"I have come to the land which HaShem swore to our forefathers to give us."
The one day festival of Shavuot packs a double celebration. The central aspect of the Shavuot service in the Holy Temple focuses on the bringing of the bikkurim - the first fruits from the land of Israel. The moving ceremony, in which the G-d fearing toiler of the soil carries his first fruits in a wicker basket, (perhaps strewn with wisps of golden thread), to the kohen, who receives the fruit and places it alongside the altar, and then recites the biblical ((Deuteronomy 26) verses describing Israel's journeys throughout the generations and her ultimate arrival in Israel through the loving kindness of G-d, is thoroughly chronicled by Torah. The second aspect of Shavuot, receiving Torah at Mount Sinai, however, is never mentioned explicitly in Torah. We are told that the Sinai revelation occurred on the 6th day of the third month, (Sivan), and we are told that Shavuot is to be celebrated on the fiftieth day following the exodus from Egypt. If we do the math carefully we discover that both dates are, in fact one and the same. The day of the bringing of the first fruits is the day of the receiving of Torah.
A happy coincidence. Or is it? The bringing of the first fruits marks the completion of our journey as a people, from the exile of Egypt, through the wilderness, into the land of Israel, and ultimately, ascending to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, the place where G-d chose for His Shechinah - Divine Presence - to dwell. The farmer raises his crops on his soil, carefully marks the first fruits of the season by tying a bright ribbon around each one, and leaves his orchards and his fields secure in the knowledge that no harm will befall them as he and his family make their way to Jerusalem. This is freedom! This is the freedom that we declaim at the Passover Seder and even emulate on that night as we recline to our left side as we dine, in the manner of free men. But now it's not merely a declaration. Now it is for real!
Likewise, our freedom is dependent upon our receiving and taking upon ourselves the yoke of the commandments we received at Sinai. As Torah frequently points out, our freedom from the tyranny of others on this earth is dependent upon our accepting the sovereignty of G-d. And this we do by receiving Torah at Sinai. Free at last!
In both these aspects, Shavuot is truly the climax and the conclusion of Passover. Hence, the forty nine day counting of the Omer which separates the two holidays. This is further brought home symbolically by the unique Shavuot Temple offering of two loaves of bread baked with wheat. Passover introduces the barley harvest, which commences after the first day of Passover. Barley is a heavy, coarse grain, qualities which reflect the coarse and, as yet, unrefined spirituality of Israel as she emerged from Egypt. The forty nine days of the Omer afford us the opportunity to lift ourselves up, one day at a time, out of whatever spiritual exile or bondage we may find ourselves in. Finally, on Shavuot, we are at last ready to partake of the two loaves of wheat bread, symbolizing our spiritual maturation and perfection. Free at last - to be the person - to be the nation - that we were destined to be!
In truth, Shavuot is not the first opportunity we ever had to receive Torah, nor was it the first opportunity we ever had to bring to G-d that which belongs to Him - the first fruits. On the sixth day man was created. He, (Adam and Eve), were presented by G-d with a Torah consisting of a whole lot of dos and only one single don't: "But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it." (Genesis 2:17) How did man respond? Rather than accept G-d's will, he ate of the first fruit. Had he refrained from doing so, had he understood that the first fruit is for G-d and not for man, he would have tied a bright ribbon around that fruit. He would have designated it for G-d.
On Shavuot we are granted a great "second-chance" on man's behalf: We are granted the opportunity to right Adam's wrong, and to bring the first fruit of our labors to the altar of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And it is this small gesture, this small but world changing corrective in how we (man) relate to G-d, and how we understand our place and our role in this world that G-d created, which signifies that we are in deed, at long last fully ready, willing and able to take upon ourselves the responsibility of Torah. Free at last and ready to serve G-d!
Perhaps the reason Torah doesn't specify the Torah receiving aspect of Shavuot is to avoid the implication, G-d forbid, that receiving Torah is a one-time-a-year experience. Indeed, we should be acquiring Torah each and every day of the year, increasing our knowledge, measuring our thoughts, acting always in accordance with the responsibility with which G-d has imbued us, and drawing ourselves ever closer to Him. In short, to tie a bright ribbon around our hearts and our souls. We too, are the first fruits - the apple of G-d's eye. Chag Sameach Shavuot - A joy-filled Shavuot to all!
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as as Yitzchak Reuven, along with special guest host Tzvi Richman, discuss the holiday that concludes the counting of the Omer: Shavuot. Why are two loaves of bread the central offering of Shavuot, and why is the bread from wheat and not barley? And what makes this offering different from all other offerings? What do the first fruits have to do with receiving Torah at Sinai? And what does Adam, the first man, have to do with Shavuot? Answers inside!