Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com
Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein
While we often refer to the upcoming holiday as Zman Matan Torateinu/the Time of the Giving of the Torah, the Torah itself never uses this name. Instead, the Torah refers to this holiday as Chag Habikurim/The holiday of [bringing] the first fruits, Chag Hakatzir/The Harvest Festival, or Chag HaShavuot/The Festival of Weeks. All these names are agricultural in origin. Even Shavuot involves counting the days and weeks of bringing an omer of barley offering to the Temple. Further validating the Torah designations, the Torah reading on Shavuot discusses the offerings in the Temple rather than our receiving the Torah at Sinai. Yet our Sages conferred on this holiday the name of Zman Matan Torateinu. Why this discrepancy? Rabbi Mintzberg asks this question and another. In actuality, we received the Torah on the seventh of Sivan; why do we celebrate on the sixth?
Rav Rothberg in Moda Labinah adds a further connection to the agricultural names of our yom tov. On Shavuot we read Megillat Ruth, a narrative that so much revolves around fields, famine and reaping, but, although the Megillah includes Ruth’s declaration to become part of the Jewish people and accepting Hashem, it has no other mention of receiving the Torah.
Interestingly, the Torah mentions only the third month with no specific date for Shavuot as it does for the other holidays, notes Rabbi Mintzberg. The fifteenth of Nisan, for example was already preordained for Pesach, as our forefathers already observed the date with matzoh cakes. But it seems there was no inherent day already invested with the sanctity of giving the Torah. The Torah was destined to be given in the third month, but it could have been given on the sixth, seventh or even the eighth day of the month of Sivan. It was the number three that was significant. For the holy texts are divided into thirds – Torah, Neviim/Prophets and Ketuvim/Writings. The Torah was to be given to a nation with three major sections – Kohain, Levi and Yisroel. And three people were instrumental in leading Bnei Yisroel toward the Torah and bringing it down – Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam.
However, the focus of the holiday remains agricultural, the first fruit and the harvest. Since We received the Torah during this time frame, our Sages saw fit to link the commemoration of receiving the Torah to the holiday named in the Torah for this time. Even so, our Sages must have seen a deeper connection between the land and the Torah to link the two in this manner forever. Rabbi Mintzberg suggests that indeed the land was given to Bnei Yisroel so they could keep the Torah. Indeed, the Torah itself tells us that when Bnei Yisroel leaves the Torah, Hashem will force them to leave the Land as well. The Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel are inseparably intertwined.
Indeed, continues Rabbi Mintzberg, the Torah is compared to milk and honey beneath your tongue, and the Land of Israel is described as a Land flowing with milk and honey. To emphasize this connection, it is customary to eat dairy and honey on Shavuot. However, since we no longer have a Beit Hamikdosh where we can bring our first fruit and the two loaves of bread, we focus on our receiving the Torah. But the holiday is not called yom matan Torateinu/the day of giving of our Torah, but zman matan Torateinu/the time [season] of giving of our Torah.
The centrality of Eretz Yisroel is reinforced by the fates of Elimelech, Salmon and Ploni Almoni, all descendants of Nachshon ben Aminodov. In spite of their shared exalted yichus, their fates differed, writes Rav Yehoshua Bachrach. Elimelech was punished only because he left Eretz Yisroel during the famine when he himself did not need to go out to search for food and in fact he could have helped the rest of the people.
Although the focus of the holiday is agricultural, why does the Torah completely ignore our receiving the Torah at that time, not mentioning it even once. The Torah does, however emphasize the seven weeks between our exodus from Egypt and receiving the Torah. This emphasis is deliberate, notes Rabbi Roberts citing Rav Lopian, to teach us that receiving the Torah was dependent on proper preparation, preparation that took seven weeks of freedom from physical enslavement to prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally and spiritually for the total freedom that can only be achieved through living a Torah based life.
The need for preparation also explains why the offering on Peach was an omer of barley, the food of animals, while the offering on Shavuot was two loaves of wheat bread, wheat being the food of humans writes Rabbi Roberts. It would take seven weeks for Bnei Yisroel to transform themselves from a totally physical mindset to the elevated mindset required of human beings.
What Torah requires is more than intellectual study. It requires an attitude of openness that can only be reached through preparation. Only with the proper preparation will Torah be absorbed and impact our lives, writes Rabbi Emanuel Bernstein in The Call of Sinai. Since that preparation is of overriding importance to receiving the Torah, our Sages designated the sixth day of Sivan, the final day of preparation, for the holiday rather than the seventh of Sivan, the actual day Hashem gave us the Torah. The Torah itself validates the supreme importance of preparation through the unusual order in the performance of another sacred rite, the lighting of the menorah. While only a kohain can prepare the wicks for the lighting of the menorah, anyone, kohain or not, may actually light the flames, reinforcing the idea that preparation is the essence of the mitzvah and of Torah. [Any contractor or architect will tell you that if the site and the materials are not prepared properly in advance, the building will likely not be as sturdy as it should be. CKS]
It is for this reason that we count up toward the day of receiving the Torah, for each day our preparation builds on the previous day, strengthening the foundation upon which the structure of our Torah life can be built. The importance of this preparation is highlighted by the law that we cannot cut the preparation time short until that time is complete, until the nightfall when the forty nine days of counting are full, unlike Shabbat or other holidays when one may usher in Shabbat sometimes even more than a full hour before the scheduled candle lighting time.
Similar to a wedding where the preparation is so much longer than the event itself, our preparation to receiving the Torah [our “betrothal/wedding” to Hashem at Sinai, CKS] is also much longer than the moments of revelation. Perhaps that explains why we begin the Torah reading with, “In the third month,” rather than with Moshe ascending Har Sinai, to allow few extra moments of preparation, even on the 50th day itself, suggests Rabbi Shpritzer in Havineini quoting the Satmar Rav.
Not just sefirah, but each day is precious and provides opportunity for self improvement, reminds us Rebbetzin Smiles. Those kedoshim who died in Meron were on that spiritual journey moments before their death, never anticipating that these would be their last moments on earth. Can we make each day of our lives count, giving us “long days” of life within whatever lifespan of years Hashem has granted us, as the son of the Sefas Emes testified about his father zt”l?
What kind of preparation is it necessary to do to acquire the Torah properly? One must work on uprooting the negative midos/character traits. In fact, each week is dedicated to a particular trait, from anger to arrogance. The Shvilei Pinchas gives us a wonderful metaphor for the work we need to do. A farmer must prepare his field by removing stones, thorn bushes and weeds before he begins planting. Even during the growing season, he must continue weeding his field so the crop will flourish. Similarly, man must uproot his negative characteristics before the planting, and then the life giving waters of Torah will help him take root properly and grow. Good midos, like properly prepared soil, must exist before Torah can take root. Therefore, Shavuot is the only holiday where such intense preparation is mandated. Because of the seven week preparation period, the holiday is referred to as Shavuot/Weeks.
One of the midos we are told to uproot is arrogance and narcissism. After all, Hashem built the world on the attribute of chesed, the polar opposite of narcissism. This is the trait highlighted in both its positive and negative aspects in Megillat Ruth. Elimelech was punished for his lack of empathy for his fellow Jew, while Ruth and Boaz were rewarded with future royalty for their chesed toward each other and to Naomi. Even small acts of chesed are recorded in the Megillah, writes Rabbi Lopiansky in Seeds of Redemption, his translation and commentary of the Nachlat Yosef on the Megillah. Every small act of chesed to another individual counts.
Rabbi Biderman brings us to a more esoteric understanding of our Sinai experience through the examination of a medrash. The medrash says that when Hashem spoke the first Dibrah/Commandment to Bnei Yisroel, their souls left them. Hashem sent the rain to revive their souls. Later, Bnei Yisroel again asked for rain, but Hashem instructed them to ask for dew instead. What is the difference between the two? While rain descends and waters the earth, Its effect does not continue. In contrast, the dew is formed from condensation reaching up from below, and its effect remains after it has formed. Similarly, Hashem wants us to ask for a continuing relationship with Him, not one that is enjoyed for a short time and them dissipates. It is with this explanation that we can understand why the offerings for Shavuot can be brought for a full six days after the holiday itself, for we want the effects of the holiday to remain with us and transform us as we move forward in life.
The offering on Shavuot is called a mincha chadashah/a new offering. Each day we receive the Torah as a new offering, a new gift, in the present. As Rabbi Hofstedter notes, in our morning prayers we bless Hashem Hanotein Torah le’amo Yisroel/Who gives [in the present tense] Torah to His nation Israel.
The Torah is compared to a Tree of Life, a tree that produces fruit every day. Just as Hashem judges the quantity and quality of the fruit trees on Shavuot, so does He determine the spiritual levels we can achieve for the year, writes Rabbi Reiss. On Shavuot we have the opportunity to affect our spirituality for the year, and we should ask to celebrate and connect to the Torah each day anew.
In Moda Labinah, Rabbi Rothberg brings us a profound insight. We may think the Torah has been completed, but Rabbi Rothberg assures us that the Torah continues to be written every day. Just as Ruth and Boaz created a new volume of Tanach which recorded their acts of chesed, so do Eliyahu and Moshiach record our acts of chesed each day. Just as Ruth and Boaz, through their acts of chesed, created the seed of the Davidic Dynasty, so do each of us bring the days of Moshiach closer with each act of chesed we perform.
Sometimes it takes unimaginable selflessness and empathy to actualize a moment of chesed. A survivor of the Meron tragedy relates that he heard a dying Jew recite the Shema before his death, and then, with his last breath cried out, “I forgive anyone who is on top of me,” anyone who has contributed to my dying. Such empathy for the emotional suffering of a fellow Jew must surely be recorded as a supreme act of chesed to bring Moshiach quickly. Then Torah will again go out from Zion and Hashem’s word from Yerushalayim, and be renewed each day as it first came to us from Sinai.