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Shabuot – Reasons for the Custom to Decorate the Synagogue with Flowers

Rav Haim Palachi (Turkey, 1788-1869), in his work Mo’ed Le’chol Hai, observes that the first day of Shabuot can fall on only four days of the week – Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. These days are represented by the letters “Alef,” “Bet,” “Dalet” and “Vav,” which spell the word “Abedu,” as in the verse, “Abedu Goyim Me’arso” – “Gentile nations have been driven from His land.” As we know, G-d first offered the Torah to the other nations, but they did not accept it, and it was therefore given to the Jewish people. Thus, as a result of the day of Shabuot, the event of Matan Torah, “Abedu Goyim Me’arso” – the gentile nations were driven from Eretz Yisrael, and this is alluded to by the four days on which the holiday can occur.

There is an ancient custom to adorn the synagogue with flowers on the holiday of Shabuot. This custom has been traced back very far back in Jewish history. In fact, Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel interprets Haman’s description of the Jews to Ahashverosh to mean that they spread out flowers in the synagogues on Shabuot. Thus, this custom was practiced already during the times of the Jews in Persia.

Another allusion to this custom in Megilat Ester is the verse, “Ve’ha’dat Nitena Be’Shushan Ha’bira” (literally, “The edict was issued in Shushan, the capital city”), which may be read to mean, “the law was given with roses.” This refers to the fact that when Hashem gave the Torah at Sinai, with every utterance the world was filled with the pleasant fragrance of aromatic flowers and spices. We commemorate this aspect of Matan Torah by adorning the synagogue with flowers.

Rav Haim Palachi also offers a different reason, suggesting that the flowers allude to the “Duda’im,” the plant which Reuven brought to his mother, Leah, as we read in the Book of Bereshit. This plant helped Leah conceive with Yissachar, and the tribe of Yissachar became the nation’s Torah scholars. On the day of Matan Torah, then, we commemorate the plants as a result of which the tribe of Torah scholars emerged.

We might also suggest an additional reason for decorating the synagogue with flowers. The event of Matan Torah was a very frightening experience. The Torah describes how there was thunder, lightning, loud noise and fire, and the people were terrified – “Va’yeherad Ha’am.” By decorating the synagogue and bringing to mind the beautiful and fragrant plants that filled the earth at the time of Matan Torah, we tell Hashem, and ourselves, that we have only a positive association with that event. We focus not on the fear and intimidation, but rather on the pleasantness and beauty of the event, because our attitude and feelings toward Torah are positive and pleasant. When we think of Torah, we think of the joy and satisfaction it provides, and not about fear. By focusing on this aspect of Matan Torah, we remind ourselves of the special Simha of Torah which will hopefully characterize our learning throughout the year.

 


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