Save the Date

Rabbi Wagensberg
Shavuos
Save the Date

One observation we could make about this holiday is that in the Written Law, Shavuos is only mentioned in connection to the time when a person brings his first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash (Ex.23:16; Nu.28:26). There is no mention in Scriptural verse connecting Shavuos to the time that the Jewish people received the Torah.

Only in the Oral Tradition do we find the connection between Shavuos and the time that the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai (Breisa Meggilah, chap. 4, "Bnei Ha-ir", pg. 31b; Pesachim, chap. 6, "Eilu Devarim", pg. 68b).

Why did God hide the connection between Shavuos and Matan Torah in His Written Law? Why do we only find out about this in the Oral Tradition?

The Magen Avraham (Rabbi Avraham Gombiner, Poland, 1634-1682; chap. 494) asks how can we even claim that Shavuos is the day upon which we received the Torah? We celebrate Shavuos on the 6th day of Sivan (even those living outside of Eretz Yisrael, who observe Shavuos on the 6th and 7th of Sivan, agree that the primary day of Shavuos is the first day, the 6th of Sivan).

However, Rebbi Yosi (Shabbos, chap. 9, "Amar Rebbi Akivah", pg. 87a) says that the Torah was given on the 7th of Sivan. Apparently, we are observing Shavuos on the wrong day. How can that be?

Additionally, how can we say in the Shavuos liturgy, "Chag HaShavuos HAZEH Zman Matan Toraseinu" (THIS Shavuos is the time that the Torah was given), when we did not receive the Torah on THIS Shavuos? We received the Torah on a Shavuos some three thousand years ago.

The Kedushas Levi (Shavuos) explains that when we observe Shavuos each year, Hashem awakens the light of Torah and causes it to shine upon us. This light of Torah that Hashem shines upon us is the same light of Torah that Hashem shone on our ancestors thousands of years ago.

We experience the same light and energy of Torah each and every year on Shavuos just like it was experienced by our forefathers on the first Shavuos. In so far as this light of Torah is concerned, we can say, "Chag HaShavuos HAZEH" meaning that on THIS Shavuos, we also receive the light of Torah.

In fact, on the Wednesday before Matan Torah, Hashem told Moshe that the Jews should prepare themselves on that Wednesday and Thursday, so that on the third day, Friday, God would descend on Mount Sinai. That Friday was the 6th of Sivan.

But, Moshe requested that Hashem give the Torah one day later, on Shabbos, thus giving the Jewish people the entire Friday to prepare themselves. God acquiesced, and the Tablets were handed to Moshe on Shabbos, the 7th of Sivan (Shabbos, chap. 9, "Amar Rebbi Akivah", pg. 87a; Ex. 19:10-11).

However, since God intended to give the Torah on that Friday, and since God already said that He would give the Torah on that Friday, it made an indelible impression on the 6th of Sivan. God's promise to give the Torah on the 6th of Sivan had its effect causing the light of Torah to descend already on that Friday.

Not only did Hashem's promise impact that 6th of Sivan, but every 6th of Sivan throughout the generations was affected by it. God not only sent the light of Torah down on that Friday, but on every 6th of Sivan throughout the generations, Hashem sends down that very same light.

This is how we can say today, "Chag HaShavuos HAZEH Zman Matan Torahseinu." It is because on every 6th of Sivan we receive the light of Torah all over again.

However, we must still probe. What profit is there in tasting that light on the 6th of Sivan? What purpose does it serve? How is it relevant to us? How did we benefit from it?

The Kedushas Levi (Likkutim) continues. In the Passover Haggadah, we sing the "Dayenu" song. In it there is a sentence that goes like this, "If God would have brought us before Mount Sinai, and He would not have given us the Torah, that would have been sufficient."

This statement is extremely difficult to understand. If we would have not received the Torah, what benefit would there have been in having been brought before Mount Sinai?

This begs us to ask another question. The Avos (Patriarchs) knew the entire Torah before it was given (See Yoma chap. 3. "Amar Lahem Hamemunah", pg. 28b, Rav). How did they know about it if it was not given yet?

Reb Chaim Vital (Sha'ar Kedusha, vol. 1, sha'ar 1) explains that just as the body has 248 limbs and 365 sinews, so does the soul have 248 spiritual limbs and 365 spiritual sinews.

Just as the body cannot exist without food, the soul can also not exist without spiritual food. The spiritual food of the soul is Torah and Mitzvos. When we perform the 248 positive commandments (the number 248 is not arbitrary because they correspond to the 248 limbs), we are feeding the 248 spiritual limbs of the soul with spiritual food.

When we abstain from the 365 negative commandments (the number 365 is not arbitrary because they correspond to the 365 sinews), we nourish the 365 spiritual sinews.

This teaching raises yet another question. Why did we need God to give us a Torah and teach us how to do the mitzvos? Just like we don't have to teach an infant how to eat, we should not have to teach the soul how to eat. Just as an infant is instinctively drawn to eating and drinking, so should the soul be drawn to Torah and Mitzvos naturally, automatically.

Since it is a matter of life and death, nature draws an infant to eat and drink without being taught. Torah and Mitzvos are also a matter of life and death to a soul. Nature should pull us to perform them without being taught. So, why were we taught about how to do mitzvos? They should come naturally.

The answer is that the soul would be drawn naturally to Torah and Mitzvos if it was not clothed by a body. The body darkens the soul and blocks it from being able to gravitate towards Torah and Mitzvos by itself. Our bodies get in our way. Therefore, it was necessary for God to give us a Torah and instruct us in what we need to do.

This is how the Avos knew the entire Torah before it was given. The Avos reached such a high spiritual level that they stripped themselves of physicality. They purified themselves to such a degree that their bodies did not block their souls from naturally being drawn to Torah and Mitzvos. Since their bodies were transparent, the Avos grasped the Torah instinctively.

This was the benefit that the Jewish people experienced by being brought close to Mount Sinai. They reached such a holy level, being stripped of materialism, that their bodies did not interfere with their souls. Since their bodies no longer blocked their souls, they naturally grasped the Torah like the Avos did, and they were automatically drawn to mitzvos like the Avos were.

Therefore, we can say, "Had You brought us close to Mount Sinai, and not given us the Torah, that would have been enough." Meaning, had You not given us the Torah proactively, we would still have perceived it all anyway, instinctively, when we stood before Mount Sinai, just as the Avos did way before Mount Sinai.

This increases our understanding of why we celebrate Shavuos on the 6th of Sivan, even though the Ten Commandments were given on the 7th of Sivan. Because on the 6th of Sivan, our bodies had been purified and were transparent allowing our souls to naturally gravitate towards Torah and Mitzvos. When Hashem revealed the light of Torah on the 6th of Sivan, we could pick up on it immediately, thus grasping the Torah in its entirety.

Although there was no sound and light show with thunder, lightning, smoke, fire, and quaking on the 6th of Sivan, we did receive the Torah on that day, subliminally, in our minds, hearts, and souls.

However, all of this leads to another difficulty. The Imrei Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Meir Weiss, Hungary, 1838-1909, first Spinka Rebbe) attacks this approach of the Berditchiver Rebbe. He says that according to this line of thinking, there were two days of Kabbalas HaTorah. On the 6th of Sivan the Jewish people received the Torah instinctively. On that day, they were not yet commanded to do the mitzvos. God never commanded them to do anything, just like God never commanded the Avos to observe all the mitzvos. But, we began to do the mitzvos anyway.

However, on the 7th of Sivan the Jewish people actually received the Torah because on that day Moshe got the Tablets. On that day, Hashem did command us to observe the Torah.

Now, the Talmud (Keddushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha Niknis", pg. 31a, Rebbi Chaninah) says that it is better to be commanded to do and do than to not be commanded to do and do. If so, why do we celebrate Shavuos on the 6th of Sivan when we were not yet commanded, we should celebrate Shavuos on the 7th of Sivan when we were commanded?

The Yismach Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Teitlebaum, Hungary, 1759-1841, Parshas Yisro) answers this question by pointing out that there are two arguments that can be raised, debating if it is more advantageous to be commanded in mitzvos or not.

The first argument claims that it is better to not be commanded, because then the person does the mitzvah because he WANTS to and not because he HAS to. There is something very beautiful about people who volunteer. There is a certain sincerity, yearning, and pining in such an act, which is missing once a person is commanded and has no other choice but to do.

The second argument (Tosafos, Kiddushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha Niknis", pg. 31a, divrei hamaschil "Gadol") claims that it is better to be commanded because then a person begins to worry about fulfilling the mitzvah properly. When a person begins to feel the weight of responsibility, the Yetzer Harah detects the desperation and fights even harder to prevent him from fulfilling his duties. Then he has to battle his Yetzer Harah even more to overcome it. Since it is harder to fulfill a commanded mitzvah, there is more reward given to the person than if he was not commanded.

The Talmud concludes that it is better to be commanded. However, it is only better to be commanded if the person has a Yetzer Harah. If a person does not have a Yetzer Harah, then, logically speaking, we would have to agree that the first argument wins. Not being commanded would have the advantage of demonstrating that he WANTS to do God's will, not that he HAS to.

The Midrash (Shemos Rabba, 32:7) says that when the Jews stood at Sinai, they no longer had a Yetzer Harah within them. Therefore, for them, not being commanded was better. Therefore, we celebrate Shavuos on the 6th of Sivan before we were commanded, because that was the greater day.

This also explains why they said "Na'aseh V'nishmah" (we will do and we will listen; Ex. 24:7) in that order. First they said "Na'aseh" which meant that they opted to do before being commanded to do. Only then did they say "Nishmah" which meant that they would continue doing even after God commanded them to do. They preceded saying "Na'aseh" before "Nishmah" because that was the greater level for them, since they did not have a Yetzer Harah.

This will also help explain a most difficult Talmudic passage. The Gemarah (Niddah, chap. 9, "Ha-isha Shehi Osah", pg. 61b, Rav Yosef) says, "Mitzvos will be nullified in the future." This means that when Moshiach comes, there will no longer be any mitzvos. How could such a thing be? Aren't the mitzvos eternal?

The Ritva explains that we should not translate "mitzvos" as "commandments", rather, we should translate it as "being commanded." With this new translation, the Gemarah means that in the future, BEING COMMANDED in mitzvos is going to be nullified.

Reb Yonasan Eibeshitz (b. 1690 Crakow, d. 1764 Prague, Talmudist, Halachist, Kabbalist, Ya'aros D'vash, vol. 2, 9) explains that the reason why we will no longer be commanded in mitzvos when Moshiach comes is because at that time Hashem is going to destroy the Yetzer Harah. Therefore, not being commended will be better than being commanded. We will do the mitzvos anyway, but we will do them because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to.

The Shvilei Pinchas explains another reason why we celebrate Shavuos on the 6th of Sivan. It is because we were not commanded in mitzvos on the 6th of Sivan. By celebrating Shavuos on the 6th of Sivan, we are declaring that it is our desire for the final redemption to come, have our Yetzer Harahs destroyed, and no longer be commanded in mitzvos, but do them anyway because we want to, just like our ancestors did in the desert.

After all, it is in the merit of studying the Oral Law that we will deserve the final redemption (Vayikra Rabba, parshas Tzav, 7:3; Hos. 8:10). This makes a lot of sense, because the Written Law contains all of the mitzvos that we are commanded to do by God. However, in the Oral tradition, we do not just find details of how to fulfil the laws found in the Written Law, but we also find all the decrees instituted by our Sages.

The Sages represent the Jewish people. They speak on our behalf. When the Sages created Rabbinic Law, they did so to show that we WANT to do God's will. Hashem never told us to do any of those things. But we do them anyway because we want to.

Therefore, the Oral Law represents not being commanded by God to do. It is specifically in the merit of its study that we will deserve the Final Redemption when we will no longer be commanded to do because the Yetzer Harah will be destroyed.

Finally, we can understand why there is no mention in the Written Law connecting Shavuos to the day upon which we received the Torah. Because as far as the Written Law is concerned, Shavuos should be celebrated on the 7th of Sivan, when we were commanded to do.

However, since we are told to celebrate Shavuos on the 6th of Sivan, Biblically speaking, Shavuos really does not have so much to do with Kabbalas HaTorah, because on the 6th of Sivan we were not commanded to do, whereas the Written Law is about being commanded to do.

Therefore, only in the Oral Tradition do we find out about the connection between Shavuos and receiving the Torah, because both Shavuos on the 6th of Sivan and the Oral Law share "not being commanded" in common (Shvilei Pinchas).

When we celebrate Shavuos on the 6th of Sivan each year, we are demonstrating our desire to bring about the Final Redemption and have the Yetzer Harah destroyed, when "BEING COMMANDED" in mitzvos will stop, so that we achieve the same level as our ancestors, doing the mitzvos anyway because we want to, not because we have to (Shvilei Pinchas).

In order to apply this teaching practically, let us make a declaration this Shavuos and say, "Today I must learn Torah as a commanded Jew which will agitate my Yetzer Harah which will increase my reward. However, may my Torah study eradicate my Yetzer Harah so that I can say Na'aseh V'nishmah with full confidence meaning that I want to do (Na'aseh) even before being commanded (Nishmah) demonstrating my love for You, Hashem, longing to do Your will." This declaration can help set the mode of the entire holiday.

So, may we all be blessed with the strength to learn the Written Law which will destroy our Yetzer Harah and may we also be blessed to follow in the footsteps of our Avos, stripping ourselves of excess materialism and engaging in the study of the Oral Law which displays our yearning to do God's will on our own, and thus continue receiving the great Divine light of revelation on the 6th of Sivan when we got close to Mount Sinai and thus expel any remaining spiritual filth within us by declaring "Na'aseh V'Nishmah" and subsequently deserve the final redemption when we will all declare out loud with a resounding "Dayenu!"