Dramatic Date

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03 Jun 2024

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

There is a dispute among our Sages concerning the actual date Hashem gave us the Torah: Was it the sixth of Sivan or the seventh of Sivan. The generally accepted ruling is that the Torah was actually given on the seventh of Sivan. Why then do we celebrate the sixth of Sivan as the “time of the giving of the Torah” instead of the seventh? Even more puzzling, asks Rabbi Zev Leff, is that those luchot that Moshe brought down from Sinai were shattered on the Seventh of Sivan, and the second set of luchot, those that remained intact, Moshe brought down on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Mintzberg zt”l notes a difference in how the Torah describes our exodus and our receiving the Torah. For the exodus, the Torah says it happened “ בעצם היום הזה/on that very day.” In contrast, the giving of the Torah is described generally as “in the Third month.” As Rabbi Mintzberg zt”l explains, It was on Rosh Chodesh of the third month, upon Bnei Yisroel’s arrival at the Sinai Desert, after three months of following Hashem in the desert, that Bnei Yisroel became worthy of receiving the Torah. But all the preparations for that fateful and awesome mission started on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Moshe ascended the mountain, received instructions for Bnei Yisroel, descended and reascended, and Bnei Yisroel prepared themselves for three days for this awesome revelation. Therefore, the Torah describes this not as the day we received the Torah, but as the time, the season we received the Torah.

Indeed, Hashem’s original plan was to give us the Torah on the sixth. But that would have left only two days for Bnei Yisroel to prepare themselves spiritually to receive the Torah. Moshe asked Hashem for a third day of preparation, delaying our receiving the Torah to the seventh day of the third month.  It was on the sixth of Sivan that Hashem concurred with Moshe Rabbenu’s reasoning and transferred Torah interpretation and halachah to the Sages of the Jewish people in every generation.

This principle is highlighted in an incident recorded in the Gemarra . A dispute arose as to the kashrut of a certain oven. While the majority of the Sanhedrin ruled that the oven was kosher, Rabbi Eliezer dissented. He brought multiple supernatural, miraculous proofs to his argument that God Himself agreed with him. But the Sages’ final argument won out, “לא בשמים היא/It [the Torah] is no longer in heaven,” and therefore the halachic interpretation is the responsibility of the Sages of the day. On the sixth of Sivan, when Hashem agreed to Moshe’s argument, Hashem validated the authority of the Rabbinical leaders to be the arbiters of Torah law in every generation. These are the crowns that Hashem was affixing to the letters of the Torah before He “sent” it to earth.

It is in this vein that Rabbi Schlesinger interprets a seemingly peculiar sentence in our Seder Haggadah: “If He had not given us the Torah… it would have sufficed us.” What Rabbi Schlesinger understands is that if Hashem had not given permission and authority to our Sages to be the decisors of  Torah law, had kept that authority in heaven, it would have sufficed. It is that original, higher light that is revealed annually on the sixth of Sivan.

As there is our earthly sphere of existence, so is there a heavenly sphere. While a branch, a small portion of our neshamah exists within our bodies and animates us, the root of our souls exists in heaven. According to the Shvilei Pinchas, when Moshe Rabbenu was giving his final oration to Bnei Yisroel, he was referring to these two aspects of the human soul, “Hearken, o heavens, and I will speak; and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Perhaps our earthbound souls are mired in the stain of sin; let us appeal to the untarnished, pure root of our soul, the soul in heaven, to exert its pure influence on the earthly branch of soul within us so that it, too, will hear the words that will help us overcome our yetzer horo. Whether we speak to ourselves or we are trying to influence another, each of us has a sacred part that remains in heaven. Each of us must try to connect and sanctify the earthly soul to reflect the purity of the heavenly soul.

It is within this context that we can understand that although the luchot of the seventh of Sivan were broken, their model that remained in the heavens and was given to our heavenly neshamah on the sixth of Sivan. Those luchot are still intact. 

But Hashem’s giving us the Torah those thousands of years ago was not a one time occurrence. We bless Hashem Who gives us the Torah in the present, daily. As the verse in Vaetchanan describes he scene at Sinai, “it is a powerful, never ending voice that never ceases.” That anniversary of our root neshamot receiving the Torah in heaven is what we celebrate annually.

There is a medrash that says Bnei Yisroel were asleep the morning of receiving the Torah, and Hashem had to rouse them to come to the mountain. Rabbi Biederman explains that the deeper meaning of this medrash is to teach us that Torah acceptance is not dependent on perfect circumstances, on being ready or in the mood. Now, at every moment is our point of connection.

Here Rabbi Biederman makes an interesting observation to the custom of eating dairy on Shavuot.  While all foods that spoil are generally rendered unusable, often milk when it sours can be repurposed and again serve as tasty nourishment as buttermilk, or sour cream. Similarly, a Jewish neshamah that has fallen and begun to “sour” always has hope, for the main part of that neshamah retains its value in its heavenly essence.

What we must understand is that the Torah with its 613 mitzvoth was given to us for our benefit, not because Hashem needs them. This is the response to the wise son who asks why we need all these mitzvoth in contrast to the seven mitzvoth all other nations are obligated in, writes Rabbi Leff.   Because the Torah enables all the other mitzvoth, Torah study is valued equally to all the other mitzvoth combined. While the Torah is for our benefit, we may still consider it a “yoke” we must bear. While mitzvah observance may sometimes be difficult and far from pleasurable, we must know that the mitzvoth are for our benefit, sometimes in this world and most certainly in the next world. With this in mind, both the mitzvoth we enjoy and those that are challenging can be observed with joy.

It is the different mindsets that explains why Bnei Yisroel received the Torah and not other nations, continues Rabbi Leff. We understood that Torah was a gift, given out of love. We accepted it with gratitude, not asking what it contained. The other nations did not recognize the Torah as a gift, but rather as a job offer. They first wanted to know what their obligations would be within the contract. Since their perspective was flawed, they did not warrant further discussion. With our perspective of acceptance first, we were privileged to receive this gift.

Torah is not meant to be heavy and burdensome. If you have that attitude, you have not yet made the Torah your own. [Do you accept the responsibilities of feeding clothing, sleepless nights as totally burdensome, or do you accept them, as challenging as they often are, as the responsibility of being gifted with a child? CKS]

This explains why the customs and rituals of Shavuot are physical and material, or otherwise emphasize the benefit of receiving the Torah. There are no mitzvoth specific to Shavuot as there are for the other holidays, no lulav and etrog, no shofar, no Seder with matzoh and maror. Just a pleasant meal to share with family, plants to enjoy,and Torah study. The Megillah we read is of Ruth who recognized the beauty and benefit of Torah. We eat dairy as the symbol of basic nutrition from infancy. Hashem showed his special concern for us, His symbolic bride, by delaying the “wedding.” Albeit Hashem was ready, all the flowers were in place and other preparations were made, even our heavenly souls were ready, but the physical Bnei Yisroel needed an extra day, and Hashem granted that request.

At Sinai, the covenant was made not just with those physically present, but for all those as yet unborn future generations of Bnei Yisroel as well. We may ask a logical question: How can one obligate another in an agreement without his permission, especially if he is not even born yet? The Malbim answers this question based on what we have just discussed. Certainly one can obligate another to an agreement that is guaranteed to provide benefits to them. It is on this premise that our ancestors stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and bequeathed the Torah to their future descendants, much as grandparents would pass down a treasured family heirloom. Even when we are reluctant to accept the gift of Torah, we must understand that there is no other option, that we were created for the Torah, that the existence of our souls is dependent on Torah, writes Sichat Eliyahu.

Interestingly, Shavuot, like Rosh Hashanah, is called in the Torah Yom Hadin/The Day of Judgment, notes Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon zt”l. In preparation for each of these awesome days, the Torah portion we read two weeks earlier is one of the two parshiot of the rebuke, two weeks before Rosh Hashanah we read Parshat Ki Tavo, and two weeks before Shavuot we read Bechukotai. Both on Rosh Hashanah and on Shavuot Hashem comes down to judge us, to see if we are actualizing our potential, to rate our spiritual well being. It is only with these two holidays that the sacrificial offerings are not designated as sin offerings, but simply as making a burnt offering/va’asitem olah. n His love for us, Hashem designated the entire mitzvah of the day to be one of an expression of joy, of studying His Torah and eating a festive meal. Then, man will accept the Torah with the joy of a full heart, and Hashem will judge him as being without sin.

But the heart must be fully ready to accept the Torah. This takes preparation, working on one’s middos. Therefore we have forty nine days to prepare for this awesome connection, as a bride prepares for her wedding.

In the covenant at Sinai, Hashem promised never to exchange us for another nation. In turn, we promised to be totally dedicated to His will, It is for this awesome responsibility, writes the Tosher Rebbe zt”l, that we needed the extra day to prepare properly. Every Shavuot we reframe and reaccept this covenant.

This relationship between ourselves and Hakodosh Boruch Hu, writes Rabbi Biederman, can only be actualized through Torah, and this is the source of our celebration on Shavuot. Our physical soul is reconnecting to its root in heaven, and to our Creator through the Torah, the extraordinary gift He gave us on this day.

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