07. Extra Joy – Spiritual and Physical

The joy on Shavu’ot is intense and unique. Therefore, as we saw above (1:6), even R. Eliezer concedes that on Shavu’ot one must have a festive meal, because this is the day on which the Torah was given. This is despite the fact that when it comes to other festivals, he is of the opinion that people who are capable of dedicating the day to studying Torah should do so, eating something only so that they will not suffer (Pesaḥim 68b). Since the Torah’s purpose is to perfect the physical world as well as the spiritual world, the joy with which we celebrate receiving the Torah must manifest itself not only spiritually but also physically, through eating and drinking. When improving the world includes both body and soul, it shows that nothing is cut off or removed from God. There are deep insights that are hidden within the sensate body and that can be understood only when the body and the soul coalesce. Therefore, true closeness with God involves both body and soul. Similarly, in the future, when the dead are resurrected, the soul will once again be embodied so that its divinity will be fully revealed at all levels (Shlah, Masekhet Shavu’ot, Ner Mitzvah §9 and Torah Or §19).

Similarly, the Gemara tells a story about a pious person who fasted every day but three: Shavu’ot, Purim, and the day before Yom Kippur. It continues that R. Yosef instructed his household to prepare a particularly choice meal for Shavu’ot, explaining that he was able to reach his remarkable spiritual level only in the merit of the Torah. Therefore, it was appropriate for him to be especially happy on Shavu’ot (Pesaḥim 68b).

Accordingly, we must make extra efforts to maximize our enjoyment of Shavu’ot, as Torah perfects even the physical aspects of life. The special Shavu’ot offering, the shtei ha-leḥem, which was made from ḥametz, alludes to this idea. As we know, ḥametz alludes to arrogance and the evil impulse; the Torah is a remedy for the evil impulse, and so we symbolically sacrifice it on Shavu’ot. Our Sages proclaim that Torah is “an elixir of life” that can transform every potential threat into something positive. Thus the Gemara describes God as saying to the Jews: “My children, I created the evil inclination and I created the Torah as an antidote (tavlin). If you occupy yourselves with Torah, you will escape the clutches of the evil inclination” (Kiddushin 30b). The use of the word “tavlin” (which literally means “spice”) teaches us that the Torah does not negate the evil inclination, but “seasons” it, sublimating it into something positive. The custom on Shavu’ot of eating dairy and honey (in addition to other more usual Yom Tov fare) can be interpreted similarly. These foods, which originate in something impure (as explained below in section 14), are transformed into something pure and tasty. In this, they express the special properties of the Torah.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman