Shavuot, the Torah, and Shabbat

June 10, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, June 10, 2016.

Shavuot, the Torah, and Shabbat

This Motza’ei Shabbat (Saturday night) is Erev Shavuot – the first evening of the holiday of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks which is seven weeks after Passover. The history of this holiday is long and complicated. In the Torah itself, it seems to be described exclusively as an agricultural holiday – the Israelites are commanded to bring the first fruits of the earliest harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem as sacrifices. After the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the year 70, however, such a practice was impossible. However according to tradition, there is a strictly historical explanation of this holiday unrelated to its place as an agricultural one. According to the Rabbis, seven weeks after the exodus from Egypt, this date marks the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Today in a Jewish world without the Temple, and without the Priesthood, and without Sacrifices, the holiday has become the holiday which celebrates the moment when the Israelites were given the blueprint: our Torah.

How appropriate that we think about this on the Shabbat just before the holiday! In fact… the first time in the Torah that Shabbat is mentioned is in the Ten Commandments – part of the Torah given to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai along with all the other commandments of the Torah. The description of the giving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments actually appears twice in the Torah! And one of the perplexing enigmas is that the wording of fourth commandment mandating the Sabbat appears differently each of the times it appears! In Exodus (20:8), we are told: "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy." However, in Deuteronomy, we are told "Guard the Sabbath Day to keep it holy."

Remember? Guard? How could it be two different wordings? Doesn’t it have to be one or the other?  To help explain how there are two different words (Remember and Guard), the rabbis told a tale. The two versions can be understood by the parable of a King who handed his son a coin and a flask, and sent him to the storekeeper. On the way, the son broke the flask and lost the coin. So the King reprimanded his son and gave him replacements. “Take care that you don’t lose these as you lost the others!” the King told him. In the same way, when the Israelites worshipped the Golden Calf in the wilderness, they lost the first Shabbat commandment, and didn’t “Remember” the Sabbath. God gave them the commandment again and told them to “Guard” the Sabbath, miracle of the giving of the Torah,” said the Rabbis. God said the commandment only once, but it could be heard in two different ways. In the “Lecha Dodi” that we say at the beginning of the Friday evening service, it says: Shamor V’Zachor b’dibbur echad: “Guard” and “Remember” in ONE WORD.

See next week for more on the implications of two different versions of the commandment mandating the Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom!