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Thought for the Day: Why Is Shavuos Two Days In Chutz La'Aretz?

I was accused the other day of having a "physicist brain."  The context was that he remembered I had asked R' Fuerst a question many years ago; he remembered the question "that you, with your physicist brain, had asked", but couldn't remember what R' Fuerst had answered.  As far as I can tell, "physicist brain" means that I consider the logical implications of the proffered data, check those implications against what I already know, and look for conflict/confusion.  Guilty; or, at least, that is my goal.  (In this case, I didn't remember asking the question, but I told him what I do in that case.  He was happy with that, figuring that I certainly would have done whatever the rabbi said.  Again, that's my goal.)

Here's another question that my physicist brain generated: Why is Shavuos two days in chutz la'aretz?  What's the question?  Well; why do we celebrate a second day of Yom Tov in chutz la'aretz anyway?  Many years ago, after the sanhedrin had declared the new moon, messengers would be sent to all Jewish communities world wide to inform them of the decision.  That process could take more than two weeks, which is problematic since you need to know when to eat matzah and when to sit in your sukkah two weeks after the appropriate rosh chodesh.  It's bad news to eat chametz on pesach; really, really bad news.  Since we alway knew that rosh chodesh was one of two days, Chazal said to be machmir and conduct ourselves on both days with the full stringencies of Yom Tov; thus was born "yom tov sheini shel galuyos"

But Shavous is different, because Shavuos doesn't have a date on the calendar; it's just 50 days Pesach.  The messengers may not get everywhere within two weeks, but they certainly did get everywhere long before 50 days had transpired.  Therefore, you certainly would know which is the correct day to celebrate Shavuos.  So why two days?

There are two basic ways to go with this, both have interesting ramifications.  The base answer is "lo pluhg" -- we don't make distinctions that could be confusing.  (Right... like nothing about our religion is in the least bit confusing.)  However, and this is a big however, that lo pluhg can be used either to explain why Shavuos is two days in chutz la'aretz, or why it is only one day in Eretz Yisrael.

In chutz la'aretz, Shavuos is two days even though we certainly know which is the correct day.  The Chasam Sofer goes so far as to say that the "lo pluhg" means that the second day of Shavuos is not safeik chol/safeik kodesh as other Yamim Tovim, but instead it is va'dai kodesh d'rabanan.

What's the other way?  Before the Torah was given, we were b'nei no'ach and the day starts for b'nei no'ach  after alos hashachar.  The Torah was given at alos hashachar and at the moment of our acceptance we became b'nei yisrael; the day for b'nei yisrael changed several hours earlier (certainly by tzeis ha'kochavim).  So we started to receive the Torah as goyim on 6th of Sivan, but we became Jews at some point and presto-chango it was the 7th of Sivan!  So Shavuos really should be two days long everywhere.  It is only one day in Eretz Yisrael because of "lo pluhg".

Cool, eh?  Yep... that's us physicists; cool.


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