The shtei halechem were square in shape, seven handbreadths long and four handbreadths wide and rose to the height of four fingers. Unlike other menachot, such as the minchat chavitin, which could be baked on Shabbat, the preparation and baking of the shtei halechem was prohibited on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
Although the shtei halechem were brought on Shavuot together with 24 animal sacrifices – 3 bulls, 3 rams, 14 lambs (7 as an olah offering and 7 as a mussaf offering), two goats and two additional lambs (as a shelamim offering) – the shtei halechem was integrally tied to the two shelamim lamb offerings.
The shtei halechem were not burned on the altar. This was not possible due to the prohibition against burning anything on the altar containing chametz. Instead, they underwent the tenufah ceremony in which they were first waved by the kohen together with the two live shelamim lambs and then waved again together with the right thigh and the breast of the slaughtered lambs. Once the eimurim (the sacrificial parts) of the lambs were burned on the altar, the shtei halechem were eligible to be eaten, one by the kohen gadol and the other by the attending kohanim.
It seems that Pesach and Shavuot symbolize two different modes of Jewish life that have followed us in cyclical fashion throughout our national existence. Pesach and the korban omer of barley reflect the basic food the Jews take out on the run when there is no time or peace for fine cuisine. Shavuot and the shtei halechem of fine wheat symbolize periods of prosperity and tranquility. And on the spiritual level, the omer sacrifice of barley, fit for animal consumption, reflects the depths to which the Jewish slaves had sunk as they left Egypt. The shtei halechem of fine wheat symbolizes the refined heights they achieved by the time of Shavuot and Revelation.
About the Author: Raphael Grunfeld’s book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Jewish bookstore. His new book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin,” will be available shortly.
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