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The Sacrifices of Shavuot: Shtei ha-Lechem and Kevasim

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The holiday of Shavuot provides an interesting tandem of korbanot – two sheep offered as public shelamim and associated loaves of bread known as shtei ha-lechem. Each component possesses unique qualities: the sheep are the only example of standard public shelamim, while the shtei ha-lechem are the only instance of chametz that approaches the proximity of the altar (it is not literally sacrificed upon the altar but is advanced toward the altar [hagasha] and waved [tenufa] in the vicinity of the altar). Aside from their individual unique qualities, the dynamic between the two loaves and the two sheep is also singular. Though a nazir also pairs animals and bread, and a standard toda korban contains these same two elements, it is clear that a special dynamic exists between the kivsei atzeret and the shtei ha-lechem.


Perhaps the most essential question surrounds the degree of integration between the two. Are we to view them as one single korban or as two associated offerings? Certainly, the lachmei toda (breads of toda offering) are merely accessories to the animals, and the breads of a nazir are also halakhic garnishes to his animal korbanot. Regarding shtei ha-lechem, though, we may impute independent identity.


Perhaps the most striking example of a possible independent identity for the shtei ha-lechem stems from a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Ben Nannas, cited by the mishna in Menachot (45b). According to the latter, shtei ha-lechem may not be offered in the absence of kevasim. Rabbi Akiva disagrees, allowing shtei ha-lechem to be processed even in the absence of kevasim. Presumably, Ben Nannas viewed the breads as an accessory to the sheep, as is the typical function of the accompanying breads of nazir or of toda. By contrast, Rabbi Akiva viewed the breads as an independent offering, viable even in the absence of the animal korban. In fact, according to Rabbi Akiva, without breads, the sheep may not be processed. Possibly, Rabbi Akiva viewed the breads as the central element of the one korban. Instead of lechem merely accompanying the primary korban of sheep, the sheep are viewed as an accompaniment to the breads.


Rabbi Akiva’s position, in assigning primacy and independent viability to lechem, may be better understood by exploring an interesting debate surrounding shtei ha-lechem that were offered in the absence of kevasim. The gemara in Menachot (74b) claims that these breads are burnt and not eaten by the Kohanim. An earlier gemara cites a debate amongst Amoraim as to why these breads may not be eaten. Rabba claims that theoretically they may be eaten but are burnt based on purely technical reasons: eating them without processing kevasim will invite future confusion. Rav Yosef disagrees, asserting that the breads are fundamentally forbidden to eat without kevasim. Perhaps this machloket sharpens two different options toward understanding Rabbi Akiva’s position. Rabba believed that shtei ha-lechem are a stand-alone korban and can be offered and even eaten without kevasim. In fact, to support Rabba’s ruling, Rava cited a verse in Emor which refers to shtei ha-lechem as “bikkurim” – just as bikkurim are offered and eaten without any accompaniment, so are shtei ha-lechem. The designation of shtei ha-lechem as bikkurim underscores the independent function of the shtei ha-lechem. Rav Yosef contended that even according to Rabbi Akiva, who believes that lechem may be offered without kevasim, the shtei ha-lechem are mere accompaniments to kevasim. Even though they can be independently offered, they cannot be eaten alone. This may indicate the lechem is an accessory – albeit one which can be offered independent of the central kevasim.


Having already explored Rabbi Akiva’s position that lechem may be offered without kevasim, and having examined Rabba’s view of Rabbi Akiva – that fundamentally kevasim may even be eaten without kevasim, let us now explore a situation in which the kevasim and lechem become more fully integrated. The gemara claims that after a formal twinning has occurred (zika), the two materials become inseparable. Even though Rabbi Akiva allowed offering lechem without kevasim, once zika has occurred they must be offered jointly.


The gemara, however, is unsure whether tenufa (waving and lifting) creates this twinning effect or only shechita enables twinning. The issue of what creates twinning may impact the dynamic of the twinning itself. If shechita alone creates twinning, it may cast the twinning as merely logical and abstract; since the two materials are not one integral unit, they can only be associated by shechita – which launches the formal ceremony of korban. The delayed inseparability (zika) of the two is realized merely ceremonially – as shechita begins and the process advances, each material is necessary. The lechem and kevasim are part of one ceremony but do not constitute one unit. This position does not portray inherent integration as much as ceremonial correspondence.


By contrast, if zika can stem from tenufa as well, we may be encountering a more inherent twinning. Tenufa, though a mitzva, is not a formal element of the korban ceremony. It is a mitzva that precedes the shechita process but does not directly contribute to the process itself and to the removal of issurim from the materials. Its capacity to generate zika may be solely based upon its rendering the two materials into one unit through physical linkage. Tenufa does not possess the halakhic connotations of shechita but does impose physical union.


By limiting zika to shechita, the gemara may be viewing the linkage in purely ceremonial or abstract terms. By extending zika to include tenufa, the gemara may be stretching to suggest a form of association based on innate integration. The lechem and kevasim are not just two parts of one ceremony; they entail one integrated korban.


An additional hint may stem from a machloket between Rebbi and Rabbi Elazar regarding the stage at which the bread becomes permissible to eat (assuming kevasim are offered as well). Rebbi asserts that the shechita renders the lechem permissible to eat, whereas Rabbi Elazar claims that only the tandem of shechita and zerika may create this effect. Conventionally, Rabbi Elazar’s position seems more plausible. Typically, a korban is rendered ‘halakhically edible’ through shechita and zerika. If the lechem is fused into one korban with the kevasim, it is likely that the shtei ha-lechem – as well as the kevasim – should be rendered permissible through shechita and zerika as well. If Rebbi believes that mere shechita can permit the lechem to be eaten, perhaps he loosens the fusion between the two materials. As the bread is not an integral part of the animal korban, its rules for becoming halakhically edible are distinct.


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