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Ask the Rabbi: Second Day of Shavuos

Dear Rabbi Fried,

In response to your explanation (about making a Zoom minyan), I respectfully would like to ask you another question.

For years I have been struggling with the observance of 8 days of Passover.  The Torah goes out of the way to say, “7 days”.  Literally it says – and if you are slow and didn’t understand let me repeat it several times – 7 days!!!  The best explanation I was given was that hundreds of years ago a “hard logic-based decision by Talmudic scholars” was made to erect a fence around the law.  The fact that we have watches now and we do not need drums to send messages from Jerusalem to Dallas is irrelevant. 

The best explanation that put all my worries to rest was by Maimonides: The Torah commands you to do as your fathers did. 

I can live with that.

My best regards,

Respectfully yours,

Yuri


Dear Yuri,

The question of why keep a second day of the holiday is strongest with regards to Shavuos. The Talmud poses the question of why we need to keep a second day of Yom Tov, or holiday. It asks, in the days of old when the Sanhedrin, or High Court of Jerusalem would sanctify the new month, dictating when Pesach would fall out, those distant from Jerusalem may not get the word by Pesach and had to keep a 2nd day out of doubt. However, in Talmudic times they had a calendar and already knew when Pesach falls out?! The Talmud answers that the Roman persecutions could cause the calendric calculation to be forgotten and hence, “continue the custom of your forefathers”, (Talmud Beitzah 4a).

However, with regards to Shavuos, there never was a doubt! It is observed 49 days after Pesach, which is enough time for even the most distant Jews to know when Pesach was kept in Jerusalem. Why, then, was there ever a need to observe a second day of Shavuos?!

One answer is revealing to the entire institution of the 2nd day of Yom Tov. This extra day is only observed in the diaspora; in Israel only one day is observed. Why this discrepancy?

 Whenever the Talmud gives a legal rationale for rabbinical decrees, it is only revealing the surface reason. There are, below the surface, deeper, Kabbalistic sources for what the sages had in mind when enacting these decrees. Let’s look for the underlying rationale behind the 2nd day of the holiday.

When we observe a holiday, it is not simply a hollow, mechanical fulfillment. Rather, each holiday is a window – opening into an immense source of light. When we observe that holiday, we illuminate our souls with that light in a way which remains part of our eternal spiritual estate. 

The Kabbalistic masters explain that the illumination one can tap into, in a holiday, can be attained in one day in the Land of Israel. Israel is the gate unto Heaven.

The diaspora, however, is distant from the source and the light. That heavenly light goes through numerous filters till one can connect to it in the diaspora. It takes an extra day to assimilate the spiritual light into ones being.

Hence, this is the underlying reason why the rabbis instituted a second day in the diaspora – to have complete holiday experience!

There is a second reason as well which, perhaps, we will address in next week’s column.

May you and all the readers have a beautiful Shavuos holiday!

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