Why Shavuot Deserves a Feast

The Gemara in Pesachim 68b records the machloket between R. Elazar and R. Yehoshua whether one should celebrate Yom Tov by splitting the day in half – half for God and half for man, or one can choose either or – either through eating and drinking or by learning and davening. However, there are three exceptions, where all agree you must eat and celebrate – Purim, Shavuot, and Erev Yom Kippur. Purim is understandable, as it is a day of physical celebration (now is not the time to explain why this is so, and see below for an alternative explanation). Erev Yom Kippur, the Gemara in several places records that it is an obligation to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, and eating then makes it like one fasted on the ninth and tenth of Tishrei. [There are positions who read this differently – such as it is as if you fasted on Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av (Knesset HaGedolah) or Tisha B’Av and Asara BiTevet (Amarkol) – both cited in Eliyahu Rabbah Orach Chaim 604:4.] Many positions are suggested for this in Rishonim – either because you need to prepare for Yom Kippur, or this is the “Yom Tov meal” of Yom Kippur, or this is the Simcha for the anticipated atonement of Yom Kippur. (See for example Shaarei Teshuva 4:8-10.) As for Shavuot, the Gemara says that one must celebrate by feasting because it is the day the Torah was given. Why should this be a reason to eat? Shouldn’t it be a reason to learn?

Many explanations have been offered, but I want make two points that are not classically made:

The Rokeach argues that we are really celebrating the fact that God forgave our sins on Shavuot – parallel to some of the postions suggested by Yom Kippur above. This is derived from a Yerushalmi that notes that the Korbanot on Shavuot do not include the word Chet, sin. The Yerushalmi and Rokeach are below:

תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת ראש השנה פרק ד הלכה ח


 ר’ לעזר בי ר’ יוסה בשם ר’ יוסי בר קצרתא בכל הקרבנות כתיב והקרבתם וכאן כתיב ועשיתם אמר להן הקדוש ברוך הוא מכיון שנכנסתם לדין לפני בראש השנה ויצאתם בשלום מעלה אני עליכם כאילו נבראתם בריה חדשה ר’ משרשיא בשם ר’ אידי בכל הקרבנות כתיב חטא ובעצרת אין כתיב חטא אמר להן הקדוש ברוך הוא מכיון שקיבלתם עליכם עול תורה מעלה אני עליכם כאילו לא חטאתם מימיכם:


ספר הרוקח הלכות שבועות סימן רצה


לא מצינו שלמי ציבור כי אם בעצרת על כן אסור להתענות ביום עצרת אפילו אם היה מתענה בכל יום כדאמר בפסחים בפ’ אלו דברים (דף סח) מר בריה דרבינא יתיב כולי שתא בתעניתא לבר מעצרתא ופוריא ומעלי יומא דכיפורי. עצרת יום שניתנה בו תורה וכו’. על כן צריכין ישראל לשמוח שמוחל הקדוש ברוך הוא עונותיהם דאמרי’ בירושלמי דראש השנה בסופו ר’ משרשיא בשם ר’ אחא בכל הקרבנות כתיב חטאת ובעצרת לא כתיב חטאת. אמר להם הקדוש ברוך הוא לישראל מכיון שקבלתם עול התורה עליכם מעלה אני עליכם כאלו לא חטאתם מימיכם.

Rabbi Herschel Schachter (B’Ikvei HaTzon 39:11, pages 272-3), basing himself on a Ramban argues that we learn from Kabbalat HaTorah itself that receiving the Torah requires a celebratory meal, as we find that after they saw God they ate and drank. He further argues that this is the reason we must celebrate on Purim – because Chazal say that we reaccepted the Torah (Shabbat 88a) [This is also confirmed by a girsa of the Geonim who link Shavuot and Purim for this reason]. Lastly, he argues that at some level, a wedding is a personal Kabbalat HaTorah, and that is the basis for the obligation to celebrate at a wedding. [See his support from Pesachim 49a that says that real simcha is only when a Talmid Chacham marries a woman who is of his stature – indicating the centrality of Torah to this celebration.]

There are many other perspectives, but these are some which are less cited.

Chag Sameach!


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