You don’t need a degree in higher mathematics to do the computation. From
the dates given by the Torah for the Exodus and for the Stand at Sinai, we
quickly confirm that the holiday of Shavuos coincides with the date that
Bnei Yisrael stood ready to receive the Torah. You couldn’t tell,
however, from the Torah’s description of the holiday. It just doesn’t say
anything about the giving of the Torah. More frustratingly, perhaps, the
Torah highlights a different event, while bypassing the Revelation.
“And you shall offer a new minchah-offering to Hashem. From your
dwelling places you shall bring bread that shall be waved, two loaves of
two tenths of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, baked as chametz
, bikurim to Hashem.”  Replacing matan Torah at
front-and-center of the Torah’s description of Shavuos is the two-loaves
Equally disturbing is the insistence on chametz in the composition
of this offering. It is as if the Pesach we are told to count from has
receded so far in our memory, that we now embrace what was shunned so
absolutely during the previous holiday. It was only a matter of weeks
before that we were instructed to ferret out every last morsel of
chametz ; on Shavuos it makes a dramatic and unexpected comeback.
When we remember that we explained away our preoccupation with chametzl
crumbs as symbolic of the yetzer hora, whose every last
vestige we wished to banish, the turnaround on Shavous is all the more
We round out our list of difficulties by noting that something about the
Torah’s description of the offering seems a bit off. Why does the Torah
refer to is as a “new minchah-offering.?” There is nothing new
about the offering as a minchah. It obeys rules similar to other
menachos. What makes it new is the use of the new crop of grain. We
would expect the Torah to call it a “minchah of new grain.”
Chazal make a puzzling assertion about the generation of the
wilderness. “The Torah was only given to those who ate the mon.”
 Our mesorah regarding the mon is that it was a
gourmand’s delight: you could taste in it whatever you fancied. While this
may be attractive to us, it flies in the face of what we are taught about
the necessary sacrifices one must be prepared to make in order to acquire
Torah. The Mishnah in Avos tells us that the way of Torah is to eat
plain bread, flavored only with salt. A passage in the Gemara  argues
that Torah gains a firm foothold only with those who kill themselves over
it. Why would the Torah be given to those who dined on a table of earthly
We might find a solution in a comment of the Peri Ha-aretz.
The rabble that complained about the mon, clamoring for meat, is
described by the Torah as hisavu ta’avah. Literally, this can be taken to
mean that they desired to desire. The mon, he explains, may
have tasted like anything one wanted, but eating it was a very different
experience from all eating that we know. The mon was spiritual
food; it lacked the properties of foodstuffs we are familiar with.
Consuming it did not stimulate any physical desire whatsoever. Those who
complained yearned for their previous existence, when food delighted the
senses and aroused them to eagerly look towards their next nibble. When
the Mechilta says that Torah was given only to mon-eaters, it means
that those who first received it had to live on a plane in which it did
not have to compete with the pursuit of physical pleasures and delights.
Those who threw themselves into its study in that first generation needed
to be free of the desires that animate the rest of us.
We haven’t been privileged to eat Heavenly food for well over three
millennia, nor can we delude ourselves regarding our complex desires. We
understand just how important they are to us, and how they wield enormous
influence upon our behavior. We are expected, however, to control these
desires, and then some. That is where the Shavuos offering comes in.
Bread stands as a symbol for two kinds of human need. Bread easily works
as a code word for our greater sustenance. It also, however, serves as a
euphemism for a very different need. When Yosef attempted to reason with
his seductress, he spoke of the great trust his master Potiphar had shown
towards him. Nothing in his household had been held back from Yosef’s
supervision, save for “the bread that he ate,” a polite reference to
Potiphar’s wife. The two loaves of bread in the offering brought on
Shavuos stand for these two desires that grip us so strongly and firmly.
How does the devoted servant of Hashem deal with the desires that often
interfere with his goodness, and certainly with his focus on higher
pursuits? One strategy that comes to mind is limiting and curtailing them.
The more spiritually-oriented personality will train himself to get by
with simpler needs; he will shun any involvement with them that is
While this approach seems obvious, people on a higher spiritual plane can
do better. They can take their desires and their objects and elevate them.
Rather than crush them or hide them, a person can turn them into pure
spirituality. (Think of korbanos: atonement is won for the owner
of an offering by the eating of the kohanim. )
This second, higher option is not an alternative open to everyone. Having
just escaped the clutches of that fatal, fiftieth level of degredation,
the Jews who left Egypt were not able to employ it. They needed a strong
dose of taming their inner wants and desires, of learning to limit,
curtail, and do without. That process is expressed by the search for, and
the destruction of, chametz – the symbol of the yetzer-
hora induced flaws within us.
After eight weeks of successful curbing of our baser instincts, we were
ready for something more – for a new kind of offering to Hashem, literally
a new minchah! Our avodah is no longer symbolized by
banishing chametz, but by elevating it.
This newness – the ability to sanctify and elevate, and not merely
discipline and curb – is the essence of the fiftieth day we count towards
from the second day of Pesach. We engage in self-elevation throughout the
Sefirah period; if successful, we find ourselves positioned so
that as elevated souls, we can elevate the ordinary materials around us.
It is therefore not surprising at all that Shavuos, of all holidays, is
the one that halachically demands that we incorporate earthly pleasures
like eating and drinking. Initially, we regard this as
counterintuitive. If anything, Shavuos is a holiday in which the very lack
of any special mitzvah to perform suggests that it is a time for spiritual
contemplation and inner service. Even if the pleasures of the world are
incorporated in other holidays, we would have thought that Shavuos is the
exception. Instead, we learn that according to one opinion, all
holidays offer a choice of avodah in which a person can spend his
time in more spiritual pursuits and eschew any special holiday meals and
the like. All holidays, that is, with the exception of Shavuos, where the
merriment is mandatory.
We can now understand the reason. The embrace of the physical is not a
concession to our lesser physical selves, but to the elevation that we
have gained in the seven weeks since Pesach and the specialness of the
fiftieth day, which contains within it all the gains of the previous forty-
nine. Being elevated people, we can and we must practice on Shavuos our
new skill of raising high everything around us.
1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, vol. 2 pgs. 359-361
2. Vayikra 23:16-17
3. Mechilta, Beshalach, beginning
4. Avos 6:4
5. Bamidbar 11:4
6. The Shev Shematesa in his introduction (letters zayin and ches) cites
this thought in the name of the Alshich, and fully develops it
7. Bereishis 39:6; Rashi
8. Berachos 63B
9. Pesachim 68B
10. Albeit one that is not halachically accepted