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Shabuot – The Special Quality of the Month of Sivan; A Reason for Eating Dairy Products on Shabuot

Rav Haim Palachi (Izmir, Turkey, 1788-1869) composed a work entitled Mo’ed Le’chol Hai, in which he discusses the unique qualities of every Hebrew month and the significant days in each month. In his discussion of the month of Sivan – the month in which we received the Torah, as we celebrate on Shabuot – he writes that this month is especially suited for developing the qualities of humility, unity among the Jewish people, and clear comprehension of Torah (listen to audio recording for precise citation). He then adds that the sins of Bittul Torah (wasting time that could be used for Torah study), gossip, slander, frivolity and other forms of inappropriate speech are particularly grievous during the month of Sivan. Although these offenses are certainly considered sinful regardless of when they are committed, violators are liable to especially harsh retribution, Heaven forbid, if they commit these sins during the month of Sivan. As this is the month in which we receive the Torah, and we are to devote ourselves – and especially our faculty of speech – to studying the Torah, these violations committed during Sivan have a particularly harmful spiritual effect in the heavens.

Rav Haim Palachi then proceeds to extol the custom that was practiced by many wealthy philanthropists in Izmir – whom he lists by name – to distribute money to needy Torah scholars before Shabuot. Of course, it is important to give money to needy Torah scholars before every holiday to assist them with their holiday expenses. But there is a special Misva to support Torah scholars before Shabuot, the holiday which celebrates our receiving the Torah.

Amidst this discussion, Rav Haim Palachi offers an insightful explanation for the common practice to eat dairy products on Shabuot. One of the reasons given for the Misva of Sefirat Ha’omer is that it corresponds to the seven-day period that a woman must observe as part of the purification process required after menstruation. Just as a woman who becomes ritually impure must undergo a seven-day purification process, similarly, Beneh Yisrael, who were on the forty-ninth level of impurity at the time of the Exodus, required a seven-week purification process to prepare themselves for Matan Torah. Their extreme state of impurity required them to observe a period of seven weeks, rather than just seven days. Now the Sages tell us that the milk of a nursing mother is produced from the menstrual blood inside her body ("Dam Na’asa Halab" – "The blood becomes milk"). Women do not menstruate when they are nursing, because the blood transforms to milk that is fed to the infant. Therefore, as our process of purification leading up to Shabuot resembles the purification process required after menstruation, when the blood has ceased to flow, we eat dairy products, as milk signifies the cessation of bleeding, and thus symbolizes our purification.

Rabbi Karp noted an allusion to this concept in Parashat Mesora, in the section where the Torah discusses the seven-day purification process of a Zab (a man who experienced an unusual bodily emission). The three verses that describe this process (Vayikra 15:13-15) contain forty-nine words, alluding to the forty-nine days of the Omer period which correspond to the seven days of purification described in the Torah. And, interestingly enough, the thirty-third word in these verses is "Mo’ed" ("occasion," often used in reference to festivals), and thus corresponds to Lag Ba’omer, the thirty-third day in the Omer, which we observe as a joyous occasion.

Summary: The month of Sivan is an especially auspicious time for developing humility, unity among the Jewish people, and clear understanding of Torah. The sins of Bittul Torah, gossip, slander and frivolity are particularly grave during this month. It is proper to give money to needy Torah scholars before the holiday of Shabuot.


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