(Menachot 45b, 62, 68b, 94a, 96a; Berachot 54b; and Sotah 14a)
If the survival of Judaism is dependent on the next generation, there is no doubt that the most important person in the synagogue is the Candy Man.
Some kids approach him gingerly, stretch out their hands, close their little fingers around the prize, and take off without so much as looking up at the Candy Man. They worry, perhaps, that if they looked into the Candy Man’s eyes and said thank you, he might change his mind and take the candy back.
Other kids gaze in wonder at the Candy Man. They cannot take their eyes off this apparition of kindness. As they stretch out their hand, they smile and thank him. And the Candy Man smiles back, so happy that he wants to unload his whole tallit bag full of candy on the children who do so.
Then there is a third type of child – the one who is accompanied by a parent who does not allow the child to leave before expressing thanks.
We too have the opportunity to offer our own personal “thank you” to God for all the goodness He constantly showers on us. During the Temple era, this could be done at any time by bringing a personal peace offering, shelamim, or a thanksgiving offering, korban todah. But because we may be too preoccupied with ourselves to do so spontaneously and voluntarily, the Torah prescribes times when we must, as a community, thank Him for keeping us alive.
Such a time is Shavuot. The Torah commands us to bring a korban shelamim in the form of two lambs together with a korban minchah in the form of two loaves of leavened bread made of wheat, referred to in the Torah as shtei halechem.
The korban shtei halechem brought on Shavuot marks the end of the harvest season just as the korban omer, brought 50 days before on Pesach, marked its beginning. Now that the late blooming wheat harvest has been brought in, and the dangers and threats of destructive winds and rain have been averted, we as a community must offer thanks.
The korban shtei halechem brought with the korban shelamim in the form of two lambs, was unique in several ways. First, as already mentioned, it was the only korban shelamim that was obligatory and communal. All other shelamim sacrifices were voluntary and personal. Second, all other shelamim sacrifices belonged to the less holy category of kodashim kalim, whereas the shtei halechem belonged to the holiest category of kodshei kodashim with all the restrictions this implied. Third, unlike all other minchah offerings, which were not allowed to contain any leavened bread but had to be made up only of unleavened bread, the korban shtei halechem was expressly required to consist of leavened bread.
There was an additional reason why the korban shtei halechem was classified as a communal sacrifice. This is because the offering in the Temple of any korban made from chadash – that is, barley, wheat, oats, and rye or spelt crops that h had been planted or had taken root since the previous Pesach – was prohibited until the korban shtei halechem was brought on Shavuot of that year. The korban shtei halechem itself, however, had to be made from chadash, and this chadash grain had to be grown in Israel.
The shtei halechem are made in the following way. A quantity of three sa’in (between 384 and 504 ounces) of new chadash wheat is crushed, beaten and ground into wheat flour and filtered through twelve sieves leaving a quantity of 1 issaron, (between 86.4 and 172.8 fluid ounces) for each of the two shtei halechem. Each of the shtei halechem is kneaded separately outside the Temple. Yeast is then added to make the flour rise and the bread leaven. Each of the loaves is then baked separately inside the Temple.