may indicate otherwise.

An American Orthodox Jew, in an angry public outburst, protested Pat Boone's amplified singing of Christian songs in the Jewish Quarter's Cardo; was the Jew's act wrong, tho his point correct? Should he have first expressed appreciation for Boone's support for Israel, and only then corrected him in a pleasant manner? Was Boone most insensitive to Jewish feelings? Was he just used to American freedom to do your own religious thing in any public place? Does his opponent have similar freedom?

CH. 19: JEWISH UNITY had to precede Torah-- ISRAEL CAMPED (singular, as one person) ABOUT THE MOUNT (Sinai, on Sivan 1-- Ex. 19:2). Moshe ascends. God tells him to remind the Jews of Exodus. Tho He's universal, they will be His special treasure, IF they really hear His voice and heed His covenant-- to be a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY (model) NATION to humanity (cf. Zech. 2:14). Their unamimous response is: ALL THAT GOD SAID, WE'LL DO! Moshe relays the pledge. God then tells him to sanctify the people for 2 days, prior to Sinai's revelation. Anyone touching Mt. Sinai will die. Some say that Moshe added a 3rd day to ensure ritual purity, a precedent for rabbinic safeguards to ensure observance of the Torah. Others say that he took the stricter of 2 possible readings of God's command-- even Moshe's not sure of everything; Yochanan b. Zakai never knew if he did right in demanding only Yavneh from Vespesian; those who insist that all be black and white, that "gedolim" can't err, and thus ignore possible alternatives, are ignoring truth. Thunder, lightning and thick clouds envelop Mt. Sinai at the 3rd day's dawn. All are awe-struck as an intense shofar wail grows louder and louder. Moshe speaks-- God responds. He calls Moshe up, twice warning the people to stay back. MOSHE RETURNS TO BE WITH ISRAEL! God delivers 10 Axioms:

CH. 20: 1. I'M GOD, YOUR LORD, WHO TOOK YOU OUT OF EGYPTLAND, THE HOUSE OF SLAVES (not SLAVERY-- The Egyptians were the slaves, to their own sensual and aggressive impulses-- ultimate freedom, bestowed on Israel at Exodus, is internal, the ability to transcend physical experience via Torah. In this First Statement, God commands belief in His Providence, per Kuzari, (1:89; per Rambam, in The Guide, Divine Providence over individuals is limited to human beings, and only to the extent that they're unique individuals; He relates to trees, birds, etc. only as groups, species, not caring what happens to one driven leaf; others disagree. Perhaps Halevi reads: "I, God (His name numerically = 26-- ahava, love = 13 + echad, One = 13) of love and ultimate unity, am also there when I appear as the Lord (= 86 = hateva, nature) of seemingly impersonal diversified nature"; so our grand conclusion of Yom Kippur, repeated 7 times, is "God, He's the Lord".

2. YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER LORDS "IN MY PRESENCE"-- but God's Presence is everywhere and forever! So what's the limitation? But this phrase adds that even His servants, those "in His presence", may not be worshipped, e.g. the sun and angels (rebbes and roshei yeshiva too?). They're not Him, tho "part" of Him. Vilna Gaon prohibits all prayers to angels, e.g. on Y.K., and in Shalom Aleichem on Friday night (I just eliminate the request to the angels to bless me-- there's no harm in saying "Hi!" and "Bye!" to them, tho it may be a bit silly; the surrounding texts remind us that all blessing is solely in God's discretion). Likewise, we mustn't idolize the outer form of mitzvos, whose inner meaning is primary (Kotzker, Fun Unzer Alte Otzer II:82).

YOU SHALL NOT CARVE OR REPRESENT THAT IN HEAVEN ABOVE, ON EARTH BELOW (or UNDERGROUND), OR IN THE WATER BELOW THE EARTH (deep down, way below shore level-- YF: man's in fear and awe of those realms he cannot roam and conquer-- e.g. Torah? Kabala? God?). The sea and the earth comprise one globe-- Ibn Ezra! Ramban adds: Don't worship even demons beneath the water, per Job 26:5, and reflections in the water, per Mechilta; some say there's no prophecy or Divine Revelation at sea (see Artscrolls Yona 1:3). DON'T BOW DOWN TO THEM, NOR SERVE THEM, FOR I, GOD, AM YOUR LORD, AN AVENGING POWER (towards those who deny My exclusive power), WHO TAKES THE SINS OF FATHERS INTO ACCOUNT, AS RELEVANT TO THEIR DESCENDANTS FOR 3-4 GENERATIONS (per Rav Leo Jung z"l), FOR THOSE WHO HATE ME, AND WHO DOES KINDNESS FOR THOUSANDS (of generations) FOR THOSE WHO LOVE ME AND KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS (vs. Reform & non-Jewish belief, that one can maintain love of God without keeping mitzvot; true love is expressed in deeds). Sefer HaKuzari (1:89) prohibits ascribing any physical property to God, Who's even more limitless than human souls; He may, however, will that His desire become concrete, e.g. in the engraved tablets and Sinai's voices. This verse proclaims that God's reward and punishment is proper and rational, tho often beyond human comprehension (Kuzari 5:21).

3. YOU SHALL NOT BEAR GOD'S NAME IN VAIN-- GOD WILL NOT HOLD SUCH A MAN GUILTLESS. Speech (especially Hebrew), the Divine element in Man, God's tool of Creation, is a powerful holy force, as is God's Name-- He uses both to create the universe. It should never be profane or silly.

4. KEEP THE SABBATH DAY IN MIND, TO SANCTIFY IT. WORK 6 DAYS. PERFORM ALL YOUR TASKS, BUT THE 7TH DAY IS HOLY TO GOD, YOUR LORD. DON'T DO PHYSICALLY CREATIVE WORK ON IT (the 39 catagories are defined in the oral law); NOT YOU, YOUR SON, YOUR DAUGHTER, YOUR MALE OR FEMALE SERVANT, YOUR ANIMAL, OR YOUR STRANGER (ger) WITHIN YOUR GATES-- "ger toshav", a non-Jew who agrees to observe the 7 Noachic precepts; tho he needn't and shouldn't observe Shabbat, he's to share the Shabat rest-- Hertz; you may not use him for YOUR forbidden work. But Mechilta says that YOUR STRANGER means a convert to Judaism, a ger tzedek; he must now observe the Sabbath, tho he wasn't to do so before his conversion; ger toshav is covered by THE STRANGER in a similar verse, Ex. 23:12. See Ramban and Hirsch, Deut. 24:14, 29:10, and 31:12, where Ibn Ezra says that non-Jews attend Hakhel, to encourage them to convert! (Gershom Tryster does conversion and anti-missionary counselling at TOP; his tape, The Myth of Christianity, is $10 postpaid). Jews revive the universal Shabbat celebration of Creation, forgotten by the rest of mankind (but cf. 7th Day Adventists). It's message, that all share 1 Creator, leads to the message of Exodus, that one Jew may not enslave another (Rav S. Riskin-- but educative slavery of idolators was permitted in Only Testament times).

5. HONOR (treat well) YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER. This connects Divine and interpersonal morality. Care and reverence for one's parents, his life-giving origin and link to God, leads to gratitude and awe vis-a-vis God, per Rav. J. Soloveichik (see Blidstein, Honor Thy Father and Mother).

6. DO NOT MURDER (people)-- but killing is sometimes commanded, e.g. to prevent murder and rape (showing rape's terrible effects upon the victim-- Tzipora Heller), capital punishment and righteous wars.

7. DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY means "don't take another's wife". The Torah permits polygamy, solving the problem of surplus women-- if women sleep only with their husbands, all paternity is clear. Only Ashkenazim accepted R. Gershom's 1000 year (recently expired) ban on polygamy (deplored by Y. Emden in Sh'alot Yavetz II:15, praised by Rav J. B. Soloveichik); Israeli rabbis outlawed it for all Jews in 1951, with a grandmother clause for hitherto polygamous Sephardim-- but today's Sfardim may still practice polygamy, per their great pllitical leader Rav O. Yosef (how does this affect your vote for Shas?).

8. DO NOT STEAL (Per Targum Yonaton) or DO NOT KIDNAP (per Mechilta, San. 86); theft is prohibited in Lev. 19:11-- YOU (plural) SHALL NOT STEAL.

9. DON'T GIVE FALSE WITNESS AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOR. Don't give hearsay evidence; testify only as to what you saw.

10. DO NOT COVET (envy) YOUR NEIGHBOR'S HOUSE, WIFE, MALE OR FEMALE SERVANT, OX OR ASS, OR ANYTHING BELONGING TO YOUR NEIGHBOR. Some prohibit even cultivating envious feelings; others say that only ACTION is forbidden, e.g. taking a walk with his wife, or pressuring him to sell his house, even for a high price. The Radviller (Esser Orot p. 66) says that failure to heed this 10th fiat sends one back to GO, the first command-- trust only Providential God; He alone decides what each should have.

Rav M. Gafni noted that I must first find my "self", my essence, my mission, before I can voluntarily merge that essence with Israel's overall mission, to be part of my people, not just an individual; jealousy, that which I begrudge others and wish for myself, is often a good teacher of just what I aim to achieve, of my mission; I'm not jealous of others' success in realms to which I do not aspire. The other type of jealousy, where I wish another to focus exclusively upon me, rather than their own self-development, where I try to control my "beloved", precludes true love.

After this peak experience and some words with the people, Moshe returns for further instructions. He's to order the Jews not to make idols, even of somewhat Divine beings (e.g. angels, celestial bodies-- the Wall?). Sacrifices require an altar of earth, and the eventual stone altar is not to be hewn (a profanity, due to metal's association with swords). A ramp, not steps, leads to the altar, to conceal (even a suggestion of) the cohen's nakedness (he wore breeches). WHEREVER God is mentioned (tabernacle and temple), He'll (again) come down and bless the Jews. Grand revelation thus culminates in ultra-sensitive detailed Temple laws, to guard against both over-involvement with the body, and power trips, the Adam, Eve and Cain syndromes, franchised in the Flood and Tower generations. Israel is to sanctify, not abandon, both realms. If one doesn't see the messages in the details-- Israel's grand Israeli Messianic mission in its partial priestly separation from this world, he may reject Judaism as provincial and irrelevant-- especially if he's concerned with world salvation and man's return to God, after the disasters of Lenin and Hitler, societies based on souless secularism (see Memories of an Ant, by Grigory Schmerling-- he abandoned his habitual and superficial Judaism, without probing its true depths; he also shuns Catholicism, often as wicked as the Nazis, e.g. Spain, with its Inquisition and torture of American Indians, The Crusades, The Chelmenicki massacres, etc.).

Rav Yehuda Henkin notes that commitment to mitzvos precedes and leads to their understanding; wisdom without deeds, as peace without truth, won't endure-- GUARD & HEAR ALL THESE WORDS WHICH I COMMAND YOU... (Deut. 12:28); ALL THAT GOD SAID-- WE'LL DO AND WE'LL LISTEN (to also try to understand the mitzva's messages-- Ex. 24:7; non-Orthodox Jews reverse this-- they will only do what they first understand). Israel was unified in accepting the DOING of mitzvos, "WITH ONE VOICE" (19:8, 24:3); once Moshe wrote them down for study, however, HEARING God's word, each must do his own thing at his own pace-- learning's an individual experience (24:7). Our real celebration is not God's bringing heaven's Torah down, Shavuot, but our learning it, bringing earth up to heaven-- Simchat Torah's the festival of harvesting the Torah. The Torah gives no date for Shavuot-- it's the beginning of a long process, determining what we'll do with our freedom and Torah, no longer in heaven. Torah must become the vehicle, not the baggage, of our lives (cf. our AM blessing: "God... Make the words of Your Torah SWEET in our mouths..."-- YF).

Shalom, the Peace of Completeness and Harmony, is transitory without ultimate truth. BUT I WISH TO HEAR WHAT GOD, THE ALMIGHTY WILL SAY, WHEN HE'LL PROCLAIM PEACE FOR HIS PEOPLE AND FOR HIS DEVOTED ONES, THAT THEY NOT BECOME A FOLLY AGAIN... (When) LOVING-KINDNESS AND TRUTH HAVE MET TOGETHER, (then) RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE HAVE KISSED EACH OTHER. WHEN TRUTH WILL GROW FROM THE EARTH (after its first been cast down to earth-- Gen. Raba 8:5), RIGHTEOUSNEESS WILL BE REFLECTED IN HEAVEN (Ps. 85:9ff). Mendel Hirsch notes that love leads to acts of kindness, while truth hurts people. He who practices kindness is esteemed; he who champions truth is shunned. Men wish to avoid God's one incorruptible truth, thus impeding salvation. When truth and kindness meet voluntarily, when men realize that the highest salvational kindness is to spread truth, tzedek (righteousness) will prevail, and the entire creation will again be in order; God will then reappear. It's not enough just to be a nice guy-- but it's likely a sine qua non!


describes the special sacrifices of this festival-- 2 young bullocks, 2 rams, and 7 he-lambs of the 1st year are to be given with their meal and drink offerings; a male atonement goat is added, as on New Moon and Passover. Only 1 bullock is brought on RH, YK, and Shmini Atzeret; 2 rams and 7-13 bullocks (total 70, for the 70 basic cultures) are brought on Sukkos; 2 lambs are offered daily, plus 2 more on Shabbat-- these are the public calendar sacrifices.


parallels the Divine Theophany on Sinai. Ezekial's prophetic vision of the Divine throne resembles Isaiah's. The Divine chariot, reflecting Divine Intimacy, is about to depart; it is part of a broken covenant, not a gift. Man must earn it. God's always ready to respond, to return to man with man's return to Him and himself. It's easier in Israel. See Jay Shapiro's stirring paeon to Aliyah, From Both Sides Now.

VIII. FROM THE SHAVUOT ANTHOLOGY, a rich basket of satisfying fruits, by Philip Goodman, JPS:

Whenever we read of divine revelation, we should feel the trembling experienced by those at Mount Sinai; we stand in awe and wonder at the words chosen by God for their hearing. He begins: "I the Lord am your God", and ends: "You shall not covet". He begins with the most important of fundamentals-- a knowledge of God, a recognition of Him from history, the establishment of His unity, His incorporality, the prohibition of making anything meant to be His likeness, and the prohibition of idolatry. He ends with something that no other faith or human legislation had ever dared to demand-- not only does He forbid adultery, He forbids us to even covet another man's wife; not only is it forbidden to steal, it is forbidden us even to covet the possessions of others. This is an example of a law that delves deeply into a region which, in other nations, is utterly separate from legislation. If, and we stress the "if", other cultures deal with such a question, it is at best part of their moral, but not of their legal, system-- ARON BARTH

THE BRINGING OF FIRST FRUITS: Some there are who bring bikkurim (first fruits) and recite (the declaration, Deuteronomy 26.5-10); others who may only bring them, but do not recite; some may not bring them at all... Why?-- "The choice first fruits of YOUR soil (Exodus 23.19)" means you may not bring them, unless all the produce (comes) from YOUR land-- tenants, lessees, occupiers of confiscated property and a robber may not bring them. (First fruits apparently express gratitude for acquiring part of God's holy land, not just for the fruit itself).

Bikkurim are brought only from seven types of produce (for which Israel was renowned: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and date honey); but none (may be brought) from dates grown on hills, nor from valley fruits (fruits grown in valleys, except dates, were not of the choice kind), nor from olives that are not of the choice kind. Bikkurim are not to be brought before Pentecost. The men of Mount Zeboim brought their bikkurim before Pentecost, but they weren't accepted, as written: "And the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field (Exodus 23.16)"-- Bikkurim 1.1-3.

How were the bikkurim set aside? A man goes down into his field and sees a fig, a cluster of grapes or a pomegranate, that ripened-- he ties a reed rope around it and says, "Let these be bikkurim". R. Simeon says: "Nevertheless, he must again designate them as bikkurim, after they've been plucked".

How were the bikkurim taken up (to Jerusalem)? All (inhabitants of) the cities that constituted the ma'amad (district) assembled... and spent the night in the open place... Early in the morning the officer said: "Let us arise and go up to Zion, to the house of the Lord our God". Those who lived near (Jerusalem) brought fresh figs and grapes, but those from a distance brought dried figs and raisins (fresh fruit would rot). An ox with horns bedecked with gold, and with an olive crown on its head, led the way. The flute was played before them, until they were nigh to Jerusalem; they then sent messengers in advance, and ornamentally arrayed their bikkurim. The governors and chiefs and treasurers (of the Temple) went out to meet them. According to the rank of the entrants, they went forth. All the skilled artisans of Jerusalem would stand up before them and greet them: "Brethren, men of X, we are delighted to welcome you".

The flute was played before them till they reached the Temple mount; then even King Agrippa would take the basket, place it on his shoulder, and walk as far as the Temple court. At the approach to the court, the Levites would sing the song: "I will extol Thee, O Lord, for You have raised me me up, and suffered not my enemies to rejoice over me" (Psalsm 30.2). The turtledoves (tied to) the basket were (offered up as) burnt offerings, but that which they held in their hands they presented to the priests. While the basket was yet on his shoulder, the donor recite from "I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God", until the completion of the passage (Deut. 26.3-10; per R. Judah, until "My father was a fugitive Aramean"). Having reached these words, he took the basket off his shoulder, and held it by its edge; the priest placed his hand beneath it, and waved it; he [the Israelite] then recited from "a fugitive Aramean" until he completed the entire passage. He would then deposit the basket by the side of the altar, prostrate himself, and depart (by reciting these passages in the Hagada, we link Passover to Shavuot-- Rav S. Riskin).

Originally, all who knew how to recite would recite, while those unable to do so would repeat the text (after the priests); when they refrained from bringing bikkurim (abashed at this public avowal of their ignorance in reading Hebrew), it was decided that both those who could, and those who could not (recite), should repeat the words (so today we have one reader of the Torah for everyone). The rich brought their bikkurim in baskets overlaid with silver or gold, while the poor used wicker baskets of peeled willow branches, and they used to give both the baskets and the bikkurim to the priest. On the way (to the Temple in Jerusalem to bring the first fruits), they would say: "I rejoiced when they said to me, `Let us go unto the house of the Lord'" (Psalms 122.1). In Jerusalem, they would say: "Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem" (ibid. 2). On the Temple mount, they would say: "Praise God in His sanctuary" (ibid. 150.1). In the Temple court, they would say: "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord" (ibid. 6).

It's reported that the ruling power made a decree that Israel should not bring wood to the altar, nor bring their first fruits to Jerusalem; they placed guards on the roads, as Jeroboam the son of Nebat had done, to prevent Israel from going on pilgrimage. What did the pious and sin-fearing men of that generation do? They took the baskets of the first fruits and covered them with dried figs and carried them with a pestle on their shoulders; when they reached the guards, they were asked: "Where are you going?" They replied: "With the pestle on our shoulders, we are going to make two cakes of pressed figs in the mortar we have yonder". When they had gone away from the (stupid or saintly) guard, they decorated the baskets and brought them to Jerusalem. One should deceive the wicked, e.g. Nazis and Chamas, or the Church, when it forced Jews to convert to remain in Spain.

Abraham ben Abraham was a nobleman, named count Valentine Potocki, before he became a proselyte. He taught that when God offered the Torah to the nations of the world and they refused it, some individuals among them were prepared to receive it; from them descended converts, whose souls were present at Mount Sinai. Due to his conversion to Judaism, abandoning the alleged "prince of peace", he was publicly burned at the stake by the alleged prince of peace's disciples in Vilna on Shavuot, May 24, 1749. He was memorialized in Vilna's main synagogue, on the anniversary of his martyrdom. Rabbi Hirsh Levinson would interrupt the rejoicing on Shavuot to relate how Abraham became a Jew, and how he died for the sanctification of His name, on the very day of the giving of the Torah. During the Crusades, an old Jew in Cologne was tortured until he lost consciousness, and was then baptized. When he became aware of what happened, he drowned himself in the Rhine (a sin?). In revenge, a mob invaded the synagogue and desecrated the scrolls of the Law on Shavuot, 5/30/1096.

All nations must turn to Israel and its Torah for their basic universal religion-- the 7 principles of the Noachide Code-- see Isaiah 2. Rav Eliyahu Benamozegh (in Israel and Humanity-- $35 from TOP) felt that this would occur via renewed and refined Islam and Christianity, returning to their Hebraic roots. On 3/20/91, Pres. Bush signed into law a Resolution recognizing Noachism as "the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization". A few years ago, as the Christian world was focusing on a modern version of pagan Easter (Ishtar), and Moslems on Mecca and Ramadan, a week before Passover, CNN proclaimed to the world the beginning of the return of Gentiles to the One God of Israel, via the Seven Laws of Noah (Dr. James D. Tabor).


Truly Grand Rabbi Mordecai Gafni gave a chock-full, pre-Shavuot 1996, consciousness-arousing presentation, "Where Is The (still, small) Voice of God, in a post-Sinai, post-Modern world?", in the beautiful, but overly chock-full, Zionist Confederation House; protest the really dangerous lack of protective grates on their large, often open, windows, three stories up.

Gafni spoke about the need to see and experience God every moment, to sense my momentary mission, a holy situation ethic, besides my persistant perusal of his factory-authorized instruction manual, issued over 3000 years ago. I eagerly go to meet a date, whom I've been dying to meet; but, when I arrive, I discover that she only left me a copy of a lovely letter she wrote me ages ago; I'm greatly elated by the letter, but even more greatly disappointed by not seeing her personally! I must seek God's presence constantly, but His revelation is very much a function of how I emulate him, and how much I become what I'm destined to become, innate in my sensitized consciousness.

But Gafni also cited Hassidic sources, who urge us to sometimes give up our own deepest sense of our personal life mission, when we realize that we are lacking essential elements for its success-- The Boss of Bosses may just not want it, at least not right now. Similarly, He may want you to help some simple shleps make a minyan, tho you may miss your great encounter with your Rebbe or Gafni's lecture. So the Berditchiver Rebbe sat with a crying child, while everyone waited for Kol Nidre. We must tune into the true tune of the times.

So we must make hard choices at election time; is our unquestionable Divine dream and mission, to be a people of priests to the whole world, a model holy nation, in all of our land, to be realized now, at any cost, no matter how the Arabs feel or react?-- or does God wants us to temporarily compromise with them, until we really get in shape and build a model Jewish Israel-- then they'll gladly help us build our, and their, 3rd Temple (see RAMBAN on Rechovot, Yitzchak's peaceful non-contested 3rd well). I don't know-- I'm just a bit of a "chumash chacham", neither an expert in political science, nor a prophet.

Meimad is a beautiful group of young idealistic Israeli religious peaceniks; they fight racism and religious coercion, which is always counter-productive-- God gives free will, CHOICE, to all His Images. But they have to watch their own morality too; policemen "protecting" one of Oz V'shalom-Netivot Shalom's (basically the same people as Meimad, which was supposed to be their political wing) demonstrations rudely threw me out, while Prof. Uriel Simon was speaking-- I was giving my cousin-by-marriage, Hadassah Berry, one of these sheets; only their own literature was permitted on the public premises!

So Meimad's big invitation to their conference at the Ramada, in the Post, failed to mention that the program was in Hebrew, likely causing great discomfort to many unwitting participants. The conference itself was quite impressive, featuring speakers from both Shalom Achshav and Gush Emunim, two models of non-political social-ideological organizations, with huge impact on Israeli society. So many young idealists showed up (about 1000) that all could not get in to hear Shimon Peres. The quiet acceptance of those excluded was really impressive, as was the general demeanor and refinement of those present, led by Rav Amital. But Peres' statement-- that his government could only get around to dealing with problems of Jewish education and identity once the peace process was completed-- was incredulous-- what in the world were the thousands of high paid bureaucrats in the ministries of religion and education doing meanwhile? How could anyone who cares about the Jewish identity of the State of Israel vote for the representatives of the movement which put Shulamit Aloni in charge of education and communications?-- unless they feel that the peace issue is paramount, and that the Likud will muff it. Most Meimad supporters seem to choose the Third Way and Yisroel B'Aliya as the movements closest to their heart, in that both support strongly Jewish Education and Jewish Identity, while opposing, as Rav J. Soloveichik, religious coercion. Sharansky is personally a great model for our youth, sacrificially similar to Yonaton of Entebbe, despite his recent response to the Bar-On affair.


Truly traditional Jews share one basic belief-- that God, the eternal sole Creator, is the sole Author of both the Written Torah and its Oral tradition, except where they themselves state otherwise, e.g. that Deuteronomy is the message of Moshe, given God's canonizing seal of approval. But, beginning with wicked Spinoza and his non-Jewish followers, the modern world has abandoned this belief, claimed multiple authors of the Torah, and denied the validity of the Oral Tradition. The situation has gotten so bad, outside of the truly traditional (or Orthodox) and fundamentalist Christian worlds, that the Documentary Hypothesis is taught as fact by the vast majority of university professors of religion and Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis; most Conservative or allegedly Masorati rabbis are similar. Their "Bibles" (Encyclopedia Judaica, The JPS Bible, and similar works) and "Temples" (H.U., H.U.C.. J.T.S., etc.) spread their heretical doctrine. Modern Jews, mostly Jewishly ignorant, follow them blindly, without deeply questioning and investigating their claims to know so much more than the great rabbis of all ages, indeed than Moshe himself.

Syrian Dayan and Bar Ilan Prof. of Talmud, Jose Faur, delivered a Freudian psychanalysis of Bible Critics, in a TOP lecture. He claimed that some of their outlandish rejection of Jewish tradition, while eagerly and blindly following old Middle Eastern idolatrous texts, is indicitive of Oedipal problems, rejecting objective paternal authority, exemplified by Torah and Tradition, to follow their own narcissistic hearts and eyes-- a reversion to infantile relationships with non-individualized mothers, who exist to satisfy one's every whim. Such people are linguistically primitive, tho very sophisticated, in that they cannot see metaphoric holistic connections between all reality, all stemming from one God. He saw the childless (or very few children) state of most of his critical collegues at JTS, as a result of this inability to recognize the independent validity of "father", rather than viewing him as an enemy of one's own pleasure-seeking. A tape is available of his highly creative exposition.

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