Shabuot: Completing Our Celebration of the Exodus
In the times of the Bet Ha’mikdash, a special sacrifice was offered on Shabuot called the Korban Sheteh Ha’lehem, which consisted of two loaves of bread. The Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles, Cracow, 1525-1572) writes that the famous custom to eat dairy products on Shabuot commemorates this sacrifice. Since a loaf of bread used at a dairy meal cannot then be used at a meat meal, having both a dairy meal and a meat meal on Shabuot necessitates using two different loaves of bread – symbolizing the Korban Sheteh Ha’lehem.
A unique feature of this sacrifice is that these loaves were baked as Hametz. Normally, all flour offerings in the Bet Ha’mikdash were required to remain unleavened, without becoming Hametz. Shabuot marks an exception, as the Torah requires offering two leavened loaves as part of the special holiday sacrifice.
How might we explain the significance of this offering?
The answer emerges from the only other instance when Hametz was included in an offering in the Bet Ha’mikdash – the Korban Toda, or thanksgiving offering. This offering included forty loaves of bread, ten of which were baked as Hametz. Another unusual characteristic of the Toda is the time-frame for the consumption of the meat. Normally, when one offers a sacrifice whose meat is shared by the Kohanim and the person offering the sacrifice, the meat may be eaten through the following day. Meaning, if one offered the sacrifice on Monday, he may eat the meat until sundown on Tuesday. The Korban Toda, however, is exceptional, in that the meat is eaten by the person bringing the sacrifice – and with those with whom he shares it – but only through the night after the sacrifice is offered. If a "Toda" is offered on Monday, its meat may be eaten through Monday night, but not on Tuesday. The Abarbanel (Rav Don Yishak Abarbanel, Portugal, 1437-1508) explains that one who brings a Toda is expected to conduct a large feast, inviting many guests, in order to publicly express his gratitude to G-d for helping him. The Torah therefore commanded that the Toda must be a very large sacrifice, which may be eaten in a brief period of time, thus necessitating the invitation of a large number of guests, through whom G-d’s kindness is widely publicized.
A number of Rabbis have noted that the Korban Pesach resembles a Korban Toda. It includes bread – specifically, Masa – and the meat of the sacrifice may be eaten only through the night after the sacrifice is offered (or until Hasot, according to one opinion). Moreover, the Korban Pesach was customarily eaten in large groups – just as our Pesach Seder even today is conducted in large family gatherings – like the Korban Toda.
Of course, there is one critical distinction between the Korban Pesach and the Korban Toda – the Korban Pesach includes only Masa, without any leavened bread. According to one commentator – Rav Shaul of Amsterdam (1717-1790) – the first of the four questions asked by the child at the Seder relates precisely to this point. The child observes that "on all nights we eat both Hametz and Masa." Rav Shaul of Amsterdam explained this to mean that generally, when a Korban Toda is brought, it consists of both Hametz and Toda, whereas on Pesach, we include with our thanksgiving offering only Masa.
But what is the answer to this question? Why does a regular Korban Toda consist of both Hametz and Masa, whereas the Korban Pesach – when we offer thanksgiving for the miracle of the Exodus – includes only Masa?
The answer is the celebration of Shabuot.
The Hametz loaves offered on Shabuot complete the Korban Toda that began on Pesach. The "missing" Hametz loaves from the Korban Pesach, our thanksgiving offering celebrating the Exodus, are brought on Shabuot.
This insight into the special Shabuot offering underscores the strong link between Pesach and Shabuot. The Ramban (Rav Moshe Nahmanides, 1194-1270) famously writes that the Sefirat Ha’omer period between Pesach and Shabuot should be seen as the "Hol Ha’mo’ed" of a single, integrated holiday. Meaning, Pesach and Shabuot are actually two parts of the same holiday, linked by the Omer period.
Pesach celebrates our freedom from Egyptian slavery. However, we were not completely free until we arrived at Sinai and received the Torah. Freedom without a goal, an ideal, a purpose, is not true freedom. The significance of the freedom we attained at Pesach did not materialize until we received the Torah, which is the purpose for which we were brought out of Egypt.
True freedom does not mean that we can do whatever we want. Freedom means that we are able to live with meaning and purpose. And thus the process of the Exodus which began on Pesach was not complete until Shabuot.
In light of what we have seen, we might refer to Shabuot as our "thanksgiving." This is when the Korban Toda – the thanksgiving sacrifice – is completed. It is the time when we give thanks to Hashem for granting us the ultimate freedom – the freedom to serve Him, thereby realizing the purpose for which we were created.