Tuesday evening, Jews around the world will be staying up the entire night, learning Torah and attending shiurim in honor of זמן מתן תורתינו. Hours later, after several rounds of coffee and cheese cake, they will blearily stumble into Vatikin, barely stay awake as the story of מתן תורה is read, then return home and collapse into a long morning slumber. While this adopted tradition of the all-night Torah marathon, is very well accepted worldwide, the Jewish people will diverge on Wednesday night, as those in Israel end the holiday and those in the Diaspora start all over again. However, the יום טוב שני של גליות of Shavuot lacks this main element of the first day. Unlike Pesach where two sedarim are held, or Sukkot, where a special ushpizin is said for the second day, Shavuot’s second day seems to lack much of the meaning of its first day. Even the Torah reading of the second day of Shavuot is the generic “כל הבכור” section in the last aliyah of Parshat Re’eh, one which merely discusses the chagim in a general context. So, as 49% of World Jewry prepares to celebrate both days of this holiday, what message can we learn about the second day of Shavuot?
Rav Baruch Epstein, author of the חומש תורה תמימה, famously teaches in Parshat Va’era that there are four stages of גאולת מצרים paralleled to the four expressions of גאולה at the beginning of שמות ו’. First, the stage of “והוצאתי אתכם,” where the Egyptians made the Jews’ work easier, after the Ten Plagues started. Then, “והצלתי אתכם מעבדתם,” when the Jews’ work finished entirely, though they still remained servants of פרעה. Afterwards, “וגאלתי אתכם,” when the Jews left Egypt for good, led by G-d Himself. These first three stages of the Exodus, the ones that are celebrated during Pesach, seem to be enough of a redemption already. However, Rav Epstein teaches that the Jews’ ge’ulah was not complete until the last expression: “ולקחתי אתכם,” G-d took us as a nation. This happened at הר סיני, when G-d gave us the Torah and sealed the deal to make us His chosen people. Shavuot is the celebration of this last stage- exactly seven weeks after reliving the Exodus, we have made a decision to accept G-d’s Torah, and become His nation. We stay up the entire night, with many even finishing תיקון ליל שבועות, learning a little bit of every part of the Torah, in order to show our acceptance of the 613 Mitzvot and our pride in being G-d’s chosen nation.
However, Rav Epstein continues that there is one more verb at the beginning of Parshat Va’era which parallels the four expressions of Redemption: “והבאתי אתכם אל הארץ– And I will bring them into the Land of Israel.” Once again, the Jewish People diverge on their observance of this. For the Jews of Israel, who have completely embraced the גאולה by coming home, their celebration of Shavuot in the Holy Land naturally includes the fifth expression of גואלה– they have no need to observe the second day of Shavuot as their living in Israel is a testament to their fulfilment of “והבאתי.” However, for those in the Exile, who have not yet completed their redemption, something is still missing- their celebration is still incomplete. Based on this, I would like to suggest that the second day of Shavuot, only observed by those in the Diaspora, symbolizes what they are missing. Allow me to elaborate:
The second day of Shavuot, initially lacking a theme nor a connection to מתן תורה, becomes much more on closer examination. In the Diaspora, Megilat Rut is read on that day. This book tells the story of Naomi, who left Israel due to financial reasons and lost everything she had once she got to Moav. She eventually realizes her mistake, and decides to return, giving her Moavi daughters-in-law the opportunity to join her. Rut, born in Moav and converted to Judaism there, made a sacrifice which very much undid the mistake of her in-laws; she gave up everything to come home to Eretz Yisrael. In return, everything seems to work out for her- she gets a great job, a good shidduch, and all is well. Plus, at the very end of the megilah, we find out that Rut’s grandson is none other than King David. In other words, the redeemer for whom the Jewish People have been praying for the past millennia, will be a descendant of Rut, whose faith in G-d led her to sacrifice everything to come to Eretz Yisrael.
After the megilah, the generic יום טוב שני reading from Parshat Re’eh will be read, and then a special haftarah from ספר חבקוק. In it, Habakuk speaks of the impending Exile, then the eventual return to Eretz Yisrael, when the Jews will be faced with the scary War of Gog and Magog. For those hearing this haftarah, it could very well validate feelings of not wanting to return home, to remain in the “safety” of `the Diaspora (Ukraine, Belgium, France, the United States). To those who even begin to think these thoughts, I direct your attention to the last passuk of the haftarah:
ה’ אֲדֹנָי, חֵילִי, וַיָּשֶׂם רַגְלַי כָּאַיָּלוֹת, וְעַל בָּמוֹתַי יַדְרִכֵנִי; לַמְנַצֵּחַ, בִּנְגִינוֹתָי.
G-d, the Lord, is my army, an He shall carry my feet like a deer’s, and He will guide me to walk to the high places. For the conductor of my songs. (חבקוק ג:יט)
The concluding message of the haftarah is clear: Our only way to guarantee safety is not to hide behind our enemies in the Exile, but to remember that G-d is our savior. If we have faith in Him, and make the journey to the “high place” of Eretz Yisrael, then He will help us make the trip like the mountain-native ibex, making the difficult journey very doable.
In short, the second day of Shavuot it is a day of reflection of why it is being celebrated. But, more than this, it is also a day of strengthening of our faith in G-d, remembering the faith that Rut had in G-d and her reward, and remembering Habakuk’s concluding blessing to those who embrace G-d’s protection. Based on this, we can also see why those who live in Eretz Yisrael do not need to celebrate it- their daily lives in Israel are a fulfilment of the fifth expression of the redemption, and they do not need the subtle hints of Megilat Rut and the haftarah to push them to make the right choice.
So, I call on all of my readers who will be celebrating the second day of Shavuot to think on Thursday about the fifth expression of Redemption that they have not yet embraced, and take strength from Rut’s faith and Habakuk’s blessing to hopefully help them reconsider this decision. With Hashem’s help, we will all honor זמן מתן תורתינו by completing our גאולה, very very soon. Chag Sameach.