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Matan Torah – a Global Moral Revolution

The Giving of the Torah to Israel rectified an entire world which was subject to slavery, incest, and injustice in law * With the progress of the modern world, the injustices have tempered, but humanity is still in search of deep meanings, which the Torah has an answer for, as well * The complete joy of Shavu’ot is expressed in a combination of eating and drinking, and Torah study * The laws of Eruv Tavshilin

The Existence of the World Depends on Matan Torah

Our Sages said that from the time of creation, the earth was filled with trepidation until the sixth of Sivan, for “God made a condition with the works of creation, saying: ‘If the Jews accept the Torah, you will endure; if not, I will return you to primordial chaos’” (Shabbat 88a). In order to understand the significance of the matter, one needs to examine the moral revolution that the People of Israel brought about in the world. At the time of the Giving of the Torah, a significant proportion of people in the world were slaves, some due to defeat in wars, and others, because of interest-bearing loans they were unable to repay. They had absolutely no rights – their masters could abuse them as they pleased. In merit of the Torah given to Israel, who were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and went out to freedom by the word of God, and thanks to the Torah which commanded to treat a slave as a human being created in the image of God and to maintain his right to believe in God and keep His commandments, in a gradual process, slavery was abolished.

At the time of Matan Torah, the institution of marriage, which expresses a covenant of love, was insecure. Phenomena of incest within the family were widespread, to the point where it was necessary for halakha to instruct that a brother and sister, a father and daughter, or a mother and son who were married and converted, were obligated to separate. In a gradual process, the idea of the sanctity of marriage spread throughout the world. In those times, kings established the law and could bend it as they pleased; in court, judges favored the powerful and rich. In a gradual process, the commandment that a court must deal fairly for all, and that the poor and impoverished should not be discriminated, was accepted. Even the king himself is subject to the law, and for that reason, must write a Sefer Torah which accompanied him for his entire life.

The Crisis in Modern Times

After the Torah had already greatly influenced the world, through the religions that accepted some of its values (Christianity and Islam), and through the various thinkers who developed the doctrine of the state, and the doctrine of morality in light of the Torah, it seemed to many Jews that the nation of Israel had completed its role. There was no longer any need to adhere to Jewish identity and preserve the consciousness of the exile, because since these great values had been internalized by the enlightened nations, one could join them, and in their path, continue improving the world in light of the morals of the Torah and Prophets. On the other hand, Jews who adhered to the Shulchan Aruch were seen as living in the past. Thus began a serious and dangerous process of secularization, and assimilation.

Our Present Role

Despite the great moral progress of mankind in the light of the Torah, we are still very far from the great vision of the Torah. Indeed today, humanity in general revolts against great injustices, and a vast number of people in the world merit living within a law system that affords them rights and dignity. Yet, precisely nowadays, when man is free, he is at odds about how to fulfill his deepest aspirations. Thus, we find many people who fail to maintain a faithful marital relationship, with love and joy. Numerous people are frustrated with their work, and find no value in it. Accepted values such as justice and equality, the needs of the individual and society, ethnic groups and the nation – conflict irreparably. Our Holy Torah possesses guidance and direction for the solution of all these deep questions, and if we do not find them in the Torah, the inadequacy is our own – guardians of the learning halls of Torah, who do not study the Torah properly. We overemphasize the insignificant questions, and neglect the deep ones – often dealing with monetary laws of two thousand years ago, while neglecting monetary laws of today.

May we merit in the coming Shavuot holiday, to rejoice in the Torah, and greatly strengthen ourselves in a deep and straightforward study of Torah, till the time we merit seeing how from every mitzvah and halakha, a great light emanates that rectifies the entire world, ‘and the land be filled with devotion to God, as water covers the sea’.

The Complete Joy of Shavu’ot

There is a unique virtue to the joy of Shavu’ot over the other holidays, that even according to those poskim who are of the opinion that a person may devote the main part of a holiday to Torah study and minimize eating and drinking, on Shavu’ot, alongside Torah study, one is obligated to hold very important festive meals, because it is “the day on which the Torah was given” (Pesachim 68b).

From this halakha we learn an important foundation – the Torah is meant to add blessing and joy in all areas of life. The special virtue of the Torah is that it instructs the path of unifying faith, the purpose of which is to draw blessing and life, both spiritually and physically. To guide family life so that it expresses both truth and holiness, as well as joy and blessing. Also in work and trade, namely, they ensue in honesty, and blessing be drawn from them. Similarly in all areas of life, all of which the Torah deals with, and in all of which we have mitzvot that guide and elevate us to reveal the sacred value, and the resulting blessing in real life. Therefore, it is essential that the joy of Shavu’ot be expressed both in Torah study, and in eating and drinking.

Eruv Tavshilin

This year Shavu’ot falls on a Friday, hence, it is adjacent to Shabbat. In such a situation, it is a mitzvah to place on the eve of Yom Tov an eruv tavshilin, with which it is permissible to cook and bake and prepare everything we need from Yom Tov to Shabbat.

The eruv tavshilin consists of food that is prepared before Yom Tov for Shabbat. It is called an eruv (literally “merging”) because it merges or joins together the food of Yom Tov and the food of Shabbat. Once the eruv has been set aside, then just as it is permissible to bake and cook on Yom Tov for Yom Tov purposes, it becomes permissible to bake and cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat purposes as well. True, on the Torah level it is permitted to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat even without an eruv, but the Sages prohibited doing so, in order to preserve the honor and dignity of both Yom Tov and Shabbat (Beitza 15b).

The honor of Yom Tov: The Sages were concerned that were it permissible to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat unconditionally, people would also cook on Yom Tov for the upcoming week, thus transgressing a Torah prohibition. Therefore, the Sages permitted cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbat only for those who began the Shabbat preparation before Yom Tov by setting aside an eruv tavshilin. Then any preparation for Shabbat undertaken on Yom Tov is simply a continuation of what was begun before Yom Tov. Once people are aware that without an eruv tavshilin they may not cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat, they will realize that it is certainly prohibited to cook on Yom Tov for the upcoming week (R. Ashi’s opinion in the Gemara).

The honor of Shabbat: The Sages were concerned that because of the focus on preparing Yom Tov meals, people might forget that Shabbat was the next day, and would finish all the good food on Yom Tov. Therefore, the Sages required setting aside an eruv tavshilin before Yom Tov, which would help people remember on Yom Tov to leave some good food for Shabbat (Rava’s opinion in the Gemara).

A Mitzvah for Each Family to Set Aside an Eruv Tavshilin       

According to what we have learned, even if one has no plans to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat, he should still set aside an eruv and recite the berakha. One should not be concerned of reciting a berakha levatala (a blessing said in vain), because the primary goal of the eruv is to allow for the possibility of cooking, so it is relevant even if he does not end up doing so. Additionally, by setting aside the eruv he remains aware that Shabbat is coming, and will make certain to prepare food to enjoy its three meals. Besides, according to most poskim, it is having an eruv which allows one to light Shabbat candles on Yom Tov. Likewise, due to the eruv, it is permissible to wash the dishes on Yom Tov in preparation for Shabbat, as well as to set the table for Shabbat.

One Eruv Tavshilin is good for all Family Members and Guests

When a head of household, male or female, sets aside an eruv, all family members and any guests sleeping there are thereby allowed to cook and bake for Shabbat, wash the dishes, and set the table. It is even permissible for the head of a household to appoint a family member or guest to set aside the eruv on everyone’s behalf.

Likewise, guests in a kosher hotel, who are eating the food from the hotel’s kitchen, are all covered by the hotel’s eruv and are permitted to light Shabbat candles on Yom Tov. This is also true in a yeshiva, where all the students and their guests may rely on the yeshiva’s eruv (Peninei Halakha: Festivals 8:3).

How to Place an Eruv Tavshilin

The following is the procedure for setting aside an eruv tavshilin. Taking the cooked food and the bread, one recites the following berakha: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning the mitzvah of eruv” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al mitzvat eruv”). Afterward, he should recite: “With this eruv it shall be permitted to us to bake, cook, light a flame, and do everything necessary on Yom Tov for the sake of Shabbat.” This text may be recited in the original Aramaic (as found in siddurim), or in translation.

The food used for the eruv must be the kind of food which it is appropriate to eat with bread. This includes meat, fish, eggs, and spreads (as long as they are cooked). In contrast, food that is not appropriate to eat with bread – such as cereal, noodles, and rice – is not appropriate for the eruv, even though it is cooked (Beitza 16a; SA 527:4). It is preferable le-khatḥila to set aside an egg’s bulk (kebeitza) of bread as well, as there is an opinion that an eruv’s cooked food allows people only to cook, while baked food is necessary to allow people to bake. Nevertheless, technically, one who set aside only cooked food may bake, as well as cook, for Shabbat.

It is preferable le-khatḥila to set aside a substantial portion of food. When possible, it is a good idea to use a pot full of food that was cooked before Yom Tov for Shabbat. Nevertheless, technically, even if one takes lentils that were left on the bottom of a pot, and which had been cooked for weekday use, he has fulfilled his obligation, as long as there is at least a kezayit of them (Peninei Halakha: Festivals 8:2).

What Is Done with the Eruv Tavshilin

Many people eat the eruv’s cooked food at one of the Shabbat meals. Since this food has been used for one mitzvah (eruv), it is appropriate to use it to fulfill an additional mitzvah (oneg Shabbat). Similarly, many people use the eruv’s bread as part of lechem mishneh at se’uda shlishit (MB 527:11, 48).

Even if one ate part of the eruv’s cooked food on Yom Tov, he may still cook and bake for Shabbat, as long as a kezayit of the food remains. However, if less than a kezayit is left, no further melakha may be done on Yom Tov for Shabbat. Even if the eruv’s bread remains, it is not good enough, as the primary part of the eruv is the cooked food (Peninei Halakha: Festivals 8:3).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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