The Talmud (Pesahim 68b) records, in a baraita, a debate between two prominent Tannaim, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, about how a person should conduct him or herself on hag (festival): “Rabbi Eliezer said: ‘On a festival, a person has nothing to do but either to eat and drink or to sit and study.’ Rabbi Yehoshua said: ‘Divide it: half for eating and drinking and half for the beit hamidrash [to spend in study].'” Rabbi Yehoshua’s statement reflects his position that simhat hag is a mitsva which requires eating and drinking as well as the study of Torah.
Rabbi Yohanan, an Amora, based the debate between these two sages on their different interpretations of the same two verses from the Torah regarding the festivals. “One verse says: ‘A solemn assembly for the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy 16:8); whereas the other says: ‘there shall be a solemn assembly for you‘ (Numbers 29:35). Rabbi Eliezer holds: [This means] that one [may choose to dedicate the day] either entirely “to God” (in study) or entirely “to you” (in eating and drinking). Rabbi Yehoshua holds: [One infers from these verses to] divide it [the festive day] – half to God and half for yourselves.'” In other words, while Rabbi Eliezer says that one may either study or eat and drink on hag, Rabbi Yehoshua requires both.
The Talmud adds another layer to this discussion, marking Shavuot as unique among the festivals: “[The Amora] Rabbi Elazar said: ‘All agree with regard to Atzeret [Hag HaShavuot] that [the element] of “for you” is required.’ The practical result of this is that even Rabbi Eliezer requires eating and drinking on Shavuot. What is the reason? It is the day that the Torah was given.”
While ultimately the halacha has been decided like Rabbi Yehoshua for all of the festivals, what is so special about Shavuot that justifies Rabbi Elazar’s opinion that even Rabbi Eliezer requires festive rejoicing? Rashi offers what seems a prosaic answer to this question: “We should rejoice on this day with food and drink to dramatize that this day on which God gave us the Torah is pleasant and acceptable to us.” For Rashi, the act of eating and drinking demonstrates that we consider the Torah a source of joy and not a burden.
Two rabbis who lived at the turn of the 20th century seek deeper meaning in the connection between eating and drinking ((??? and the giving of the Torah. Rabbi Meir Simha from Dvinsk, one of the great representatives of Lithuanian Torah study, in his Humash commentary, Meshekh Hokhmah (Ex. 20:18 Cooperman ed. p. 166), asserts that the act of rejoicing with food and drink on Shavuot symbolically teaches us that a life of Torah is a means to purify and sanctify the material world and elevate it spiritually.
Rabbi Arye Leib Alter, the second Gerer Rebbe, in his drashot, Sfat Emet (Shavuot 5644 Or Etzion ed. p. 317), views the consensus between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua with regard to Shavuot something different. He claims that there was a mahloket (a dispute) among the angels on high over whether human beings have a role in the divine realm or not. But when the angels saw the universal acclaim the people gave Moses upon receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, all of them agreed to accept the human role in the divine realm. This is how the Sfat Emet reinterprets Rabbi Elazar’s words “All agree“.
We have seen here how Rabbinic interpretation has turned Hag Shavuot, which is not referred to as an Atseret in the Torah at all, into a Hag of special significance, and how two more recent interpretations portray it as a profound celebration of the human empowerment implied in the acceptance of Torah. For the rationalists amongst us, it provides an opportunity to rectify and reclaim for God the world we live in. And for those of us with a mystical passion, Shavuot enables us to reclaim and repair not only the material world but the spiritual world as well.
SOURCES 1 & 2 - The Foundation of the Dispute
- What festival does each of these verses deal with?
- What do these festivals have in common?
- On what point to they differ?
SOURCE 2 - The Gemara
- דתניא: רבי אליעזר אומר אין לו לאדם ביום טוב אלא או אוכל ושותה או יושב ושונה
- רבי יהושע אומר חלקהו חציו לאכילה ושתיה וחציו לבית המדרש
- ואמר רבי יוחנן ושניהם מקרא אחד דרשו כתוב אחד אומר עצרת לה׳ אלהיך וכתוב אחד אומר עצרת תהיה לכם
- רבי אליעזר סבר או כולו לה׳ או כולו לכם ורבי יהושע סבר חלקהו חציו לה׳ וחציו לכם:
- אמר רבי אלעזר הכל מודים בעצרת דבעינן נמי לכם
- מאי טעמא יום שניתנה בו תורה הוא
- For it was taught in a baraita that these two tanna’im disagreed about this matter: Rabbi Eliezer says: A person has nothing but to choose on a Festival; he either eats and drinks or sits and learns the entire day, but there is no specific mitzva to eat on the Festival.
- Rabbi Yehoshua, on the other hand, says: Divide the day, half of it for eating and drinking and half of it for the study hall, for he holds that eating and drinking are obligatory on the Festival.
- And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: And both of them derived their opinions from one verse, i.e., the two of them addressed the same textual difficulty, resolving it in different ways. For one verse says: “It shall be an assembly for the Lord your God; you shall do no labor” (Deuteronomy 16:8), which indicates that the day is set aside for Divine service, and another verse says: “It shall be an assembly for you; you shall do no servile labor” (Numbers 29:35), which indicates a celebratory assembly for the Jewish people.
- Rabbi Eliezer holds that the two verses should be understood as offering a choice: The day is to be either entirely for God or entirely for you. And Rabbi Yehoshua holds that it is possible to fulfill both verses: Split the day into two, half of it for God and half of it for you. Ayin, beit, mem is a mnemonic consisting of the first letter of Atzeret, the middle letter of Shabbat and the final letter of Purim.
- Rabbi Elazar said: All agree with regard to Atzeret, the holiday of Shavuot, that we require that it be also “for you,” meaning that it is a mitzva to eat, drink, and rejoice on that day. [Refer to Rashi on this]
- What is the reason? It is the day on which the Torah was given, and one must celebrate the fact that the Torah was given to the Jewish people.
- How do Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehuda explain the relationship between these verses differently? To answer this question, you will need to consider how they use the two Biblical verses cited above.
- What explanation does the Talmud give for Shavuot (Atzeret) being different from the other hoidays?
- Is this explanation sufficient in your eyes?
SOURCE 3 - Rashi Addresses a Problem
That we also require "for you" – that he should rejoice on it with food and drink, to demonstrate that this day on which the Torah was given to Israel is pleasant and acceptable [to us].
- Can you offer a possible explanation for Rashi's interpretation?
- Are you satisfied by Rashi's interpretation?
SOURCES 4 & 5 - A Dispute Among Achronim
(see paraphrases of them in the shiur text above)
- What does the Meshekh Hakhma's drasha add to what Rashi said?
- What does the Sfat Emet add?
- What is the textual impetus in the Talmud for the Sfat Emet's drashah?