It is the practice throughout Klal Yisroel to wait to daven Maariv on Shavuos until it is certainly dark. This means that we daven Maariv after tzais hakochavim, stars coming out, either 42, 50, 60 or 72 minutes past sundown. The Mishna Berurah rules conclusively in this way (494:1) and it has become the accepted custom in Klal Yisroel.
But why? Why is this a requirement?
The reason for this minhag is explained by the TaZ, Rabbi Dovid HaLevi in his commentary on chapter 494 in Orach Chaim. The counting of the Omer must be complete. It must be seven perfect and complete weeks in order to fulfill the verse, “sheva shavuos temimos, seven complete weeks.” If we daven Maariv early on Shavuos then it is not complete. This, it would seem, is the reason why we wait.
The “B’tzelem” Reason
Also, in discussing Shavuos the Torah uses the term “b’etzem hayom hazeh, on this very day” which seems to indicate that Shavuos should be on the exact time of Shavuos, and not earlier. Whether this is a second and different reason than the one just discussed by the TaZ is a matter that needs further clarification.
The problem is that there is a mitzvah in general of adding onto the Shabbos and adding on to Yom Tov. The mitzvah is called Tosefes Shabbos. This is why we generally make Shabbos early and end it later. The Chofetz Chaim (in Biur Halacha 261:2) rules that most Rishonim are of the opinion that Tosefes Shabbos on Shabbos itself is a biblical mitzvah.
It applies equally to men and women. Indeed, the Avnei Naizer in a responsa (Orach Chaim 316:12) rules that Tosefes Yom Tov is actually a biblical mitzvah. If so, by waiting on Shavuos then we are not fulfilling the mitzvah of adding onto the Yom Tov!
One could, of course, answer that we could accomplish the adding on after the Yom Tov. In other words, we can add on to it at the end. But it does seem to be a little bit strange. Do we find a distinction between Shavuos and the other Yomim Tovim in regard to the mitzvah of Tosefes Yom Tov? Also, even if we were to find such a difference based upon the Omer—what would be the halacha in modern times—when most authorities hold that counting the Omer is only a Rabbinic mitzvah?
The Maharsham in his work Daas Torah (494:1) cites a responsa from the Masais Binyomin that the issue of temimus only applies to the recitation of kiddush, but not to the prayer service of Maariv. Indeed, the Siddur of the Yaavetz (entitled Bais Yaakov in Shavuos note #4) writes that a person who davens early on Shavuos is called a zariz (a person who is quick to do mitzvos) and is rewarded. Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman in the Melamed LeHoil (Volume 1 responsa 108) rules that they should wait at least until bein hashemashos, twilight.
It seems that these authorities would hold that the temimus is accomplished anyway because the Omer has been completed until the arrival of Shavuos. So what if Shavuos has arrived early—the Omer was still counted the entire time through Shavuos!
Because it Looks as if We Didn’t
The Klausenberger Rebbe, zt”l in Divrei Yatziv (OC #226) writes that the reason why we are stringent is not because it does not complete the 49 days of the Omer, but rather, for a different reason. It is because it appears as if we have not completed the complete 49 days of the Omer! He adduces this reading also from the wording of the Rav Shulchan Aruch (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe).
It is interesting to note Rav Chaim Berlin (the son of the Netziv and the Chief Rabbi of Moscow from 1865) in Koveitz Shaarei Torah Volume eight (9:68) has an entirely different reading of this TaZ. He writes that the TaZ is not dealing with any special aspect of Shavuos. Rather, he explains, just as every day of the Omer the counting must be perfect without the internal contradiction of having to count it on a different day, the same is true with Shavuos too. The Omer may not be counted on a day that the latter part of it is shared with Shavuos.
The Tzitz Eliezer (Volume 13 responsa 59) however, rejects Rav Chaim Berlin’s interesting re-reading of the Taz. He maintains that the idea of “b’etzem hayom hazeh” makes it uniquely a Shavuos halacha.
Second Day Shavuos
Another issue is of course on the second day of Shavuos. There is an enactment of course to keep two days of Yom Tov in chutz la’aretz on account of something called sfaikah d’yoma, an uncertainty in the day that Rosh Chodesh was called. In a case when the second day would fall on Shabbos, can we daven early on Friday night or do we have to wait until stars-out just like we do on the first night of Shavuos?
On the one hand, on the second day of Yom Tov Shavuos there never would have been a sfaikah d’yoma, because we would have already known when the Rosh Chodesh was called. Yet on the other hand we are enjoined to treat the second day Yom Tov exactly like we would treat the first day of Yom Tov. So what should we do?
No Differentiation, Lo Ploog
Some authorities explain that the reason why we keep the second day of Shavuos is not because of a sfaika d’yoma but rather because of a lo ploog, that the rabbis did not differentiate this Yom Tov from other Yamim Tovim. Since this is the case, one can make a good argument that it would not take away from the temimus—the perfection of the counting of the Omer on the previous day. It seems that the combination of both of these rationales would at least allow us to daven at bein hashemashos on Friday night on the second night of Shavuos.
May everyone have a wonderful Kabbalas HaTorah!
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The author may be reached at [email protected].