Please explain the concept of shirayim (literally, leftovers) wherein the followers of a chassidic Rebbe will receive portions of his food to it, these leftovers are considered holy or special in some way. Where does the concept of this ritual come from? Why is it only performed on shabbat and holidays? Is it specific to food (if so, why)? What are some of the first documented cases of shirayim being given out?
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In Sanhedrin 92a, there is some discussion on the value of giving out bread to others and leaving behind bread prior to saying the blessings after meals:
Shmuel Barzilai asserts that the custom of shirayim during a Shabbat tisch [chassidic gathering with a rebbe] comes from this gemara. In his work, Chassidic Ecstasy in Music, he records the custom and the spiritual significance of it:
For an alternative, simpler explanation, Steven Bayme argues that the origin of shirayim developed from the belief that a tzaddik could perform wonders, so picking up his crumbs could "provide physical closeness and connection to the rebbe" (Understanding Jewish History 248). Similarly, in his Hakira article "Hasidism and the Rebbe/Tzaddik: The Power and Peril of Charismatic Leadership," Elijah Judah Schochet writes that:
And then there are other explanations for the custom, summarized by R. Ari Enkin and noted by user2083. I'm not familiar with the first recorded source of the custom, but regarding the reason for its performance on Shabbat and holidays, it is likely due to the fact that rebbes were particularly accessible to their chassidim during this time.
To quote Rav Aviner here:
This Yerushalmi is mentioned by the Munkatcher Rebbe, Rav Chaim Elazar Shapira, in his commentary there as the source for shirayim.