Shavuos: Torah is my bread

The festival of Shavuos is sometimes thought of as being unusually short. In the Diaspora it lasts two days and yet Pesach and Sukkos last for eight.

But actually it is possible to view it as being the longest rather than the shortest of the pilgrim festivals, for it is also called Atzeret-the completion of Pesach-and its name 'Shavuos' refers to the 'weeks' we have counted between Pesach and the climactic festival day.

The rabbis reflected on the many connections between the festivals of Pesach and Shavuos, but the one which has come into my own mind this year is the symbol of bread. 

One of the central observances of Pesach is our eating  matza (unleavened bread).
One of the central symbols of Shavuos is bread as a Temple sacrifice.

The distinguishing special offering of the biblical festival of Shavuos is the wave offering of two loaves (Leviticus23:17). It is both a Thanksgiving and a Theological statement.

Because it involves the highest level of human intensive labour  to produce it, bread is unlike the offering of fruit or natural produce or the sacrifice of animals.  Not only does it need its ingredients to be  nurtured and grown, it also requires several further milling and culinary processes before it can be  called 'bread'.

In our daily prayers before meals we notice an apparently inaccurate statement that blesses G-d 'who brings forth bread from the earth'.  Many have commented that it should perhaps read 'brings forth wheat', but all have acknowledged that the choice of words is no mistake.

The Voice of Sinai is the Voice of G-d Almighty- He is the All-Powerful One who can do anything.  The One who actually does everything, if only we could see things as they really are.

When we hope that our petitions in prayer will have an effect on the world, when we ask G-d for assistance and strength in our own troubles and trials, when we perform acts of contemplative prayer that we hope will bring the Light of the Torah into our earthly dimension, we are declaring with confidence that G-d is not a concept, nor a pious traditional focus of community intentions, nor a distant but unconcerned force... but that He is the One who is the Ground of Being and the Breath of Life. 

Though we are potentially G-d’s partners, and though we are potentially His hands and feet in this world, it is important to remember that without His Will, without His Breath in us, without His blessing on our heads, nothing can be done for no thing would exist.

Some things are done by the act of man. Some things are done by the act of man working in hopeful covenant with G-d. But actually, in reality...all things are done by G-d. Yet, in this process,our prayer is both necessary and an effective. It is channel for the inspiration that leads  to action, and as spiritual action, its power is the effect it has on the worlds we cannot (always) see.

In 'The Cave of the Heart' (Kuntres Ma'aras Ha-Lev), I expressed this by saying that 'contemplatives' are in some sense  G-d’s 'mind' in the world, and that without our lives or our activity there would be a certain waste of human potential in the context of the Divine partnership-plan for all Creation.

This Shavuos may we remember the Festival wave offering of bread, and thank the G-d of Sinai by making our prayer itself its contemporary re-presentation:- the korban of 'bread' that brings Him closer to our 'World'.

 To paraphrase Pirkei Avos 3:21, may we say:

                       “Torah is our bread. Our bread is Torah.”

As we prepare that very special 'bread'- may we also remember that the prayer we offer, with all our heart, is simultaneously His Voice Speaking.

                       “We will do, and We will hear” (Vayikra 24:7)

Nachman Davies
May 12 2010 / May 18 2018

(The illustration which heads this article is from the Flickr album of angerboy)