A full-dress reenactment of the Shavuot Temple service was held in Mitzpeh Yericho on Tuesday, the day after Shavuot was observed in Israel.
One of the organizers emphasized that the Shavuoth service is the cure for the beginnings of the war against Amalek breaking out in Israel right now.
Shavuot: two very special breads
Shavuot is an annual Jewish holiday, one of the three Biblically mandated pilgrimage festivals when, in Temple times, Jews ascended to Jerusalem. It is observed after the Jews complete the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of counting seven complete weeks.
You must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to Hashem. Leviticus 23:16
As per the Biblical mandate, a harvest of barley took place on the night of April 3, the night after Passover, marking the first night of counting the seven-week Omer period. As Passover ends, Jews begin counting 50 days until the holiday of Shavuot, when two loaves made from the barley are brought to the Temple as an offering. The leftovers of the sacrifice are kept by the priest and are listed as one of the twenty-four priestly gifts.
An agricultural festival, Shavuot comes at the end of the winter during the grain harvest and as such, is observed in the Temple by an offering of two loaves of bread. Made from the choicest wheat, which was ground and sifted twelve times before being baked, the two loaves are brought at the annual reenactment.
Taken from the first wheat of the season to ripen, they were large, rectangular in shape with four mini towers at each corner of the loaf.
Before baking the loaves, the kohanim-priests would pinch off a handful of flour and throw it into the fire on the altar that stood at the center of the Great Temple. These two loaves were unusual in that they were prepared with natural leavening, whereas nearly all other grain offerings at the Temple were made without leavening. The two loaves, baked from a sourdough, were shaped in a special manner with squared ‘horns’ in the corners, resembling the altar.
All of the other grain offerings brought in the Temple were flat, pan bread, usually fried in oil. Even the Show Bread that was always present in the Temple, despite being quite large, was essentially matzah, unleavened bread.
The two unleavened loaves were brought as a thanksgiving “wave offering” along with two lambs, as a central aspect of the national holiday. The organizers of the reenactment brought two especially small lambs since they were “waved” at the same time as the loaves, a difficult task made even more difficult if the lambs are larger.
First fruits: Owning the land
The reenactment also included the ceremony of the bikurim, or the “bringing of the first fruits.” The ceremonies were performed by Kohanim (men of the priestly caste) dressed in authentic garb as described in the Bible, led by Rabbi Baruch Kahane, who has played a prominent role in many of the Temple reenactments.
In the days of the First Temple, the first fruits of the annual harvest were brought to Jerusalem as an offering between the holidays of Shavuot (Festival of Weeks) and Sukkot (Festival of Booths). The fruits were brought in baskets, beautifully displayed, and given to the priests.
Thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that Hashem thy God giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which Hashem thy God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there. Deuteronomy 26:2
Bikurim are brought from the seven species which have a special significance to Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and dates (honey).
A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey Deuteronomy 8:8
The fruits were given to the priests after the donor recited a confession, detailed in Deuteronomy 26:1-11, acknowledging God as the one who redeemed the Israelites from the Egyptian bondage, and expressing gratitude to God for bringing them to the Promised Land.
This aspect of the holiday is highly exclusive, focusing only on Jews living in Israel. Only the first fruits grown entirely in the land of Israel are included in this mitzvah. Even first fruits grown by non-Jews inside the land of Israel are not considered bikurim. Upon presenting the first fruits to the Kohen in the Temple, the Jew recites an avowal from the book of Deuteronomy which begins with this self-identifying statement.
My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. Deuteronomy 26:5
Since this description excludes non-Jews, they would not make this statement even if they brought first fruits. A prerequisite for bringing the Bikkurim is that the person who brings them is the legal property owner of the land on which the fruits were grown, for which reason, share-croppers, and usurping occupants were not permitted to bring them.
The fruits were brought in baskets, beautifully displayed, and given to the priests. The fruits were given to the priests after the donor recited a confession, detailed in Deuteronomy.
I profess this day unto Hashem thy God, that I am come unto the land which Hashem swore unto our fathers to give us.’” Deuteronomy 26:3
‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. Deuteronomy 26:5
And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O Hashem, hast given me.’ And thou shalt set it down before Hashem thy God, and worship before Hashem thy God. Deuteronomy 26:10
These verses were specifically used as acknowledging God as the one who redeemed the Israelites from the Egyptian bondage and expressing gratitude to God for bringing them to the Promised Land.
Palestinians: Modern-day Amalek
Rabbi Hillel Weiss, the former spokesman for the Sanhedrin and one of the organizers of the reenactment, emphasized that the Shavuot service in particular was essential to relate to current events.
“Shavuot marks the real beginning of spring and the beginning of the grain harvest,” Rabbi Weiss said. “It relates to all of creation; animal, vegetable, mineral, and man. That is why it is referred to as reshit.
The choice (reshit) first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of Hashem your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. Exodus 34:26
“This relates to creation beginning with the word Bereshit (in the beginning),” Rabbi Weiss said. “Amalek came to reject God’s role in creation, which is why they are also called reshit.”
He saw Amalek and, taking up his theme, he said: A leading (reshit) nation is Amalek; But its fate is to perish forever. Numbers 24:20
“Jews bear witness to the world that God created the world and commanded an order in the world, including which nations live in which land,” Rabbi Weiss said. “Amalek tries to reject this but Shavuot reinforces this.”
“In this way, the Palestinians are like Amalek. They are not from here. Shavuot and Bikurim are only of importance to the true owner of the land; the one who planted the trees planted the grain and cared for the fields. The Palestinians are not going to war because they have any interest in the land. They burn the land. They do not want the Temple Mount. They burned the Temple Mount.”
“The Palestinians rioted and succeeded in preventing the Jews from ascending to the Temple Mount on Shavuot because the Shavuot Temple service bears the greatest threat to them, bearing undeniable proof that they are not the owners of the land. And the covenant that established that Israel was for the Jews was implicit in the creation of the world.”
“Israel is commanded to always battle Amalek, no matter where no matter when. In the Bible, Amalek tried to prevent the Jews from entering the land of Israel. This is precisely what the Palestinians are trying to do today. But this time, we are battling Amalek inside the land of Israel. The Shavuot Temple service is the only way to entirely defeat them.”