There is a unique mitzvah of joy, both spiritual and physical, on Chag Shavuot* When Shavuot falls on Motzei Shabbat as it does this year, Seudah Shilishit should be eaten earlier, and preparations from Shabbat to Chag are prohibited *
Showering on Shabbat and Chag * When, and how to properly prepare and light the candles for Chag Shavuot * ‘Birkot HaShachar’ for someone who remained awake all night * Eating and drinking during the night of Shavuot and before the morning prayers
* The custom of eating dairy foods as an expression of the sweetness of the Torah, and its ability to turn impure to pure
The Joy of Chag Shavuot – Spiritual and Physical
Chag Shavuot enjoys an exceptional status above and beyond that of other holidays; therefore, even Rabbi Eliezer the eminent Tanna, who is of the opinion that men of virtue should primarily dedicate Yom Tov to Torah study, and eating for them on Yom Tov is only so they are not considered as having afflicted themselves, also agrees that on Shavuot, one must partake in an important festive meal since “it is the day in which the Torah was given” (Pesachim 68b). Nevertheless, the halakha goes according to Rabbi Yehoshua, who holds that on all the holidays there is a mitzvah to divide the day into two – half of the day should be devoted to the Beit HaMidrash (learning hall), and half to festive meals and rest.
The unique virtue of the Torah is that it is designed to instruct the path of undivided emuna (faith), and continue blessing and vitality into all walks of life, both spiritual and physical. Therefore, the joy of Shavuot must be expressed both in Torah study, but also in eating and drinking. This is the complete ‘tikun’ (perfection), which encompasses both the soul and body. At first, the revelation of Divinity through spiritual manifestations from above absorbed by the neshama (soul) which guides the body, and thus, the deep-rooted fabric of the human body and its sensations are revealed. Therefore, complete ‘d’veykute‘ (attachment) to God encompasses both the soul and the body, as will be the case after ‘techiyat ha’meytim’ (the resurrection of the dead), when the soul will return to the body, and Godliness will be revealed completely on all levels.
Therefore, the joy of Shavuot should be greatly enhanced, for through the Torah we are called upon to perfect the material side of life as well in all its diversity, physical sensations, and yearnings — even those which at first glance, appear to be undesirable. This foundation is alluded to in that on Shavuot, the offering of the ‘Shtei Ha’Lechem’ (the ‘Two Loaves’ of bread) that were brought in the Holy Temple, which were made of ‘chametz‘ (leaven) and as we know, ‘chametz‘ alludes to the character traits of pride and the evil inclination. But by means of the Torah, the evil inclination is perfected, and thus, it is offered as a sacrifice on Shavuot.
When to Eat ‘Seudah Shlisheet’
Since this year Chag Shavuot falls out on Motzei Shabbat, ‘l’chatchila‘ (ideally), it is best to eat ‘seudah shlisheet’ (the third Shabbat meal) earlier, before the last three hours of the Shabbat day. Preferably, ‘seudah shleeshit’ should be held a little after ‘chatzot Yom Shabbat‘ (midday), i.e., at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. If one did not do so, he should nevertheless eat ‘seudah shlisheet’, even during the hours close to the beginning of Yom Tov, but should try to limit his eating so as to have an appetite for the evening meal of Yom Tov.
Laws of Preparing from Shabbat to Yom Tov that Falls on Motzei Shabbat
When Yom Tov falls on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) as it does this year, one must be careful not to prepare anything from Shabbat to Yom Tov, since Shabbat is intended for holiness and rest, and not for preparations for another day. Therefore, a person who troubles himself on Shabbat by preparing something for a weekday or a holiday – belittles its dignity (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 22: 15-16).
Consequently, it is forbidden to wash dirty dishes from Shabbat to use on Yom Tov; only after Shabbat has departed can dishes be washed in order use them on Yom Tov. It is also forbidden to clean the table on Shabbat in honor of the holiday, but the table can be cleaned so that it is tidy on Shabbat, even though this will be beneficial for the holiday.
It is forbidden to place food on a ‘platta‘ (hot plate) on Shabbat to be eaten at the evening meal of Yom Tov, but only after Shabbat is over and one says, “Baruch ha’mavdil ben kodesh l’kodesh” (“Blessed be He who distinguishes between holy and holy”). Only then is one permitted to start organizing the needs of ‘ochel nefesh’ (food preparation allowed on Yom Tov), and to cook and heat the food.
‘B’sha’at ha’dachak’ (times of distress), on Shabbat one is permitted to perform routine actions that do not involve great effort, for the sake of the Chag. Therefore, when waiting for Shabbat to depart will cause a significant delay in the Yom Tov meal, it is permissible to take frozen food out of the freezer on Shabbat.
It is forbidden to light the holiday candles before ‘tzait ha’chochavim’ (nightfall), rather, one should wait until the stars have appeared in the sky and Shabbat has departed, and then say, “Baruch ha’mavdil ben kodesh l’kodesh“, and light the candles.
Since it is prohibited to light a new fire on Yom Tov, one must prepare before Shabbat a candle that will burn for more than twenty-four hours from which one can light the Yom Tov candles. If one did not prepare such a candle, he should transfer fire from one of his neighbor’s candles to light the Yom Tov candles.
It is permissible to push the candle forcibly into the candlestick holder, even though this causes the candle to be slightly crushed. Similarly, one may remove by knife the remaining wax in the candlestick which interferes with the placement of the new candle, and one is allowed to remove the metal disc stuck to the bottom of the glass cup in which ‘neronim‘ (candles that turn into oil) were used. It is also permitted to insert a floating wick into a floating cork.
But it is forbidden to heat a wax candle to attach it to a candlestick holder, lest one transgress the rabbinic decree of ‘ma’rey’ach‘(spreading or smearing), which is a ‘toledah‘ of ‘mi’ma’chake‘(scraping/sanding a surface to achieve smoothness). It is also forbidden to cut or file the bottom of the candle to insert it into the candlestick because of the prohibition ‘mi’cha’taych‘(cutting any object to a specific size).
Showering on Shabbat and Yom Tov
Since Shabbat and Yom Tov are adjacent, and many people are used to showering every day, those who feel the need to shower on Shabbat afternoon are permitted to wash themselves in warm water – i.e., water in which they do not suffer from its coldness, but on the other hand, is not hot. One should not wash in hot water because of the rabbinical decree of ‘mirchatz‘. But on Chag, since bathing is ‘shavei l’kol nefesh‘ (equal for all), one is allowed to wash even in hot water, provided the water was heated in a permissible way, such as by a ‘dude shemesh’ (solar heater), or by a Shabbat-timer (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 14:8; Moadim 5:10).
In addition, after showering one should remember not to brush one’s hair, because brushing sheds hair, which is a Torah prohibition.
The Washing of Hands for Those Who Remained Awake All Night
Even a person who remains awake all night must perform ‘nitilat yadayim‘ (washing of the hands) before morning prayers, however, the poskim were divided on whether to recite a blessing over this washing, or not. According to the Ashkenazi custom, it is best is to relieve oneself before prayer, and to touch one of the covered areas of one’s body which had become a bit sweaty since one’s last bathing, and thus, be obligated to wash one’s hands with a blessing. However, according to Sephardic custom, one does not recite a blessing over this washing of the hands in any case.
‘Birkot Ha’Torah’ for those who Remain Awake all Night
According to the vast majority of poskim, even if one did not sleep at all during the previous day, since he comes to pray Shacharit (the Morning Prayers) of the new day, he must recite ‘Birkot Ha’Torah’ (Blessings over the Torah). However, since there are a few poskim who hold that if one did not sleep at all during the day, he should not recite ‘Birkot Ha’Torah’, ‘l’chatchila’, it is good to hear the blessings recited by someone who slept, and have ‘kavana‘ (intention) to fulfill his obligation by hearing them.
Even those who remain awake all night recite ‘Birkot HaShachar’ (the Morning Blessings), because ‘Birkot HaShachar’ were fixed as prayers of gratitude for the general good in the world, and not just the self-interests of each and every individual. Therefore, even a blind person recites the blessing ‘po’kay’ach ivrim’ (‘Who gives sight to the blind’), and one who did not sleep recites the blessing ‘zokayf ke’fufim’ (‘Who straightens the bent’). However, regarding the blessings of ‘Elokei Neshama’ and ‘Ha’ma’avir Sheyna’, there are some authorities who hold that a person who did not sleep should not recite these blessings, because these blessings are recited in the singular, as individual thanks for the return of one’s soul, and the passing of sleep. Therefore, it is proper to hear them from someone who actually did sleep, and have ‘kavana’ to fulfill one’s obligation.
When there is no one to recite the blessings, according to the majority of poskim, one should recite the blessings himself, because although they are recited in the singular, they also contain thanks for the general good – that in the morning, God returns souls to those who have slept, and wakes them from their slumber. This is the custom of all Sephardim, and some Ashkenazim. There are other Ashkenazim whose custom is to be ‘machmir‘ (stringent), and due to the ‘safek‘ (doubt), recite the blessings without ‘Shem and Malchut’ (“Hashem Elokenu Melech Ha’olam). An Ashkenazi who does not know what his custom is, may act according to the custom of the majority of observant Jews, and recite all the blessings himself.
In summary, according to the custom of the majority of observant Jews, those who remain awake all night recite all ‘Birkot Ha’Shachar’ and ‘Birkot Ha’Torah’. The ‘mehadrin’ (those who embellish the mitzvoth), when possible, fulfill the obligation of ‘Birkot Ha’Torah’ and the blessings “Elokei Neshama” and “Ha’Ma’avir Sheyna” by hearing them from someone who slept at night.
When to Say the Blessings
According to halakha, ‘Birkot Ha’Shachar’ and ‘Birkot Ha’Torah’ are recited close to the morning prayers. According to kabala, ‘Birkot Ha’Shachar‘ are recited after ‘chatzot ha’layla’ (midnight), and ‘Birkot Ha’Torah‘ after ‘amud ha’shachar’ (dawn).
Eating and Drinking at Night and Prior to the Morning Prayers
During the night, one may eat and drink without limitation. However, from half an hour before ‘amud ha’shachar’, it is forbidden to eat a ‘seudah’ (a meal), lest one get over-involved in his meal. This includes the prohibition of eating bread or cakes whose size is equal to, or larger, than a ‘beitza‘ (an egg), however, one may eat without ‘keviyut seudah’ (setting a meal) fruits and vegetables and cooked ‘mezanot‘ foods without limitations. From ‘amud ha’shachar’, it is forbidden to eat anything or to drink coffee or juice, and even one who had started eating or drinking beforehand – should stop. One is allowed to drink only water after ‘amud ha’shachar’. (This year on Chag Shavuot, ‘amud ha’shachar‘ is at 4:06 A.M. in Israel).
Eating Dairy Foods
Many have the custom to eat foods made out of milk and honey on Shavuot. The source of this custom stems from Ashkenaz and France, and from, there spread to many Jewish communities throughout the world. However, there are Jews who do not have this custom, like many immigrants from Yemen, Libya, Djerba, Bukhara, and Persia.
Some say the reason for the custom is because the Torah is compared to milk and honey, and our Sages said: “As the Jewish nation stood before Mount Sinai and said: ‘All that the Lord spoke, we will do and listen (‘naseh v’nishma’), at that same time, God said to them: ‘Honey and milk under your tongue.” In other words, in the merit of Israel’s agreement to accept the Torah without doubt, the words of Torah would be sweet like milk and honey in their mouths. In order to remind us of the sweetness and pleasantness of the Torah, the custom is to eat tasty and sweet dairy cakes, and dishes made with honey.
Rabbi Kook further explained that milk and honey are two foods both produced from impure entities. Honey is produced from bees which are impure insects, and milk is produced from blood which is forbidden to be eaten. Precisely because they are turned from impurity to purity, they possess a unique taste, alluding to ‘tikun olam’ (perfecting the world). And this is the virtue of the Torah, which perfects the bad sides of the world and “seasons” the evil inclination, turning it into good. This is also the virtue of the Land of Israel, and therefore it is called “the land of milk and honey.”
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/
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