Saturday, May 30, 2009

Shtei HaLechem

This afternoon, I spoke before mincha at the shul of my future father-in-law. The following is a brief summary of my remarks.

Shavu'os is the chag which is least obviously associated with any particular mitzvah. Looking at the pesukim, though, two of the three parshiyos on the chag discuss the shtei halechem, the "minchah chadashah" that was the first korban offered from the new wheat crop in the Beis HaMikdash. There are several interesting aspects to this korban. Firstly, it's one of the only instances (the korban todah being the other) in which chametz is incorporated into the avodah of the mikdash. Besides the mussafim of Shavu'os that are offered on the same day as the shtei halachem, the loaves also carry with them their own set of associated animal offerings, including 2 lambs that are offered as public sh'lamim, zivchei shalmei tzibbur, a category that has no other examples. I'd like to explore several different derachim to understand the significance of this mitzvah to Shavu'os.

The Ramban, picking up on the commonality of the usage of chametz, suggests that the shtei halachem is merely a special, communal, form of the korban todah, offered as thanksgiving for a successful agricultural season, the focal point of which is the wheat harvest that occurs around this season. He notes further that, although the avodas ha-mikdash usually eschews the extreme forms of gevurah and chesed represented by chametz and dvash, akin to ma'aseh bereishis that was accomplished through a fusion of gevurah and chesed, the korban todah (and, I suppose the bikkurim) is an exception to this rule, and it is for this reason that Chazal say that all korbanos will be beteilim during yemos ha-mashiach besides the korban todah. V'ha-maskil yavin, which is why I don't.

The Netziv, in Ha'amek Davar starts with a similar idea, but goes in the opposite direction. From Amos 4:5-8, he learns out the existence of an ancient custom to offer korbanos todah on Sukkos as a zechus for sufficient rain. So, too, he suggests that the shtei halechem serve as a communal todah to serve as a zechus against bad winds and bad dews. The Netziv's opinion can be supported by the fact that the shnei kevasim of the shtei halechem were the single korban that was hunaf both when they were alive and when they were shechted, and, in several places in Shas, the idea is expressed that the purpose of tenufah is precisely to prevent bad winds and bad dews.

The Kli Yakar finds in the minchah chadashah of the shtei halechem an allusion to matan torah, which must be viewed as a continually self-renewing event, rather than a delimited episode of our history (indeed, for this reason, the commemoration of matan torah is never openly limited to a single day within the torah). This being the case, the inclusion of chametz in the shtei halechem is representative of the yetzer hara, which bears a close relationship to kabalas hatorah in two senses. Firstly, the Torah serves as an antidote against the yetzer hara, so that by including chametz in this korban, we are indicating our security in the face of this threat. Additionally, the yetzer hara serves as the raison d'etre of matan torah, as per Moshe's argument against the mal'achei ha-shareis when he went up to Har Sinai, as, without a yetzer hara, one has no need for the mitzvos of the Torah.

R' Zalman Sorotzkin in Oznayim LaTorah, also sees an allusion to Matan Torah in the shift from the barley korban of the minchas omer to the wheat korban of the shtei halachem, in addition to the inclusion of shalmei tzibbur in the korban. The consumption of wheat is a distinction between humans and animals, while the consumption of meat is representative of an additional spiritual level, as per the proscription against an am ha-aretz eating meat. For this reason, the shtei halechem represents the humanizing process that we underwent through matan torah.

To summarize:

Ramban: Korban todah for past, safe extremism
Netziv: Korban todah for future, prevention of bad winds and dews
Kli Yakar: Matan Torah and the yetzer hara
R' Sorotzkin: Matan Torah and humanization

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