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Spiritual and Material Joy: A Shavuot Primer

The joy of the Shavuot holiday is both spiritual and material. A true enjoyment of the holiday this year entails knowing how to go from Sabbath observance into yomtov, in addition to the laws of the yomtov itself.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Sivan 3 5775
The joy of Chag Shavuot is immense and unique. Therefore, even Rabbi Eliezer who, in the Talmud, is of the opinion that virtuous people should dedicate Yom Tov to the study of Torah, and for them eating is merely so as not to be considered as having afflicted themselves, 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).
Since the Torah comes to perfect two worlds, both the spiritual and the material, the joy of the holiday must also spread to the material world by means of eating and drinking. This is the complete tikun (perfection), which encompasses both the soul and body, thus revealing that there is nothing either detached or distant from God Almighty. There are deep and hidden meanings in the body and its sensations, and only when they unite with the soul are we able to understand them. Therefore, the most complete attachment to God includes 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 in all levels.
Therefore, one should greatly embellish the joy of Shavuot, so it is apparent that by means of the Torah the material aspect of life is also perfected. This foundation is alluded to in the fact that on Shavuot the offering of the two loaves of bread were brought in the Holy Temple, which were made of chametz (leaven), and as is well-known, chametz hints 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.
Laws of Preparing from Shabbat to Yom Tov that Falls on Motzei Shabbat
When Yom Tov falls on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), 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, anyone 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 they 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.
Someone who goes to synagogue before Shabbat has departed is permitted to take a Yom Tov siddur (prayer book) with him, and should read from it a bit on Shabbat, thus making its taking for the sake of Shabbat as well.
There is disagreement among the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) concerning removing foods from the freezer on Shabbat for the evening meal on Yom Tov. In practice, b’sha’at ha’dachak (times of extreme need), when waiting for Shabbat to depart will cause anguish and a significant delay in the Yom Tov meal, it is permissible to take frozen food out of the freezer on Shabbat. However, without a tzorech gadol (great need), one should be machmir (stringent) not to take food out of the freezer for the holiday on Shabbat.
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.
When to Eat Seudah Shlisheet
L’chatchila (ideally), it is best to eat seudah shlisheet (the third Shabbat meal) earlier, before the last three hours of the Shabbat day. 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.
Sleeping on Shabbat ahead of Shavuot
It is better for a person not to say that he is going to sleep on Shabbat in order to have strength to stay up all night learning Torah on Shavuot. Nevertheless, someone who wants to say it is permitted, since the main point of the prohibition is speaking on Shabbat about something that is prohibited to do on Shabbat itself, and there is nothing prohibited in the study of Torah on Shabbat, nor is such speech an insult to Shabbat, since it is for the sake of a mitzvah.
Candle Lighting
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).
Since Shabbat is immediately followed by Shavuot, and many people are used to showering every day, those who feel the need to shower on Shabbat afternoon are permitted to wash 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 the night of Shavuot, or during the day, one is allowed to wash even in hot water, on the condition that 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).
Furthermore, one should remember not to brush their hair, because brushing sheds hair, which is a Torah prohibition.
Birkot HaShachar for those who Remain Awake all Night
Even a person who remained awake all night recites Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings), because Birkot HaShachar were fixed as prayers of gratitude for the general pleasures which are constantly renewed every day for human beings, therefore, even if one does not receive personal gratification from a particular aspect – he recites a blessing over it. However, there are different customs concerning the number of blessings.
Washing Hands
In regards to nitilat yadayim (washing the hands), it is agreed that one should wash his 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, he is obligated to wash his hands with a blessing. However according to Sephardic custom, in any case, one does not recite a blessing over this washing of the hands.
Birkot Ha’Torah
t is agreed that if one slept during the previous day for at least half an hour, he recites Birkot Ha’Torah (Blessings over the Torah) in the morning. If one did not sleep at all during the day, according to the majority of poskim he recites Birkot Ha’Torah, but since there are a few authorities who hold that one should not recite the blessings, l’chatchila (ideally), it is good to hear the blessings recited by someone who slept, and have kavana (intention) to fulfill his obligation by hearing them.
Birkat "Alokei Neshama" and "HaMa’avir Sheyna"
Some poskim say that only a person who slept can recite these blessings, and therefore it is proper to hear them from someone who actually did sleep, and have kavana to fulfill his obligation. When there is no one to recite the blessings, according to most authorities, one should recite the blessings himself, and 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 Israel, and recite all the blessings himself.
According to the custom of the majority, those who remain awake all night recite all Birkot Ha’Shachar and Birkot Ha’Torah. The mehadrin (those who embellish the observance of mitzvoth), when able, fulfill the obligation of Birkat Ha’Torah and the blessings "Alokei Neshama" and "Ha’Ma’avir Sheyna" by hearing them from someone who slept at night.
The Time of the Blessings
According to halakha, Birkot Ha’Shachar and Birkot Ha’Torah are recited close to the morning prayers. And 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 greater 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.
Rabbi Moshe Levinger ztz"l - the Renewer of Jewish Life in Hevron
My wife paid a ‘shiva’ call (a condolence visit) to the Levinger family home in Hevron. When she approached the grieving Rebbetzin, she immediately said to my wife: "Out of all the Batei Midrash (houses of Torah study), only the Beit Midrash of Rav Kook understood the importance of the Land of Israel. All of the settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights are by virtue of this Beit Midrash. The State of Israel has been rescued in the merit of these settlements. If not for all the yishuvim (communities), the entire area would be dominated by ISIS, and all of the country would be in danger."
"When I made aliyah (immigrated) from America", Rebbetzin Levinger told my wife, "I thought I had lost the zechut (merit) to be one of the pioneers taking part in the mitzvah of building the state, and then, after the Six Day War, Rabbi Moshe said to me: ‘Here, now you also have a chance to be a pioneer’."
The Levinger family sits in mourning, but nevertheless, the house is full of vitality. Grandchildren fill all the rooms. Whenever a consoler begins to speak about Rabbi Moshe ztz"l, one of the grandchildren immediately hastens to start the tape-recorder. On one side sits a granddaughter transcribing the eulogies, and on the other, another grandson types the words of the consolers on a laptop computer. At present, the Levinger children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren number 149, excluding the 23 husbands and wives of the Levinger’s children and grandchildren. And the Rebbetzin says with tears in her eyes: "Just thank God, just thank God for all the blessings!"
After they began settling Hevron, Rabbi Moshe would travel from city to city, from one high school to another, and in every place he spoke and taught about the importance of Torat Eretz Israel, and called to join the settlement enterprise. One of those who answered his call was a young woman, Tzipporah from Rechovot, who came to Hevron, married Menachem Livni, and established a house resplendent with chesed (kindness and charity) in Kiryat Arba. A few days ago, at the age of 63, she died from a malignant disease, leaving behind a wonderful family, which already numbers 45 people. Six children have already married, and their families are spread throughout Judea and Samaria.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Additional articles by Rabbi Melamed can be read at:

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