Home Sweet Home
By: Rabbi D. Levy
This article is 1.5 pages long.
Top 10 Shavuot
1. Why is this holiday called Shavuot?
Shavuot, the holiday when we celebrate our receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, is called by this name, which means ‘weeks,” in reference to the seven weeks of preparation for this day which begin on the second night of Pesah. It is so named because it is important during these seven weeks of preparation to learn Torah and work on acquiring the 49 attributes listed in the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avot (mishnayot 5-6).
2. Why some have the custom to do we wait until after dark on Shavuot night to pray, as opposed to Shabbat, when many people pray Arvit and begin Shabbat before sundown during the summer months?
Generally, there is a mitzvah to add onto the holiness of Shabbat or holiday by beginning the day early and ending it late. However, since the Torah commands us to observe Shavuot after counting seven complete weeks, many have the custom not to begin Shavuot until after sundown of the 49thday. Others, however, do begin Shavuot before sundown, and they have halachic authorities on whom to rely (Magen Avraham 494; Yalkut Yosef). Even they, however, should not reciteKiddush before dark (Shelah Hakadosh), or, at very least, should eat at least one kezayitof bread (1 oz. of bread) after the stars are visible (Hacham Ovadia Yosef).
3. When should one recite the Azharot – the hymn customarily recited on Shavuot?
Many congregations have the custom of reading the first three and last three stanzas of the Azharot after the Torah reading on Shavuot, and it is customary to read the entire hymn at home on both days of Shavuot.
4. Why is it customary to eat dairy on Shavuot?
Numerous reasons are given for this custom. One reason is that the Torah is compared to milk and honey, as the verse says, “Honey and milk under your tongue” (Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah 494). Additionally, after Bene Yisrael received the Torah, they were bound by the new laws of kashrut . When they wanted to eat their first meal after receiving the Torah, they did not have time to make the extensive preparations necessary for a meat meal, like koshering their pots, checking the knife before slaughtering the animal, salting it to remove the blood, and so on. They therefore ate dairy foods, and we commemorate their meal by eating diary on Shavuot (Mishnah Berurah 494:12). Thirdly, when we eat dairy foods followed by meat, we must use two separate loaves of bread, as it is forbidden to eat the same loaf with meat and with dairy, and these two loaves commemorate the two loaves that would brought as an offering on Shavuot in the Bet Hamikdash (Rama 494:3, Mishnah Berurah 494:14).
It is important to remember that there is an obligation to eat meat meals on the holiday, as part of the mitzvah of rejoicing on Yom Tov.
5. Which Torah portion was selected to be read on Shavuot, and why?
On both days of Shavuot, we take two Torah scrolls from the ark, one from which we read five aliyot, and from the other we read the maftir. On the first day, we read the Torah’s account of Matan Torah (our receiving the Torah) and the Ten Commandments, in Parashat Yitro. On the second day, we read from the section of “Kol habechor” in Parashat Re’eh, which discusses the mitzvah of going to Bet Hamikdash on the three regalim (Pesah, Shavuot, Sukkot). If the second day of Shavuot falls on Shabbat, we begin the reading earlier, from the verse of “Aser te’aser,” and make seven aliyot (not including maftir). The maftir reading for both days is the brief section of “Uvyom habikkurim” in Parashat Pinhas, which describes the special musaf offering brought on Shavuot.The haftarah for the first day of Shavuot is from Yehezkel, and the haftarah on the second day is from Habakuk.
6. Why is the tahanunprayer omitted from Rosh Hodesh Sivan until a week after Shavuot?
On Rosh Hodesh Sivan we omit tahanun just as we do on every Rosh Hodesh, and the three days preceding Shavuot – the 3rd, 4thand 5thdays of Sivan – are the days when Bene Yisrael prepared for receiving the Torah, and we therefore omit tahanun on these days, as well. The holiday of Shavuot is observed on the 6thand 7thof Sivan, and we thus obviously omit tahanun on these days. And in the times of the Bet Hamikdash, one who was unable to bring the holiday korban (sacrifice) on the holiday itself was able to bring it within the week following the holiday, which was an extension, of sorts, of the celebration. We commemorate this “extension” by omitting the solemn tahanun prayer for a full week after Shavuot. Since tahanun is omitted throughout virtually the entire period from the first to the 13thday of Sivan, the rabbis decided that it should be omitted on the second day, as well.
7. May one wash dishes on the first day of Yom Tov to prepare them for the second day?
It is forbidden to prepare on the first day of the holiday for the second day. If one needs a cup or dish for the next meal of the same day, it is permissible to wash what is needed. If there are available clean dishes for the next meal of that day, one should preferably use the new ones, rather than wash the dirty ones (Hacham Ovadia Yosef, Livyat Hen, halachah 70). It is permissible to soak dirty dishes immediately following the meal, before the residual food hardens, as a preventive measure. (R’ Shlomo Zalmen Aurbach)
8. May one allow a non-Jewish housekeeper to wash the dishes in preparation for the second day?
A non-Jewish housekeeper may wash dishes for the second day (Kaf Hahaim 503:1), though she may not use a dishwasher.
9. May one cook an extra piece of meat in a pot on the first day for the second day of Yom Tov?
The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 503) states that a woman may cook a pot of meat on the first day of Yom Tov even if she only needs one piece for that day, since additional meat enhances the flavor. However, she should ensure to not explicitly say that she is cooking for the second day of Yom Tov, and some food from the pot must be eaten on the first day.
10. When is the most preferable time for a lady to light candles for Shavuot?
Although there are some who have the custom of waiting until the end of seven full weeks before accepting the holiday of Shavuot, which means waiting until dark on the night of Shavuot, nonetheless, ladies may light before sunset of the 49thday of the omer, as they do before Shabbat, and begin the holiday early. On the second night, however, a lady should light only after the stars come out, unless the family will be eating the meal early that night, in which case she may light before Kiddush.