Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shavuot--General Customs, Sephardic Customs, Specific Info for This Shavuot Holiday, and, Of Course, A Recipe!


Shavuot is the only major festival mentioned in the Torah that is not given a particular date on the Jewish calendar. Instead, the date of the festival is given in relation to Pesach. Instead of giving us an exact date, we are commanded to count a week of weeks, 49 days, in anticipation of the date the Torah was given. Clearly, the lesson that Shavuot is intimately connected to Pesach cannot be ignored. In order to understand the importance of Shavuot, we must begin with an understanding of this connection.

Pesach is clearly the festival celebrating our freedom from the slavery of Egypt, but this was only the beginning. When one is enslaved, one is stripped of two important aspects of humanity—freedom and responsibility.

As freedom diminishes, so does responsibility. As slaves, we had no ability to control our own destinies or the destinies of our families. We could not make decisions. We lost track of the days as we strived hour by hour just to exist. During this time, it is said that the Jewish people slipped to the 49th level of impurity, a spiritual state so low that we were almost lost completely. Because we lost our freedom, we lost our responsibility. Because we lost our responsibility, we lost our humanity.

At Pesach, Hashm restores our freedom.

At Shavuot, Hashm restores our responsibility.

It’s a gradual process. Immediately following Pesach, we were commanded to begin counting the days, keeping track of time, until the day we will receive the Torah. Anyone who has attempted to count the Omer knows that every day the count becomes more difficult to remember to do.

It requires a greater and greater level of commitment as the Omer progresses, each day building upon the next. As the week of weeks progresses, every day requires more responsibility, more dedication, and a greater level of attention to make it to the end.

Finally, at the culmination of this process of restoration, each day that passes representing the redemption of another level of purity, we receive the Torah, the supreme example of Hashm’s confidence in our ability to rise to the occasion and accept responsibility to live as moral, upright, individuals.

Shavuot is a holiday that most people associate with eating milk products. In fact, I have some friends who seem to think that it is a time when one should never eat meat. This, of course, is not our tradition. Although we eat dairy in the morning, we definitely eat meat for our dinners in order to fulfill the
Mitzvah of Simchat Yom Tov.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. What I want to do is provide a short primer on the holiday of Shavuot, give some basics on general Sephardic practices (but, of course, I don't mean to speak for all Sephardim, as we are such a diverse group!), and give some specifics for this particular holiday--and, of course, throw in a nice recipe (why not?).

OK, here goes:

General Info About Shavuot

The Shavuot holiday begins Thursday evening, May 28, and continues through Shabbat to the evening of May 30. (In Israel, Shavuot ends Friday evening, May 29, but, then it goes right into Shabbat.) This holiday necessitates making a Eruv Tavshilin in order to cook for Shabbat on the Yom Tov. (I have instructions for making an Eruv Tavshilin at the end of this article under "Specific Info For This Holiday.")

It is a widespread custom to stay up the entire night learning Torah. This custom is based upon the Zohar (Parasha Emor 98a) which states that the original pious ones did not sleep this night, and they toiled in Torah.

Since Torah is the way to self-perfection, the Shavuot night learning is called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which means "an act of self-perfection on the night of Shavuot.” The reading established by the AR"I was reading the Pasukim from the beginning and end of each Parasha as well as from the Nivi’im and Ketuvim, etc. All of our Hachamim in the last 400+ years followed this reading.

On Shavuot, we read the Biblical book of Ruth. Ruth was a non-Jewish woman whose love for G-d and Torah led her to convert to Judaism. The Torah intimates that the souls of eventual converts were also present at Sinai, as it says: "I am making [the covenant] both with those here today before the Lord our God, and also with those not here today" (Deut. 29:13).

Ruth is the grandmother of King David, who was born on Shavuot, and died on Shavuot.

On Shavuot, it is customary to decorate the synagogue with branches and/or flowers. This is because Mount Sinai blossomed with flowers on the day the Torah was given. The Bible also associates Shavuot with the harvest of barley and fruits, and marks the bringing of the first fruits to the Holy Temple as an expression of thanksgiving (see Exodus 23:16, 34:22, Numbers 28:26).

Some General Sephardic Customs:

Sephardic customs for Shavuot include the eating of meat, as meat is the food of celebration and the absence of meat may indicate mourning. Many Ashkenazim eat only dairy foods on Shavuot--citing several Torah references for their custom, but this is not our tradition.

The book of Ruth is read in the synagogue, but not at morning services as is the tradition of Ashkenazim.

Because Shavuot is a commemoration of the offering of the “first fruits,” it is customary to include fresh fruit in Shavuot menus. Many also include dishes with honey because learning Torah is equated with the sweetness of honey and Shavuot is the holiday of the Torah.

Specific Info for This Shavuot Holiday

You must make an Erev Tavshilin in order to cook for Shabbat on Yom Tov.

Here's a general article about Erev Tavshilin, how it is done, and some of
the basic halacha:

Rabbi Ephraim Friedman

I’d like to use this opportunity to review some main aspects of the laws of
Eruv Tavshilin.

1 - As a rule, on Shabbos and Yom Tov one is not allowed to do any preparing for a different day. Consequently, even melachos which are permitted on Yom Tov such as cooking, baking, and carrying, may be performed for the needs of that day only. When Yom Tov falls out on Friday, however, the Chachamim permitted preparing food for Shabbos on Friday, provided an Eruv Tavshilin is made in advance. Through the process of Eruv Tavshilin, one actually begins Shabbos preparations on erev Yom Tov, and the melachos which are performed on Yom Tov proper for Shabbos are considered a continuation of these preparations. (Rema O.C. 527:1 See Beur Halacha there for a fuller discussion of the background and mechanics of Eruv Tavshilin.)

2 - The materials necessary to create an Eruv Tavshilin are a portion of bread or matza and a portion of cooked meat or fish or some other cooked food which is customarily eaten together with bread (e.g. a hard boiled egg). The amount of bread should preferably be at least the size of a c’beitza, which is twice the size of a c’zayis. The average challah roll or sheet of matza will serve the purpose. (If the eruv was made with one c’zayis of bread, it need not be repeated.) Even a broken or started roll or matza, or a large slice of bread, can be used for the eruv provided it meets the minimum shiur. Nonetheless, it is a hidur (an enhancement of the mitzva) to use a shalem – a complete loaf.

The minimum shiur of the portion of cooked food required for an Eruv Tavshilin is one c’zayis. Any method of preparing the food for consumption (e.g. cooking, roasting, frying, etc.) is acceptable. Here, too, hidur mitzva dictates that an attractive, tasty portion of food be used. As explained above, the concept of the Eruv is that Shabbos preparations have already begun before Yom Tov begins. In this vein, it is a preference that the food which is used be cooked specifically for the purpose of Eruv Tavshilin, or at least that it be cooked expressly for Shabbos use. It is also preferred that it be cooked specifically on erev Yom Tov as opposed to earlier. (Beur Halacha 527:6 and 14) In practice, however, as long as the food is designated for the Eruv Tavshilin (in the manner which will be explained below) the eruv is valid, regardless of when and for what purpose the food was originally cooked.

3 - The actual procedure of establishing an Eruv Tavshilin is as follows. After selecting appropriate food items, the head of household – or whoever else is making the Eruv – takes the food in his hands and recites a brocha (…asher kidishunu b’mitzvosav v’tzivunu al mitzvas eruv). He then makes a statement, declaring that through this eruv it should be permissible to cook, bake, insulate food, light candles and do whatever else necessary on Yom Tov for the sake of Shabbos. This declaration, which can be found in most siddurim and machzorim in the original Aramaic text, should be recited in a language which is understood by the one saying it.

In the event that the one establishing the eruv neglected to recite the brocha, the eruv is nonetheless valid and should not be repeated. If, however the above declaration was omitted, the validity of the eruv is questionable. Therefore, if you realize your mistake before Yom Tov begins, the food items should be lifted again and the declaration recited. If a brocha was recited the first time it should not be repeated. If you don’t realize your mistake until Yom Tov has begun a Rav should be consulted. (See Mishna Brurah 527:63)

4 - After establishing the Eruv Tavshilin the two food items should be carefully stored away for Shabbos. In the event that the bread of the eruv is eaten or lost before Shabbos arrives the eruv is still valid. Nonetheless, if this happens before Yom Tov begins, take new bread and redo the eruv including reciting the eruv declaration, but do not repeat the brocha. On the other hand, if the cooked food of the eruv is eaten, lost, or spoils, from that point and on the eruv is no longer valid. If this occurs before the onset of Yom Tov, the eruv must be redone. If this occurs after Yom Tov has begun, a Rav should be consulted.

Once Shabbos arrives the eruv can be eaten. It is a proper minhag to use the bread of the eruv as part of your lechem mishneh on Friday night, Shabbos morning, and again at shalashudos, at which point it is eaten. Even if the eruv food is not eaten on Shabbos, the validity of the eruv is unaffected.

5 - When Yom Tov falls on Thursday and Friday, the Eruv Tavshilin which is established Wednesday, erev Yom Tov, allows one to prepare for Shabbos on erev Shabbos only. No preparations for Shabbos may be done on Wednesday night or Thursday (until after nightfall). When Friday is the first day of Yom Tov, the Eruv Tavshilin should be established on Thursday, erev Yom Tov, to permit preparing for Shabbos on Thursday night and Friday.

6 - According to one view in the g’marah, the principle behind Eruv Tavshilin is that any food prepared on Friday Yom Tov, although intended for Shabbos, may potentially be used for on Yom Tov itself. If not for this potential the Eruv Tavshilin would be ineffective. It follows from this that any Shabbos preparations being performed on Yom Tov should be done at an early enough point in the day that using the food on Yom Tov would at least be possible. The Mishna Brurah paskens that one must conduct himself in accordance with this view. Therefore one should not wait until late in the day to put up a cholent or to begin cooking other Shabbos foods. Rather, all melacha for Shabbos should be done early enough that the food which is cooking will be at least partially cooked and somewhat edible before Shabbos arrives. In the event that one was delinquent and did not make sufficient preparations early on, one may rely on the opinions which permit cooking for Shabbos as long as it is before sunset. (see M.B. 527:3 and Beur Halacha.)

7 - Only those melachos which are normally permissible on Yom Tov for Yom Tov, are permissible on Friday Yom Tov for Shabbos through the process of Eruv Tavshilin. Anything which is forbidden to do on Yom Tov for the same day, may not be done on Yom Tov for Shabbos even though an Eruv Tavshilin has been established. For example, one may not plug in or turn on an electric crock pot or any other electric appliance or lights on Yom Tov despite the Eruv Tavshilin. Similarly, one may not strike a match to light Shabbos candles nor pick fruits or vegetables from the garden, even to serve at the Shabbos meals.

8 - One Eruv Tavshilin is effective for all the members of the household. According to accepted practice, this includes individuals (e.g. married children or friends) who are members of the household over the days of Yom Tov and Shabbos although they have their own permanent residence. A family which is sleeping in their own home during Yom Tov but eating all the meals at the home of others should establish an Eruv Tavshilin in their own home without reciting the brocha. The eruv declaration (see #3 above) should be recited. A family which is spending the two days of Yom Tov at the home of others, but returning to their own home on Friday to prepare to spend Shabbos at home, should establish an Eruv Tavshilin (on Wednesday erev Yom Tov) and recite the brocha as well.

9 - If one forgot to make an Eruv Tavshilin, or if the cooked food of the eruv is lost or eaten on Yom Tov, a Rav should be consulted.

Rabbi Friedman, the Moreh Horah at Mikor Chaim and Dayan for the CRC Beis Din, is a Maggid Shiur at the Kollel.

A Recipe!

Moroccan Chicken Tangine with Honey and Apricots

6 lbs chicken pieces
1 large yellow onion
1/2 olive oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cinnamon sticks
1 lb dried apricots
8 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup peeled almonds
1 tablespoon sesame seed oil

Put olive oil in a large pot or tangine. Fry the chopped onions until soft, then add the chicken, salt, pepper, turmeric and cinnamon sticks. Add enough water to cover the chicken, about two cups. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the chicken is done, adding water if necessary. Remove the chicken pieces.

Add the apricots and simmer for about fifteen minutes. Add the ground cinnamon and the honey, stir and cook until the sauce has a honey-like consistency.
(Add more honey if necessary.)

When the sauce is almost ready, saute the almonds in oil. Drain most of the oil from the pan, and toast the sesame seeds. Return the chicken to the pot and reheat. Place the chicken on a serving tray, pour the sauce on top of it and top with the almonds and the sesame seeds. Serve with Couscous .

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