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Parshas Shavuos (5769)


A fundamental difference between Yom Tov (Jewish holiday, e.g. the upcoming festival of Shavuos) observance and Shabbos observance is the allowance of ochel nefesh, food preparation on Yom Tov. Unlike on Shabbos, when all cooking is forbidden, the Torah permits us to cook, bake, and prepare food on Yom Tov proper, in order to eat the prepared food on that day of Yom Tov. However, one is not permitted to prepare from one day of Yom Tov for the second day of Yom Tov or for after Yom Tov. This prohibition of hachana - of preparing from one day of Yom Tov to the next - presents a problem when the second day of Yom Tov falls out on Shabbos as it does this year (or when Shabbos follows a two day sequence of Yomim Tovim). How can we prepare food for the second day of Yom Tov which is Shabbos if we can’t cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos?

To deal with this issue our Rabbis instituted a procedure known as eruv tavshilin. The process of eiruv tavshilin works in the following manner: On Erev Yom Tov (the day before the Holiday starts – this year being Thursday May 28th), the head of the household, or his designee, should set aside a baked item such as bread or matzah and a cooked item such as meat, fish, or eggs (i.e. a food that is eaten along with bread). Each item should be at least the size of one kezayis (olive), preferably the size of one beitzah (egg). He or she should then recite the blessing of "Baruch ... Al Mitzvas Eiruv" and the proclamation, both found in the Siddur (Prayer Book). [For more details on how to perform this mitzvah, click here]

This proclamation states that the cooked and baked items that we prepared from before Yom Tov should permit us to continue baking, cooking, lighting a flame from an existing fire and do all the necessary preparations on Yom Tov proper for Shabbos. It is now viewed as though meal preparations for Shabbos have already begun before Yom Tov, and we are merely continuing Shabbos meal preparations on Friday Yom Tov for Shabbos. The process is called eiruv tavshilin (lit. mingling of cooked foods) since these foods become part of the Shabbos food whose preparation has already begun and may be continued on Friday.

Once done, the eiruv covers all household members and guests. The foods set aside for the eiruv should be saved and may be eaten on Shabbos.

The Mahara”l of Prague, in his work Netzach Yisroel Chapter 46, explains the deeper meaning and symbolism behind the practice of eiruv tavshilin:

The Talmud in Shabbos 151b teaches that the verse “Ve'Higi'u Shanim Asher Tomar Ein Li Bahem Cheifetz - and those years will arrive of which you will say 'I have no desire in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1), refers to Yemos HaMoshiach (the Messianic Age), when it will no longer be possible to earn credit towards Olam Haba (the World to Come) for performing mitzvos, or deserve punishment for performing sins. The Mahara”l explains that only in Olam HaZeh (This World) – in its present state - where one has free will to choose between good and evil, can one earn credit for good choices or be punished for making bad choices. However, when the Messiah comes and the world will be perfected and filled with truth to the point that all will see evil for what it truly is and no one will have ‘desire’ to do bad, there will no longer be free will as we know it, thus eliminating the possibility of reward and punishment in Olam HaBa for any choice we make at that time.

The Mahara”l adds that this is only true for those who make consistent bad choices and transgress the Torah in this world before the Messiah arrives. For them it will be too late to do Teshuvah and change once the “good times” of Moshiach come, since they would only be changing because the truth has been revealed and the times are good - and not as the result of their own free-willed desire to change for the better. However, those tzaddikim (righteous people) who consistently choose good over evil in this world where there is no clarity, and the benefits of choosing to do mitzvos over sins are not readily apparent, they will continue to grow and gain reward for the good choices they make even after the Messiah comes – because they have shown that their choices are coming from a genuine desire to do good and not just for the sake of enjoying the “good times” of the Messianic Age.

With this – explains the Mahara”l - we can understand the deeper meaning behind the procedure of eiruv tavshilin. As mentioned earlier, the Halacha (Jewish law) is that one must prepare for Shabbos on the weekday before Shabbos starts. The (non-holiday) weekdays are symbolic of Olam HaZeh, the world in its present state, a place where through doing mitzvahs and consistently choosing good over evil we are to make all our spiritual “preparations” for Shabbos, which represents Olam HaBa, the World to Come in which we will be rewarded. As the Talmud teaches us in Avodah Zarah 3a, “Whoever prepares food before Shabbos, will have what to eat on Shabbos”. If we prepare ourselves properly during the “weekdays” of this world, we will have “food” to eat and enjoy on Shabbos and the Hereafter.

The Halacha also teaches that one is not allowed to prepare on Yom Tov proper for Shabbos. Yom Tov symbolizes the Messianic Age when we are still living in this physical world but in a perfected state, where the truth will be evident and times will be good for the Jewish people and the world at large. (Indeed, the words Yom Tov literally mean “Good Day(s)”.) Once Yom Tov, i.e. the Messianic Age, starts, and we will have no desire for evil because the truth will be obvious to all, it will no longer be possible to gain reward and “prepare” for Shabbos i.e. the World to Come.

The Rabbis who instituted eiruv tavshilin taught us that while we can’t start preparing for Shabbos on Yom Tov itself, if we start before Yom Tov, we can continue preparing on Yom Tov proper for Shabbos. Understood symbolically, this means that only a righteous person who has already started preparing for Shabbos – through mitzvah observance and consistent good choices – before the Messiah arrives, will be able to continue growing and gaining reward and preparing for Shabbos even during the Good Times of the Messianic Age – because he has shown that his true desire is to choose good in all times good or bad.

The Mahara”l adds that we can now understand a very strange passage in the Talmud in Yoma 28b where Rav teaches that “our forefather Abraham observed the entire Torah before it was given – and even the law of eiruv tavshilin”.

Why is the practice of eiruv tavshilin singled out from all the myriad laws of the Torah that Abraham must have kept? The Mahara”l answers that one might wonder why is it such a big accomplishment that Abraham kept the entire Torah? After all, G-d revealed Himself to Abraham and promised him tremendous reward for observing the Torah! Abraham was incredibly wealthy, famous, and had a relatively smooth and trouble-free life. Under such circumstances it would be pretty easy to follow whatever G-d wants, wouldn’t it? So why do we make such a big deal over what Abraham did?

The answer is that Abraham even observed eiruv tavshilin i.e. he started keeping the entire Torah before G-d revealed Himself to him and made him wealthy and famous. He was following G-d’s Torah and commandments early on in his life at a time when those choices made him incredibly unpopular among his neighbors. He was even thrown into a burning furnace for professing his belief in the one true G-d! And since he made good choices in difficult times when there was no clarity, he was able to grow and be rewarded for choices he continued to make once the Good Days began and life was good.

This year, as we make the eiruv tavshilin to allow us to prepare on Yom Tov for Shabbos, let’s remember the deeper message that the Mahara”l teaches us: Once the Messiah arrives (and it is one of the 13 Principles of Faith, as expounded by Maimonides, for every Jew to believe that the Messiah can and will come any day and bring the world to its perfected state) and the truth of G-d’s Oneness and His holy Torah will become evident to all, it will be too late to start thinking about how Jewish or religious we want to be.

We need to start thinking about our Jewish identity and taking our Judaism seriously now – before the Good Times roll around. This way, even after the Messiah arrives, we will be able to continue to grow and prepare even more “spiritual food” that we can enjoy eating on Shabbos in the World to Come.


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