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You shall observe the Festival of Shavuot… You shall remember that you were slaves in Egypt, so you shall observe and perform these statutes (16:10-12).
Why is the Shavuot distinguished as being the only Festival with the attachment of: 'You shall remember that you were slaves in Egypt'?
Elsewhere, the Torah connects Shavuot with something close to slavery - poverty. A poor person is pre-occupied with day-to-day survival, which in itself may be seen as close to slavery. In that context:
'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not gather in all that grows in the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger - I am the Lord your G-d…' (23:22).
This commandment of mandatory gifts from the landowner to the poor is also placed within the section concerning the Festival of Shavuot. Shavuot's falling in the late Spring does put it in the natural period of the opening of the main harvest season - exemplified by the bringing of the First Fruits (26:1-12) to the Temple from that day onwards.
The Torah, however, circumscribes how these gifts to the poor may be presented to the poor. The poor do not form an orderly queue and wait for the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table. Indeed are not likely to meet the landowner at all, nor, for that matter, each other. For the Torah tells the farmer to 'leave' (Lev. 23:22) produce at the corners of the field (difficult to clear out anyway), and not take the trouble to pick up what is dropped in the harvesting process (a nuisance in the heat). Thus the needy may help themselves to the leftovers discreetly, and without anyone knowing. So the poor receive support without going through what slaves suffer - fundamental loss of human dignity. [This is notwithstanding by Talmudic times, the Rabbis instituted a routine by which such gifts to the poor were distributed on a more formal basis to prevent the then greater degree of inhumanity where too many people struggle for scarce resources.]
As a postscript: perhaps the words: 'You shall observe and perform these statutes' (16:10-12) hint at the practice of learning Torah on Shavuot night, as learning Torah is a key to observing and performing the way of life of the Torah.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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