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4 Sivan 5759, May 19 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Korbon Shtei HaLechem on Shavuos
by HaRav Simchah Kessler

"You shall observe the festival of weeks, the first fruits of the wheat harvest" (Shemos 34:22). Rashi writes that "the first fruits of the wheat harvest" means the time "when you bring the shtei halechem" (the "two loaves of bread" -- a meal-offering of two loaves made of fine wheat flour brought on Shavuos, see Vayikro 23:16-17).

The Tzedah Laderech (4:4:1) writes: "The Omer brought on Pesach is of barley, since only the bodies [of bnei Yisroel] emerged from enslavement to redemption; therefore, their food was like that of animals. After fifty days, on Shavuos, when [bnei Yisroel] attained the Torah's ma'alah -- the soul's freedom from hard work -- their korbon came from the first fruits of the wheat harvest, a food for people."

Shavuos, the yom tov when we received the Torah, was especially designated for offering the shtei halechem, a food that people eat, as opposed to barley, an animal food, brought after the first yom tov of Pesach in the Omer offering. This is because on Shavuos the souls of bnei Yisroel were truly liberated from the "hard work" of Egypt.

Odom Horishon's Level After His Cheit

Chazal (Tana Dvei Eliyahu Rabbah ch. 31) write: "When HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to the man, `Thorns and thistles shall [the earth] bring forth to you, and you shall eat herbs of the field' (Bereishis 3:18) all his limbs trembled. HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to him, `Since all your limbs trembled, you shall [instead] eat bread,' as is written: `By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread' (ibid., 19)."

What caused Odom Horishon to tremble so much when he heard that his punishment would be to eat herbs of the field?

Before his cheit, Odom Horishon was on an exceptionally lofty spiritual level; he even had a place within the realm of the mal'achei hashoreis (Bereishis Rabbah 21:1). HaRav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto writes (Da'as Tevunos, pg. 100): "Before his cheit, Odom Horishon was so crowned with diadems of kedushah and abundant glory that the mal'achei hashoreis even thought to say `kodosh' before him, as Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 8:9) write."

After Odom Horishon sinned, when HaKodosh Boruch Hu told him, "You shall eat herbs of the field," his whole body trembled. He understood that because of his cheit he had fallen tremendously. Not only did he forfeit his place in the lofty realm of the holy mal'ochim; he had even lost his position as a human being. Worse yet, he had become coarsely material, like an animal -- "He is compared to the beasts" (Tehillim 49:13). Likewise, the gemora (Pesochim 118a) writes: "R' Yehoshua Ben Levi said, When HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to man, `Thorns and also thistles shall [the earth] bring forth to you, and you shall eat herbs of the field,' he shed tears. [Odom] said before Him: `Ruler of the World! I and my donkey will eat together in one trough!' [Then,] when Hashem said to him, `By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread,' he was able to compose himself."

The Vilna Gaon (Even Sheleimah 1:12, in note) writes that man descended to Olom Hazeh only to rectify his animalistic nefesh, which is only the outer garb of the rational nefesh that is man's true essence. The animalistic nefesh is attracted to the yetzer hora, and it subsumes all material desires and pleasures and all sins. Furthermore, all of the mitzvos, along with their reward and punishment, depend on the animalistic nefesh, since it energizes the body to do mitzvos, and it is the garb of tzaddikim in Gan Eden, since the mitzvos depend on it. Before the cheit of Odom Horishon, the animalistic nefesh dwelled within man and was called his "coat of light"; but after he sinned the coats of light were separated from man. They were given over to the sitra achra and were now called "coats of skins," for they were made of the skins of snakes.

When HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to Odom Horishon, "You shall eat herbs of the field," he understood that from now on his nefesh would be separated from his neshomoh and would descend to a lowly level. This drop in importance was alluded to by the decree that his food would from now on be the same as animals' food; that is why his whole body shook when he heard this.

We still need to understand what exactly was the punishment of being condemned to "eat herbs of the field" (which was, of course, actually a corrective process -- a tikun -- for the cheit of Odom Horishon).

Odom profited enormously from the sorrow and disgrace that he experienced, since the suffering of the nefesh is more acute than that of the body. More atonement is gained through the pain that the nefesh undergoes than through what the body undergoes (see Sha'arei Teshuvah 1:13).

The first keloloh, "You shall eat herbs of the field," did not require man to work hard, and hence was unlike the keloloh of "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread." There was no need for Odom to devote much time in order to eat herbs of the field, time such as the keloloh of finding a livelihood demanded.

On the other hand, the disgrace caused by this keloloh was appalling: I and my donkey will eat together in one trough! -- man's nourishment would come from animal food. The pain that the nefesh would suffer because of that keloloh acted as a colossal kaporo, since disgrace cleanses one of sin. The objective of the keloloh was not to serve as a punishment for man, preventing him from ever returning to his original level of being a man. On the contrary, the shame and anguish his nefesh would feel, bettered him. It elevated and purified his material side so that he could reach once again the level of "man."

Sweating for Bread -- A Means of Elevating Man

"HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to [Odom]: `Since all of your limbs trembled, you shall eat bread,' as is written: `By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.'" Odom Horishon's limbs shook with the terrible fear of his high, supernatural level becoming merely physical. His recognition and understanding of this terrible fall to a physical level was itself somewhat of a tikun for him, and was considered to a certain extent to purify him. Odom was therefore able to rise from the level of, "You shall eat herbs of the field" -- the level of an animal -- to the level of "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread" -- the level of man.

What is so unique about the decree of "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread"? Bread is a more select food than animal food. An animal eats herbs that grow in the field without any preparation. Bread is different. It must be cleaned, sieved, and prepared in order to become a food. Preparing bread is not as easy as gathering animal food from the field, and much "sweat of your brow" is needed. The effort put into preparing our food is the tikun for Odom after his cheit. Nonetheless, his first punishment, although it did not require him to exert himself, was much greater. "You shall eat herbs of the field" -- "I and my donkey will eat together in one trough!" The "sweat of your brow" was a tikun for Odom after sinning, as the mishna (Ovos 2:2) writes: "Torah study is good together with an occupation, for the exertion of them both makes sin to be forgotten." Exertion saves a person from the yetzer hora and slightly refines man's material side.

This is also what the gemora (Kiddushin 82a) teaches us: "R' Shimon ben Eliezer said: `Did you ever see an animal or bird that had a trade? Although they do not have a trade they have a livelihood without any suffering. Since [animals and birds] were only created to serve me, and I was created to serve Hashem, it stands to reason that I too should have a livelihood without suffering, but I ruined myself by my acts and deprived myself of livelihood.'"

Surely exerting ourselves to find a livelihood and the suffering involved in trying to attain it are a tikun for "I ruined myself by my acts." This is, however, only because man was created to serve Hashem. Because of his sublime purpose in life, everything he does is carefully examined, and a failure to act properly causes ruin to his livelihood and necessitates his working hard. This functions as a tikun to bring man around to the right way. On the other hand, animals, who have no spiritual purpose for themselves, and whose creation and essence is only to help man, attain livelihood easily. They do not need the tikun of, "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread" to cause them to behave correctly.

The Yoke of Torah Elevates Man and Removes the Yoke of Livelihood From Him

According to what we have explained above, eating bread alludes to man's succeeding to elevate himself from materialism and his rise from the level of "You shall eat herbs of the field," wherein "I and my donkey will eat together from one trough." Nonetheless, exertion and suffering while trying to make a living are still needed, so that he can have this tikun and be elevated and refined from the material condition of "You shall eat herbs of the field."

Chazal (Ovos 3:5) inform us that, "If someone takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, then the yoke of government and that of worldly responsibilities are removed from him." The yoke of government and the yoke of worldly responsibilities refine man -- "for the exertion of them both makes sin to be forgotten" (Ovos 2:2). According to the above, the purpose of a yoke and of exertion is to elevate man, who is a material being, from the level of "You shall eat herbs of the field." Once he accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah he in any case does not need to exert himself about worldly responsibilities so as to insure that his sin will be forgotten. The yoke of Torah refines and purifies man much more than any physical exertion and raises him to the highest levels. "If you meet `that despicable person,' drag him to the beis hamedrash. If he is a stone he will melt; if he is iron he will explode" (Succah 52b). The power of Torah can defeat the yetzer hora and melt and burst it!

Instead of the physical exertion of, "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread," that indeed lifts man from the level of an animal, man can accept upon himself the yoke of Torah. Through his toil over Torah studies he can refine himself and grow in ruchniyus. The yoke of Torah functions in place of the yoke of government and worldly responsibilities.

This principle is made evident in the gemora (Brochos 35b) too: "Is it possible for a person to plow at the time of plowing, sow at the time of sowing, harvest at the time of harvesting? . . . What will become of the Torah? Instead, when Yisroel do the will of Hashem their work is done by others, as is written: `Strangers will stand and feed your flocks' (Yeshaya 61:5). When they do not do the will of Hashem their work is done by themselves." We see from the gemora that when am Yisroel does the will of Hashem the keloloh of having to exert themselves to make a livelihood does not exist. From what the Tanna says, "If someone takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly responsibilities are then removed from him," we learn that the same Divine conduct applies to individuals too. Through accepting upon himself the yoke of Torah, each person is zoche to perfect himself, and the yoke of derech eretz is removed from him.

Through the Yoke of Torah a Person is Zoche to Abundant Brocho

Embracing the yoke of Torah does not only obviate the keloloh of, "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread," which is the tikun for man's materialism. Through it man is also zoche to abundant brocho.

"Yissochor is a strong donkey (Bereishis 49:14) -- the fruits of Yissochor's territory were plump. Yissochor's shevet would take [these fruits and bring them to Zevulun. He would take them] and set out to sea. Other nations would look at [the fruit] and be amazed. Yisroel would say to them: `You are amazed by these [fruits]? If you were to see the owners of these [fruits] engaged in Torah then you would have something to be amazed about.' Many geirim came [as a result] and converted" (Bereishis Rabbah 98:12). Because shevet Yissochor was occupied in their Torah study, a brocho came upon their fruit and non-Jews were amazed at the fruit's enormous size.

Similar to this, the gemora (Kesuvos 111b) writes: "R' Chiya bar Ada was a tutor to Reish Lokish's children. [R' Chiya] was absent from teaching them for three days. When he returned, [Resh Lokish] asked him: `Why were you missing?' [R' Chiya] answered: `My father bequeathed me a vineyard and on the first day I harvested three hundred clusters [of grapes] from it, and each cluster yielded one garav of wine. On the second day I garnered three hundred clusters [of grapes] and every two yielded one garav of wine. The third day I gathered three hundred clusters, but only three clusters yielded a garav. By now I have abandoned more than half of the grapes [since he had made already so much wine].' [Resh Lokish] said to him: `Had you not been absent [from teaching my children] the [vineyard] would have yielded even more." Rashi (s.v. haveh) explains that "[it would have yielded still more] since you see that the amount of wine produced by the clusters decreased every day, and that was the punishment for having been absent [from teaching Torah]."

From this sugya it is apparent that one must exert himself to gain a livelihood to the opposite of the extent that one has accepted the Torah's yoke. To the same degree that a person exerts himself over Torah, the brilliant light of the Torah purifies and exalts him. Such a person does not need to toil over his livelihood. On the other hand, missing Torah studies means that a person must suffer more of the yoke of making a living, so that he can elevate himself from the level of, "You shall eat herbs of the field" -- being like an animal -- up to the level of man, as explained before.

Shtei Halechem -- Food for Man

According to what we have written, that the Torah has the power to bring man to a lofty spiritual level and that it refines and purifies his material side, we can understand what the Tzedah Laderech wrote, that on Shavuos we offer the shtei halechem, which is food for man. On the yom tov of our receiving the Torah, the shtei halechem allude to our being freed from the keloloh of, "You shall eat herbs of the field" -- the level of an animal -- and our entering upon the level of being man -- "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread."

It can be added, as previously mentioned, that we no longer require the keloloh of, "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread" to make sin be forgotten when a person lifts himself up through accepting the yoke of Torah. This in turn removes from him the yoke of government and worldly responsibilities.

Shavuos, the yom tov of receiving the Torah, is the most acceptable time for a person to ascend higher in ruchniyus and become the "heritage of Hashem." "There is no free man except one engaged in Torah, since anyone who is engaged in Torah elevates himself, as is written (Bamidbar 21:19) From Matanah to Nachliel and from Nachliel to Bomos'"(Ovos 6:2). Rashi (ibid.) explains, according to the gemora (Eruvin 54a), that "once the Torah was given to them as a present (Matanah) they received the inheritance of Hashem (Nachliel), meaning that Hashem has brought them into His portion, and once they have the inheritance of Hashem they rise to importance, as is written `From Nachliel to Bomos' (Bomos meaning a high platform)." Man is elevated to the way he was when Hashem first created him.

"You have ascended on high, you have captured what was held captive, you have received gifts for men" (Tehillim 68:19). Rashi explains that " You have ascended' -- you, the noble one of his nation, Moshe Ben Amram, `on high, you have captured' the Torah, `You have received gifts for men' -- you have received gifts from the heavenly mal'ochim and have given them to the people." Spiritual gifts are the "gifts for men" -- for "Odom," the highest level of Odom Horishon. Through the Torah a person lifts himself to be on the level of "Odom." "You are called Odom" (see Yevomos 61a). For good reason Chazal (Brochos 63b) learn from the posuk "A man (Odom) who dies in a tent" (Bamidbar 19:14) that "Divrei Torah remain only with someone who kills himself over them." Chazal derive this from "`Odom' who dies in a tent' since through toiling over Torah man elevates himself and becomes an "Odom."

This is the reason and the secret of why we bring shtei halechem, which is food for man, on Shavuos. Through accepting the yoke of Torah on Shavuos, the time when "man took presents," a person rises above all forms of materialism and reaches a level where "you are called Odom." Likewise, on Shavuos our nefoshos are freed from their "hard work," as the Tzedah Laderech writes. On Pesach bnei Yisroel only stopped being enslaved: their bodies were redeemed, but they did not yet attain the high level of being an Odom. The korbon we bring on Pesach is therefore made of barley, an animal food. However, on Shavuos the Jews were zoche to complete elevation, for through receiving the Torah they rose to the level of Odom -- "You have received gifts for men" -- for the sake of men -- and therefore the korbon is made from wheat, a food that men eat.

Going to Sinai Bnei Yisroel Attained the Level of Odom

Besides bnei Yisroel actually receiving the Torah, their approach to Mount Sinai itself caused them to rise through spiritual levels. They became nearer to Hashem through their preparations and self-sanctification towards kabolas HaTorah, and their proclamation, "We will do and we will hear." Through these things too bnei Yisroel cleansed themselves from their filth. The gemora (Shabbos 146a) tells us that, "When Yisroel stood on Mount Sinai their filth left them."

Their approach to Mount Sinai raised Yisroel to the level where even their bodies were holy. They reached the level of Odom, where "You are called Odom but non-Jews are not called Odom." This is the reason for offering the shtei halechem -- a food for man -- on Shavuos. Later, through kabolas HaTorah, they continued to rise and cling to Hashem, but their purification from their filth, their elevation to the level of Odom, happened through their coming closer to Mt. Sinai.

We can accordingly say that allegorically this is also the reason we offer two loaves of bread: the shtei halechem. Because of two reasons we were raised on this day to the high level of becoming Odom: 1) Our coming near Mount Sinai, and 2) Kabolas HaTorah.

The Torah's Wisdom and Obeying the Torah

The Zohar (Tetzaveh 183a) cites another reason for offering the shtei halechem: "Yisroel ate two breads, one when they left Egypt and ate the lechem oni (the bread of affliction), and the other that they ate in the desert (i.e., the man) -- bread from Heaven. The korbon of Shavuos is therefore the shtei halechem, since that is the bread -- the man -- through which Yisroel gained the higher wisdom of the Torah and entered into its ways."

According to the Zohar, the shtei halechem allude to the two types of bread bnei Yisroel ate in the desert. One was the lechem oni, which was a cure for our neshomoh so that we could perceive the secret of emunah, while the other was the "bread from Heaven" which made Yisroel wiser and let them understand the profound wisdom of the Torah so that they started following the Torah's ways. Consequently, the Torah commanded us to bring the shtei halechem because of these two things: emunah and the Torah's wisdom.

The Tzedah Laderech writes: "The shtei halechem come on Shavuos to prepare us and signify that we have accepted the Torah in both its parts -- `We will do and we will hear,' which are the two breads of our nefesh. They are the breads pertaining to the spiritual part of man, in contrast to the korbon of the Omer, that alludes to the redemption of the body."

It is possible that the Tzedah Laderech means that one lechem alludes to "we will do" -- doing mitzvos, observing the Torah, while the second lechem alludes to "we will hear" -- studying Torah. Perhaps this is also the intent of the Zohar when it writes "that is the bread -- the man -- with which Yisroel gained the higher wisdom of the Torah and started following the Torah's ways." One lechem alludes to walking in the way of the Torah -- "we will do" -- while the other alludes to the Torah's wisdom -- "we will hear." The shtei halechem, therefore, do not suggest the two types of bread that Yisroel ate in the desert but the two aspects of observing Torah indicated by the man.

HaRav Simchah Kessler zt'l delivered these shmuessim in his Beis Midrash Agudas Rei'im in Bnei Brak, in his kollel Heichal Moshe in Bnei Brak, and in Kiryat Sefer, where he served as its first rav until his untimely petirah on 26 Sivan, 5756. These discourses, outstanding in their revelation of the depth of agodos Chazal, are built upon the derech of his rav, HaRav E.E. Dessler zt'l, the mashgiach of Yeshivas Ponevezh. Recently HaRav S. Kessler's shmuessim were compiled and edited, and published in Sheviv Or: Shevochoh Shel Torah.

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