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By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:



In last week’s essay, we discussed the textual problem in Vayyikra 23 which was the basis for the most ferocious expression of the Sadduceean-Pharasaic schism during the end of the Second Commonwealth:

…And he shall wave the sheaf before Hashem, to be accepted for you; Mimmohorat haShabbat (on the next day after the Shabbat) the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer that day when you wave the sheaf a male lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering to Hashem…And you shall count Mimmohorat haShabbat, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete; To Mimmohorat haShabbat haSh’vi’it (the next day after the seventh Shabbat) shall you count fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal offering to Hashem. (23:11-12,15-16)

As outlined in Part I, the Boethusians (an offshoot of the Sadduccees), maintained that the Shabbat in the key phrase Mimmohorat haShabbat refers to “Shabbat B’resheet” (the weekly Sabbath) and, as such, the Omer offering must always be brought on a Sunday. Consequently, the festival of Shavu’ot would also be, seven weeks later, on a Sunday.

The Pharasaic position was that the Omer offering was to be brought on the day after the Yom Tov of Hag haMatzot (16th of Aviv [Nisan]), regardless of which day of the week that festival occurred.

The Pharasaic/Halakhic position was – and continues to be – argued by Ba’alei haMesorah, regardless of the lack of presence of an active proponent of the Boethusian position. Throughout the ages, all Parshanim (commentators) addressed the issue, even if there were no “Sunday Shavu’ot” lobbyists in their generation. In this essay we will share a contemporary approach to the problem, one which has never (before now) seen the light of the publishing day. Pursuant to that, I will outline and suggest a novel approach which, hopefully, will be worthy of inclusion in the ever-growing list of proofs of the Rabbinic position as to the date of Shavu’ot.

Before sharing these responses and defenses of the Pharasaic position, it behooves us to delve a bit more deeply into the Boethusian position. In last week’s essay, we discussed the textual rationale for their position (and the attendant difficulties, even sans Masoretic opposition). In this essay, we will analyze some of the motivation for their choice of interpretation.



Perhaps the single most significant archeological discovery in the 20th Century (a century marked by dozens of critical finds at digs throughout the Levant) was the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls, found in a series of caves in the Judean desert, were accidentally unearthed by two young Bedouin shepherds in 1947 who, trying to retrieve a lost goat, happened upon seven nearly complete scrolls encased in clay jars. The ensuing search (by both Bedouins and archeologists) brought to light hundreds of scrolls that had been composed between the fourth century BCE and the first century CE. Over the past fifty years, much scholarly research has been devoted to deciphering these scrolls and comparing them with literature extant at the same time. Over this time, academicians who specialize in “the Scrolls” have attempted to determine, among other facts, the identity of the group that resided in the vicinity of these caves and which was responsible for the composition of the many documents.

Among the documents found are liturgical poems, letters, copies of canonized text from T’nakh as well as books of the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, Midrashic expansions of those books (known as Pesharim)- along with codes of practice. These codes not only contain the practices of the Qumran community, but, in some cases, record the polemics of their dispute with the Pharasaic community. A fascinating development of “Scrolls research” has been to “finally” see the mirror image of disputes recorded in Rabbinic literature – from the perspective of the Rabbinates opposite number. For instance, at the end of Mishnah Yadayim (4:7), there is a record of a Sadduccean complaint against the Pharisees: “We complain against you Pharisees, for you declare pure the Nitzoq (poured out liquid stream).” This statement is followed by the counter-argument proffered by the Hakhamim – however, for the roughly 1700 years between the publication of the Mishnah (c. 220 CE) until the publication of the Mik’tzat Ma’aseh Torah (“Halakhic Letter”), students of the Mishnah had no access to the Sadduccean perspective of this debate. With the discovery and subsequent publication of Mik’tzat Ma’aseh Torah we find the following argument put forth:

“And even regarding liquid streams, we say that they do not have purity. And even the liquid streams do not separate between the impure and the pure. For the moisture of the liquid streams and the vessel which receives from them are both considered one identical moisture.” (MMT B56-58). [The case in question deals with a pure vessel that is the source of a liquid stream which flows into an impure vessel. The Sadduccean position was that the water is all one, therefore the upper vessel is rendered impure by the lower vessel. The Rabbinic position is that the lower vessel has no effect on the upper vessel.] (Cf. M. Makh’shirin 5:9, MT Tum’at Okh’lin 7:1).

This find is much more than a historical curiosity of purely academic/research concern; by seeing the “counter-argument” spelled out, we can better identify the group which resided in the desert and authored (or, at least copied and maintained) these scrolls. Whereas earlier indications where that the “Qumran community” was made up of Essenes, the publication of Mik’tzat Ma’aseh Torah has provided much support for the theory that these sectarians were Sadduccees (or an offshoot of that group) as indicated by the example cited above. This is critical for our purposes, as any information found in the Scrolls can be helpful in helping us understand the Sadduccean position – a position with which we were only familiar from Rabbinic sources until now.

Among the many significant passages in the Mik’tzat Ma’aseh Torah is the Calendar of the community. Although there is much scholarly debate as to whether this calendar was ever put into practice, this solar calendar (!) is quite clearly spelled out and sheds much light on the motivation behind the Boethusian position in the debate regarding the date of the Omer offering and Shavu’ot.

The calendar (taken here from pp. 302-303 of Lawrence Schiffman’s “Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls”, the source for much of the background information above) consisted of a 364-day year, constituting exactly 52 weeks. Each month had thirty days and, in order to keep the calendar in line with the equinoxes and solstices, a thirty-first day was added to every third month.

As a result of the exact weeks (with no remaining days) in this calendar, each Festival occurred on the same day of the week every year. [It is difficult to imagine how a calendar of this sort could ever be maintained without regular correction for the missing 30 hours every solar year; that is why, as pointed out above, many scholars claim that this calendar was never actually put into practice.] Here are the days found in the Scrolls calendar which have relevance to our discussion:

Pesach (14th of First Month) – Tuesday Matzot (15th of First Month) – Wednesday Omer-offering (26th of First Month) – Sunday First Fruits of Wheat offering (Shavu’ot – 15th of Third Month) – Sunday

There are two points to be noted here: 1) Pesach (the day of the Pesach offering) would always fall on a Tuesday. One contemporary scholar has suggested that this explains the curious passage in BT Pesahim 66a, relating that the Hakhamim did not recall if the Pesach offering should be brought when the fourteenth of Nisan fell on Shabbat [the offering would constitute several violations of Shabbat] until Hillel was consulted. Why wouldn’t they remember the Halakhah? After all, under normal circumstances, Pesach should fall on Shabbat every few years – certainly not too long to remember the proper procedure. The suggestion was made that since the Sadduccees exercised significant control over the Beit HaMikdash during the first century BCE and into the millenium, their calendar was in operation during those years and, indeed, there had been many years since Pesach had fallen on Shabbat. To adopt this explanation, we would have to posit that the calendar was actually put to use and not just theoretical. 2) This also explains the curious wording of the Mishnah in Menahot (10:4). In explaining the “great fuss” attendant upon the cutting of the ‘Omer’s worth of barley, the Mishnah states that this was done to contradict the Boethusians “who maintained that the cutting of the ‘Omer is not done on Motza’ei Yom Tov (the night following the Festival)”. The claim attributed to the Boethusians is odd; one would have expected them to state: “The cutting of the ‘Omer is done on Saturday night” which proves to be the bone of contention as developed in the Talmudic discussion ad loc. Awareness of this calendar explains the wording – it wasn’t the case (as most students of the Talmudic passages have assumed) that the Boethusians held that the cutting of the ‘Omer must be on a Saturday night; rather, they had a particular date (a few days after the end of Hag haMatzot) on which the ‘Omer was to be cut (and offered).

In sum, we can now understand several facets of the Boethusian dispute, most notably their motivation for interpreting the key phrase Mimmohorat haShabbat as a reference to Sunday. Within a calendar system that prizes consistency of days of the week in relation to annual festivals, it is easy to understand why the favored interpretation would render a given festival as occurring on a set day of the week.



In last year’s series on Megillat Ruth, we spent some time analyzing the role of the Milah Manhah (key word) which helps to guide our appreciation of the underlying theme of the Parashah. We will again turn our attention to the role of the Milah Manhah to share a contemporary solution to the problem of Mimmohorot haShabbat.

There is a not-insignificant number of words which only appear in T’nakh once – such a word is known as a Milah Yehida’it (singular word) or hapax legomenon. The meaning of such a word is often elusive; if the immediate context is not clear, there is no parallel text to which to turn.

Professor Yehuda Elitzur z”l suggests that there are two different types of occurrences of the hapax legomenon, each based on a different motivation of the text:

1) Where the singular word is of a technical nature and there simply is no reason to mention it in any other passage. An example (there are many) of this type is the singular word Pim found among the list of farm-implements which the B’nei Yisrae’l had to take down to the P’lish’tim for honing, since the P’lish’tim did not allow the B’nei Yisra’el to work as smiths out of fear that they would fashion weapons (I Sh’mu’el 13:19-22). The word Pim, being unmatched, was hard for the classical commentators to decipher and they raised a number of intriguing possiblities – which range far and wide and, as it turns out, are not true to the meaning of the text. It was only as a result of archeological digs in Eretz Yisra’el that several coins, bearing the word Pim on them, surfaced – clarifying the meaning of the text. In any case, the occurrence of this sort of hapax legomenon is readily understandable. 2) When it is clear from context that the word in question is being used in lieu of a more familiar word. An example of this is the word Avur (which appears twice, but within the same context and bearing the same meaning, thus still qualifying as a singular word). We noted the passage in which this word appears in last week’s essay (Rambam’s proof):

And the people of Yisra’el encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Pesach on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening in the plains of Yericho. And they ate of the Avur ha’Aretz of the land on the next day after the Pesach, unleavened cakes, and parched grain in the same day. (Yehoshua 5:10-11)

The word Avur, as indicated by the context, refers to some sort of bounty (either the new grain, as per Rambam, or specifically the old grain, as per Radak). In any case, the text follows this line with a seemingly superfluous phrase:

And the Mahn ceased on the next day after they had eaten of the Avur ha’Aretz; nor had the people of Yisra’el Mahn any more; but they ate of the T’vu’at ha’Aretz (fruit of the land) of K’na’an that year. (v. 12)

Although news of the cessation of the Mahn is necessary, why does the text have to repeat its observation that the people ate of the fruit of the Land from that point on?

Professor Elitzur suggests that since the word Avur is not attested to in any other passages and may be misunderstood by the reader, the text is clarifying that what it means is T’vu’ah – a much more familiar word. That being the case, why use Avur at all?

Here is where our awareness of the Milah Manhah comes to bear. The chapters which detail the crossing of the people in the Land (chapters 3-4) have a preponderance of occurrences of the root ‘ABR (to pass). Within those two brief chapters and the beginning of Chapter 5, the root shows up, in one form or another, close to 30 times (besides numerous alliterative allusions). In other words, the key word – and underlying theme – of this section of the text is “passing over”. Therefore, argues Elitzur, the text utilizes an uncommon word which uses the same root and which means “bounty”. The sense is that the entire process of passing over was only completed after they had begun eating of the produce of the Land.

In sum, there are two categories of the singular word – where it is the most appropriate word but there is only one occasion for the text to use it, and where the text deliberately chooses that word in order to link it with the ongoing theme of the text.

Using this theory, Professor Elitzur suggests that the use of Mohorot haShabbat in our selection is motivated by much the same considerations. As we pointed out in our earlier discussion of Parashat haMo’adot (V’shinantam 3/32), an oft-repeated word in the entire chapter (Vayyikra 23) is Shabbat. Not only is the weekly Shabbat surprisingly included in the list of the festivals, but Yom haZikkaron (“Rosh haShanah”), Yom haKippurim, Sukkot and Sh’mini Atzeret are all described as a Shabbaton.

We are aware of Shabbat exclusively as a description of the weekly “Sabbath” and, by extension, the Sabbatical year. In Akkadian documents, however, there is ample mention of a monthly day of rest that took place on the fifteenth of every month – and which was called Sappatu. In other words, although our Shabbat is the weekly day of rest, commemorating (among other things) creation, the word does have an alternate meaning which is older than Sinai – a monthly day of cessation from labor on the full moon. (We need not accept the many fantastic and heretical theories about the “evolution” of Shabbat which arise from this observation to utilize the philological association). M. Fishbane (Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, pp. 148-151) goes so far as to suggest that the common pairing of Hodesh and Shabbat in T’nakh (e.g. II M’lakhim 4:23) is a reference to the two monthly “special days”, one at the onset of the lunar cycle and the other at its peak. Again, we need not accept this interpretation, fascinating though it may be, in order to allow the ancient meaning of Shabbat/Sappatu to shed light on our problem.

Professor Elitzur suggests that since the entire Parashat haMo’adot (Vayyikra 23) is themed by the notion of Shabbat (as demonstrated above), the text utilized this word in an unusual and “outdated” meaning (the fifteenth of the month), in much the same fashion as the book of Yehoshua used Avur. In other words, the proper wording here would have been Mimmohorat haHag – but, since the Milah Manhah here is Shabbat, the text used it in lieu of Hag, referring to its ancient meaning.

I am most indebted to my teacher and friend, Dr. Yoel Elitzur, for sharing his father’s suggestion with me and allowing me to bring it to print for the first time. I am confident that when he publishes the article, it will be much more persuasive and erudite.



We have, in past essays, discussed the literary structure of selections from T’nakh and demonstrated that, at times, the structure itself lends meaning and clarification to the text in question.

There are occasions when, if we can properly determine the structure of a Parashah, that determination will help us decipher enigmatic words or phrases.

The section in which our nettlesome phrase appears constitutes two Parashiot, all of which are one Dibbur (speech). A careful perusal of the text reveals a clear and consistent structure, known as a chiasmus. In a chiastic structure, the outer ends of the text present parallel or opposite (but matching) ideas, using similar phrases to form the connection. Each subsequent verse or phrase matches its partner until the middle – which is the focus of the Parashah. This chiasmus can be schematized as ABCDEFEDCBA:

A:And Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Yisra’el, and say to them, When you come to the land which I give to you, and shall reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest; B: And he shall wave the sheaf before Hashem, to be accepted for you; Mimmohorat haShabbat (on the next day after the Shabbat) the priest shall wave it. C: And you shall offer that day when you wave the sheaf a male lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering to Hashem. D: And the meal offering of it shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to Hashem for a sweet savor; and the drink offering of it shall be of wine, the fourth part of a hin. E: And you shall eat nor bread, nor parched grain, nor green ears, until the same day that you have brought an offering to your G-d; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

F: And you shall count Mimmohorat haShabbat, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete; To Mimmohorat haShabbat haSh’vi’it (the next day after the seventh Shabbat) shall you count fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal offering to Hashem. E:You shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the first fruits to Hashem. D: And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bull, and two rams; they shall be for a burnt offering to Hashem, with their meal offering, and their drink offerings, an offering made by fire, of sweet savor to Hashem. C: Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings. B: And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering before Hashem with the two lambs; they shall be holy to Hashem for the priest. And you shall proclaim on the same day, that it may be a holy gathering to you; you shall do no labor in it; it shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. A: And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not make clean riddance up to the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning of your harvest; you shall leave them to the poor, and to the stranger; I am Hashem your G-d.

A: Note that the first substantive verse (10) uses the root Q Tz R (harvest) three times – it is not mentioned again until the final verse (22), where it is used four times. This total of seven times indicates that the Milah Manhah in this particular Parashah is Q Tz R – and that is entirely fitting, as even a cursory read of the Parashah will confirm.

C: The offering, while different, includes (at least) one lamb.

D: Both of these sections detail the wine libation and grain offering which accompany the offering.

E: The common use of Mosh’voteikhem and Lechem is surely not coincidental here.

F: These two verses are almost mirrors of each other – both entail counting, the phrase Mimmohorat haShabbat and the number seven.

Of what use is this graphic representation and “structural discovery”? The astute reader will notice that I’ve skipped letter B – for therein lies our solution.

In the later occurrence of B, we read: And you shall proclaim B’Etzem haYom haZeh (on the same day) – referring to the proclamation of the Festival of Shavu’ot. This is “matched” with the first occurrence of Mimmohorat haShabbat in v. 11. Perhaps if we can identify some significant allusion in the phrase Etzem haYom haZeh, we may be able to discern the Torah’s intent in the use of this enigmatic phrase to describe the 16th of Nisan.

There are several occasions where the Torah uses the phrase B’etzem haYom haZeh (on that selfsame day) – when No’ach is brought into the ark (B’resheet 7:13), when Avraham performs B’rit Milah on himself and the males of his household (ibid. 17:23, 26) and the day when Mosheh died (D’varim 32:48). None of the dates of these “selfsame days”, however, is known to us. There is one notable exception – the phrase appears three times in Sh’mot 12 (vv. 17,41,51) describing the day of the Exodus. Unlike the other occurrences, that is a day which we can pinpoint with ease – the fifteenth of Aviv (Nisan). The only day which the Torah refers to (in narrative) as “that selfsame day” which belongs to a known date is the fifteenth of Nisan. (Analysis of the later application of this phrase to Yom haKippurim in Vayyikra 23, along with the occurrence of Etzem haYom haZeh in reference to the tenth of Tevet [Yehezqe’el 24:2] are beyond the scope of this shiur.)

By “matching” the first occurrence of Mimmohorat haShabbat with Etzem haYom haZeh via the chiastic structure of our Parashah, we can easily see that the Shabbat in question is none other than the only Etzem haYom haZeh which we can associate with a known date – Nisan 15, the date of the Exodus.



Subsequent to compiling this analysis, I was reminded of the famous passage in the Sifri:

In three places it states b’Etzem haYom haZeh. In reference to No’ah it states it, because their generation were saying “we sense him planning such and such; we will not allow him [to enter the Ark]; moreover, we will take chains and axes and break his ark”. The Omnipresent One said: “I will bring him into the Ark at midday and anyone who has the power to stop Me will come and do so.” Why does it say, referring to Mitzrayim, b’Etzem haYom haZeh? Because the Egyptians were saying: “They are planning such and such, if we sense them [making an attempt to leave], we will not let them; moreover, we will take spears and swords and kill them. The Omnipresent One said: “I will take them out at midday and anyone who has the power to stop Me will do so.” Why does it say here [in reference to Mosheh’s death] b’Etzem haYom haZeh? Because Yisra’el were saying “He is planning such and such; if we sense [that He is about to take Mosheh], we will not let Him take the man that took us out of Egypt, split the sea, brought us the Torah and the Mahn, the quail and performed all of the miracles.” The Omnipresent One said: “I will bring him into the cave at midday and anyone who has the power to stop Me will do so…” (B’resheet 47:9 adds a fourth instance – Avraham’s B’rit).

In light of the ferocious dispute which revolved around the parallel phrase Mimmohorat haShabbat and in light of the above passage from Sifri, the phrase b’Etzem haYom haZeh takes on added meaning:

The proper day for the Omer-offering is the 16th of the first month – let anyone who [thinks that he] has the power to stop it come and do so! The declaration of Shavu’ot takes place “on that very day”, protests of the Sadduccees and their Boethusian allies notwithstanding.

Text Copyright &copy 2013 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.

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