Shavuot, Humility, and Rav Yosef, By Rabbi Mordechai Wecker 

Torah person

In the Gemara (Pesachim 68b) we are taught: Every year, on the day of Atzeres/ Shavuos, Rav Yosef would say to his servants: “Prepare for me (for my Yom Tov seudah) a third- born calf.

(Rashi: A calf that is the third issue of its mother’s womb, which is more tasty than those that preceded it because the mother is still developing during her first two births.

(Alternate explanation of Rashi: A calf that has lived a third of its years, having thus reached its full growth and tastiness.)

פסחים ס”ח ע”ב

רב יוסף ביומא דעצרתא אמר עבדי לי עגלא תלתא אמר אי לא האי יומא דקא גרים כמה יוסף איכא בשוקא.

רב יוסף ביומא דעצרתא אמר עבדי לי עגלא תלתא אמר אי לא האי יומא דקא גרים כמה יוסף איכא בשוקא.


He explained his reason for the lavish feast: If this day had not caused me to learn Torah and thereby become spiritually elevated, how many “Yosefs” are there in the market place and I would have been indistinguishable from them. (Rashi).

סוטה מ”ט ע”ב:

משמת רבי בטלה ענוה ויראת חטא אמר ליה רב יוסף לתנא לא תיתני ענוה דאיכא אנא.

Furthermore, it is stated (Sotah 49b): Once Rebbe died, humility ceased as well as dread of sin. Rav Yosef said to the Tanna:

(Leading Amoraim would retain a Tanna whose function it was to memorize Mishnayos and Baraisos and recite them for the assembled students as though reading from a scroll.)

“Do not recite that ‘humility’ ceased upon the death of Rebbe, for I am humble.”

(Meforshim note that Rav Yosef expressed himself in this manner in order to teach that the halachic/ hashkafic category of a humble person was still operative.  He was by no means lauding himself for his humility!)

באר היטב, סי’ תצ”ד, ס”ק א’:

ועוד אחרי שהיה רב יוסף עניו מכל אדם כדאמרינן  בסוף סוטה: משמת רבי בטלה ענוה, אמר ליה רב יוסף: לא תיתני ענוה דאיכא אנא ע”ש. וכאן התפאר דמחמת נתינת התורה הוא עדיף משאר אינשי ואין זה מגדר ענוה.

In light of Rav Yosef’s superlative humility, his rationale for a lavish Shavuos repast appears surprising. He appears to engage in self- praise, lauding himself as a talmid chacham of note. He did not appear to be conducting himself with due humility.

How, then, are we to understand his rationale for his Shavuos celebration?


Harav Betzalel Hachoen of Vilna zt”l offers the following explanation (see Sefer Kehillas Yitzchak).

שמות ל”ב, י”ט:

וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר קָרַב אֶל הַמַּחֲנֶה וַיַּרְא אֶת הָעֵגֶל וּמְחֹלֹת וַיִּחַר אַף משֶׁה וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ מִיָּדָו אֶת הַלֻּחֹת וַיְשַׁבֵּר אֹתָם תַּחַת הָהָר:

The Torah records that the first set of luchos that were presented by HaSh-m to Moshe on Shavuos were eventually broken in the aftermath of the chet haegel.

רש”י שמות ל”ד, כ”ט:

ויהי ברדת משה – כשהביא לוחות אחרונות ביום הכפורים.

The second enduring set of luchos was presented by HaSh-m to Moshe on Yom HaKippurim.

The question then arises: why do we celebrate Shavuos as zman matan Toraseinu and not Yom HaKippurim? The answer must be that the original, broken set of luchos were precious in their own right and symbolize of something vitally important.

נדרים מ”א ע”א:

רב יוסף חלש איעקר ליה למודיה אהדריה אביי קמיה היינו דבכל דוכתא אמרינן אמר רב יוסף לא שמיע לי הדא שמעתא אמר ליה אביי את אמריתה ניהלן ומהא מתניתא אמריתה ניהלן.

The Talmud (Nedarim 41a) relates the following biographical information about Rav Yosef. Rav Yosef took ill. As a result, his learning was purged from his memory

(Ran has a slightly different version: אייקר ליה, his learning became too heavy for him to bear and he forgot it. The basic meaning is the same.)

Abaye reviewed everything Rav Yosef had taught him in front of Rav Yosef and thus restored his learning to him. That is the explanation for every place in the Talmud where we say, “Rav Yosef said: ‘I have never heard this teaching,’ and then: Abaye said to him, ‘You said this teaching to us and it was based on this Baraisa that you said it to us.’”

Rav Yosef was needless to say quite distraught over his misfortune. In modern parlance, his self-esteem was adversely affected by his experience. When he analyzed the celebration of Shavuos as zman matan Toraseinu, however, he rebounded from his state of depression. The broken luchos were precious in their own right and symbolic of something vitally important. In effect, Shavuos celebrates these very broken luchos. Rav Yosef ordered the preparation of an especially sumptuous feast, above and beyond his standard Yom Tov fare, to commemorate and underscore this very message.

ברכות ח’ ע”ב:

כדאמר להו רבי יהושע בן לוי לבניה: …והזהרו בזקן ששכח תלמודו מחמת אונסו דאמרינן לוחות ושברי לוחות מונחות בארון

(This is the third of R. Yehoshua ben Levi’s instructions to his sons.)

And be careful with the honor of an elderly scholar who has involuntarily forgotten his Torah learning.

(Rashi: either due to infirmity or because he was distracted by the hardship of earning a living.)

For we say that the second set of luchos and the broken pieces of the first luchos both rest in the Aron.

HaRif in Ein Yaakov comments that the writing on the first set of luchos flew away when they were broken (Pesachim 87b). Nevertheless, they were accorded the honor of being housed in the Aron. A scholar who has forgotten his Torah knowledge is analogous to those broken fragments of the first luchos. Thus, he too should be honored as he was previously.

Rav Yosef could empathize with this message. He could thus truly claim that without the Torah that this day commemorates, even Torah that has been forgotten or in a certain sense destroyed or withheld, he would be indistinguishable from any other Yosef in the market place.


Rabbi Mordechai Wecker studied in yeshiva for many years and was awarded Yoreh Yoreh Yadin Yadin semichahby Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. He has served as a Jewish educator for over forty years. In addition, he has served as head of school at Jewish day schools in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. He has given shiurim on the weekly parashah and the siddur throughout his career.




Dairy Food and the Power of Permission by Rabbi Moshe Rube

It seems that with every Shavuos that comes around, the same arguments repeat themselves.  Jews start dreaming about the cheesecake and blintzes they will feast on and various rabbis raise the alarm that according to halacha, meat remains the only legitimate form of Simchas Yom Tov.  The opinions fly back and forth, but at the end of the day, everybody does what they wish.  I have eaten at many meals of my rabbis during Shavuos and have experienced dairy meals, meat meals, and of course meals that have faithfully followed the Rama where they serve dairy first, clear the table and then serve meat.  With the argument settled and the minhag of eating dairy on Shavuos so well entrenched among the Jewish people, the best reason I can think of for continuing these arguments is that it makes our dairy at our Yom Tov meals taste sweeter knowing there are some rabbis who forbid.  “The inclination only desires that which is forbidden” (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:1).


Since people will follow their custom anyway, I seek here not to give a reason why we eat dairy meals, but to offer a meditation as to what our dairy foods can signify to us on the night we receive the Torah, whether you have it as nosh, or as a part of your meals.


Although we don’t usually think about it, milk occupies a special place as the most purely kosher food there is.  Unlike plants that we must separate Terumos and Maasros and meat that must have proper Shechita, the milk needs neither to be kosher.  There never is a time that milk milked from a kosher animal is not kosher.[1]


This observation may be the explaination of a famous Gemara (Ketubot 111b) that states “One who shows his friend the whites of his teeth, is like giving him a cup of milk to drink.”  I’m sure the Gemara knows that people have varied dietary preferences so why the emphasis on milk?  Perhaps because milk signifies permission and freedom from worries about Kashrus.


Now to people who (like me) study or who have studied in Yeshiva such a conjecture may fill you with utter horror.  Why would the Talmud hint to joy when we receive a lenient ruling?  We must reflect the cool and collected attitude of Reb Nechunia Ben Hakaneh who prayed before every learning session “That I do not declare what is impure, pure and not what is pure, impure”.  The truth of the Torah is simply the truth and we should strive to eliminate from ourselves any inclination to enjoy going lekula.


I don’t wish to casually cite various go to Talmudic guidelines for a ruling that seem to encourage us to rule leniently like Torah Chas Al Mamonan Shel Yisrael (The Torah takes pity on Israel’s money) or “Koach Diheteira Adif” (The Power to give permission is stronger).  They don’t bode well for making sweeping generalizations about psak.


But one inarguable truth I can say is that it takes more knowledge to permit than to forbid.  As a communal Rav, I can testify to the truth on the ground that Jews who wish to keep the Torah tend to forbid more on themselves than they need to.  Thus they spend money and cause themselves stress unnecessarily.  It has been my job more to assure people that something is permitted more than forbidden.  For instance, not seeing an official hechsher on cut fruit in a grocery store can be enough to send someone into a worrisome frenzy and declare Assur (forbidden).  It then becomes my distinct pleasure to teach them that not everything requires a hechsher and they can permit many of the items that they forbade on themselves.  And although this is frequently over the phone, I can tell that I’ve given them their proverbial cup of milk.


Milk is something the Torah explicitly permits when it calls the Land of Israel “A Land flowing with milk and honey”.  So it’s not just a plain heter that makes a person smile, it’s the permissibility and the fact that we know that it’s valid and based on God’s word.  Apparently, this was the motivation for Rav Ovadia Yosef’s long responsas full of every opinion under the sun.  One of his guiding principles of halachic rulings which he stated often was Koach Diheteira Adif, so it seems he was reluctant to forbid anything without foraging through the vastness of Torah knowledge.


So with all that in mind, let me propose a new prayer for Torah teachers, rabbis, and poskim, to say during the year and especially on Shavuos as we behold milk in all its forms.


“May it be your will, God, the God of our forefathers, that we merit to know your Torah and make it our own in all its vastness, beauty and light.  May we learn so much of your Torah that whenever a Jew asks us to declare something pure or impure, we may have the knowledge to grant him a heter that will cause him the happiness of milk to drink if that’s where the truth guides us.  And if we must forbid something and cause a Jew loss of money or emotional burden, may it never be based on ignorance but on knowledge.”


[1] Excluding Rabbinic Gezeiros of Chalav Yisroel

Rabbi Moshe Rube is the Rav of Knesseth Israel of Birmingham, Alabama, the only Orthodox synagogue in the state.  He received his Semicha from Yeshiva University and also holds a Master’s degree in Music Education from Lehman College.

The Missing Festive Meal of Chanukah, By Rabbi Elisha Friedman

Maimonides describes the Biblical character Job thus: “But when he knew God with a certain knowledge, he admitted that true happiness, which is the knowledge of the deity, is guaranteed to all who know Him and that a human being cannot be troubled in it by any of all the misfortunes in question. While he had known God only through the traditional stories and not by the way of speculation, Job had imagined that the things thought to be happiness, such as health, wealth, and children, are the ultimate goal. For this reason he fell into such perplexity and said such things as he did.” (Guide for the Perplexed 3:23)

In my interactions with Rabbi Dr. Chaim Schertz I was always struck by how he was the living embodiment of this passage and the Maimonidean ideal of one who treasures knowledge of God above all else. I have read many lovely sentences describing this idea, but with Rabbi Schertz I saw it lived. He valued the study of Torah above all else and that learning in turn sustained him and comforted him through many difficulties. It is my hope that the learning in these articles brings his neshama merit and satisfaction; and meets his high standards.

One of the big conundrums regarding Chanukah is the lack of any obligation to have what is a basic staple of every other Jewish holy day: a festive meal. According to the Shulchan Aruch’s rulings, Shabbos, festivals and even Purim, necessitate a festive meal to accompany them; only Chanukah does not (O.C. 670:2). Why should Chanukah be different from all other holidays?

One might further expand the scope of this question. All other special days on the Jewish calendar are hybrid days, some of the commanded rituals are spiritual (shofar, succah, megillah), others are physical (eating, enjoyment, resting). On Chanukah all of the rituals, all the obligatory practices (Menorah, Al Hanisim and Hallel), are spiritual. Why is only Chanukah a totally spiritual day?

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Chanukkah: How Fire Silently Changes Everything, By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

Nothing marks the holiday of Chanukkah as much as the flickering flame of the Menorah. Despite the fact that this holiday marks a notable military victory too, it is the miracle of the Menorah that dominates the day. Why? Contrasting this holiday with Purim it seems like they have many similarities while at the same time Chanukkah takes on a much quieter tone[1]. No noise, loud singing, or Megillah reading. Just a candle. Considering the outstanding military victory the Maccabees experienced on Chanukkah one would expect more celebratory rituals boasting the great victories that took place during that holiday.

The great 16thcentury philosopher and Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Loew—the Maharal of Prague—argues that the essence of this holiday can be captured in the words of King Solomon: ”Ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr, the mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is the light” (Proverbs 6:23). Any mitzvah we do is likened to a candle and the Torah in its entirety is likened to light. Why a candle? A candle represents the non-tangible connecting to the tangible. The flame exists through its connection to the candle and the candle only has meaning if it is sustaining a flame. Similarly in our own human experience, the spiritual connects to the physical.

This is the exact opposite of what Greek cloture championed[2]. Greek culture was the epitome of physicality; the body was to be worshiped, physical strength idolized, Greek gods represented various aspects of the physical world, and anything different was to be shunned. Alexander the Great charmed the world with the beauty of Greek culture and by its compelling logic. Indeed, there was a lot to be impressed by; the compelling logic and philosophy, the architecture, and the military strength were overwhelming.

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Personalized Pe’rsum, By Moishy Rothman

As we approach the mitzvah of hadlakat nerot, we are confronted with a hard truth. Being that we are in the Galut, due to external and social considerations, we are forced to light inside our homes. We assume, and rightfully so, the ideal Mitzvahof Chanukahis to be done outside. Lighting the menorah is a means of actualizing Pe’ersumaiNisa, publicizing the miracle to the masses. Naturally, lighting in one’s private domain can be seen as an act antithetical to pirsum. However, upon a further analysis of the Halacha, the reshuthayachiddoes seem to play a major role in the mitzvahof Chanukah, informing the attitude we should have when we light today, inside our homes.

The Gemara Shabbos(21b) offers two understands of the requirement to light “Ad She’tichle Regel Min ha’shook.” This refers either to a specific time zone for lighting or a way to gauge how much oil should place in each cup. As for this halacha, is this timeslot unpassable or is it just a recommendation? The Rashbaunderstands this an ideal time, allowing for a greater awareness of the miracle; however, like any other mitzvahwhich is performed during the night hours, it may be done throughout the entire night. The Rambamhowever understands that this is a maximum limitation. After the time passed one may not light anymore. Following the Rashba’sruling, nowadays, the Ba’ali Tosefosexplain, given our situation, we light inside, and thus, the demand to light within the timeframe of the Gemarais null since lighting Nerot Chanukah still produces pe’rsumfor the people in his house. It seems that Tosefotunderstand the nature of publicizing the miracle today has shifted from a public forum to a more private setting.

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The Miracle of the First Night, By Zachary Greenberg

The story of Chanukah is one of the most famous stories in Jewish history and basically all Jews know how the ending goes; The Jews won and couldn’t find any pure oil because the Greeks had defiled all the oil, except one jar. Miraculously that one jar lasted eight nights which was long enough for the Jews to get more pure oil. In remembrance of this miracle, we light the Menorah for eight nights representing the miracle of the one jar that lasted eight nights.

There are two major questions that arise as a result of this. Firstly, why did the Greeks defile all the oil, wouldn’t it have been a lot quicker and effective to either destroy it or use them for their own benefit? Secondly, it makes sense that we celebrate the miracle for nights 2-8, since that was the miracle of the candle lasting, but the first night seemingly isn’t a miracle at all?

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Chanuka: How the People of the Book Celebrate Victory of the Sword, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Hanukkah is Judaism’s most universal holiday with deep resonance for all Americans.

Our great country was founded by refugees who escaped religious persecution in Europe and were prepared to cross an ocean in order to found a colony where they could worship as they chose. Indeed, freedom of religion applied as a principle of colonial government goes back to the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649, which provided that “No person or persons … shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.” By 1777 Thomas Jefferson himself had drafted The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, one of only three achievements Jefferson instructed be put on his tombstone.

For Jews, however, practicing our religion has never been as straightforward. Throughout history we have had to fight and die simply to observe our faith. Hanukkah represents a triumphant moment in the second century B.C.E. when that struggle was victorious.

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