Emor – Simple Jews

The Baitusim, a sect in Talmudic times often associated with the Tzedukim (or Sadducees), had a congenial approach to establishing the date of Shavuos, which the Torah describes as the fiftieth day from a particular point (Vayikra 23:15-21).

The Sinaic mesorah defines that starting point as the second day of Pesach (designated by the Torah as “the day after the Shabbos” – “Shabbos” here meaning the first day of the holiday), the day the omer sacrifice was brought. Thus, Shavuos could fall on any day of the week.

But the Baitusim seized on the Torah’s reference to that first day of counting as “the day after the Shabbos” as indicating that the fifty days must start after a literal “Shabbos,” on a Sunday, the first one after the omer, ensuring that Shavuos, too, would always fall on an Sunday.

A Baitusim spokesman defended his group’s position to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai: “Moshe, our teacher, loved the Jews and… established [Shavuos] after Shabbos, so that the Jewish people would enjoy themselves for two days” (Menachos, 65a).

Hashem, he was asserting, certainly wanted His people to have a “long weekend” each summer.

An enticing thought, perhaps. But not what Hashem commanded. And Judaism is all about doing what He commands, whether it sits well with us or we think we have a better, “improved” idea. It isn’t our prerogative to “reform” divine will.

Our mandate is to be tamim, “simple,” “perfect,” “trusting.” It was, after all, our ancestors’ declaration of Na’aseh vinishma, “We will do and [only then endeavor to] hear [i.e.understand]” that earned us the Torah.

Which declaration, of course, took place, according to the mesorah, on Shavuos.

As Rava told a heretic who ridiculed his alacrity, “We Jews proceed with simple purity, as it says [in Mishlei 11:3], ‘The simplicity of the upright will guide them” (Shabbos 88b).

Notes the Shem MiShmuel: The “seven weeks” that are counted from Pesach to Shavuos are pointedly called sheva Shabbasos temimos – “seven perfect weeks.” Weeks, the word is hinting, for us to grow in what merited us the Torah, our temimus.

© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran

My most recent Ami column, “Substantially Defamatory,” can be read here.

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