Rabbi Leff's column appears every week in the print edition of
Yated Ne'eman - Bnei Brak. It is included in Dei'ah Vedibur this
week in honor of Shavuos and the importance of its message.
Reb Yosi and the Chachomim argue as to whether the date when
the Torah was given was the 7th of Sivan or the 6th of Sivan.
Many say that the halochoh is like Reb Yosi that the
Torah was given on the 7th day of Sivan. If so this raises a
question raised by various sources, since Shavuos always
falls on the sixth of Sivan according to our fixed calendar:
Why do we say in our prayers Zman Matan Toraseinu, the
time of the giving of the Torah on Shavuos — when in
fact the Torah was not given until the next day?
Although the Rabbis refer to Shavuos as Atzeres
connoting the holy convocation that accompanied the giving of
the Torah, the Torah itself does not refer to Shavuos this
way. The Seforno explains that this is due to the fact that
the result of that convocation was nullified when the
Luchos were broken by Moshe Rabbenu on the 17th day of
If so we can ask an even more fundamental question as to why
we celebrate Shavuos at all as the day of the giving of the
Torah. Even according to the opinion of the Chachomim
that the Torah was in fact given on the 6th day of Sivan
— that giving was subsequently rescinded and nullified.
The Torah was not actually received until Yom Kippur.
The Torah relates the question of the wise son. "When your
son will ask you in the future: what are the testimonies and
statues and judgments which Hashem our G-d has commanded you,
you should tell your son we were slaves unto Pharaoh in
Mitzrayim and Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim with a strong
hand — and Hashem commanded us to do all these statues
for the good all the days to give us life as this day"
The Ibn Ezra explains that the son is not questioning as to
what the mitzvos are, but rather as to what the intent is.
Why we were given this yoke in contrast to all the other
peoples who suffice with seven easy commandments?
The answer is that if G-d benefited us with redemption from
Egypt, we should trust Him that the reason for giving us the
mitzvos is for our good and not for His benefit — and
that benefit is predominantly in the World to Come but also
gives us life in this world.
This echoes the words of Rav Chananya ben Akasha that
Hakodosh Boruch Hu wanted to refine and merit the
Jewish people and therefore gave us an abundance of Torah and
mitzvos. Perhaps it is for this reason that Hashem introduced
Himself in the beginning of the Aseres HaDibros as the
G-d who took us out of Egypt and not the G-d who created
heaven and earth: in order to emphasize that just like
redemption from Egypt was totally and obviously for our
benefit, so too the totality of mitzvos represented by the
Aseres HaDibros are solely for our good and not for
This concept does not contradict that which Chazal tell us,
that mitzvos were not given to us to enjoy but rather as a
yoke around our neck. True the mitzvah itself may be a yoke
and its observance may not be considered an immediate
pleasure or enjoyment, but ultimately the purpose of that
yoke is totally for our benefit.
Perhaps this is the intent of the Haggodoh, which
explains that this question represents the wise son. The
answer we give him that the Haggodoh is that we don't
eat after the Korbon Pesach so as to leave the taste
of the Korbon Pesach in our mouths.
The intent is perhaps that the benefit deriving from a
mitzvah such as the Korbon Pesach is what remains with
us in the final analysis and hence leaves a palatable and
enjoyable taste in our mouths.
Chazal point out that the Torah begins with gemilus
chassodim — it begins with Hashem clothing Odom and
Chava — and ends with gemilus chassodim —
with Hashem burying Moshe Rabbeinu. This emphasizes that the
entire foundation of Torah is chessed, G-d's total
giving and kindness to His servants, and Torah is solely an
expression of kindness and G-d's desire to do good for us.
In this light Torah is not an imposition on our life but
rather the intent of all Torah is to provide us with a
framework within which to earn eternal reward for our own
Delving deeper, the impact of Torah begins with the kindness
of covering man's embarrassment with a body that transgressed
G-d's will, thereby giving us a modest framework within which
we can utilize that body in G-d's service to purify and
elevate it to be G-dlike. After one achieves this by
utilizing the entire Torah, the Torah concludes and
culminates with the kindness of G-d in burying the body of
Moshe Rabbenu that became so holy and G-dlike that only G-d
Himself could bury it and put it away until the resurrection
of the dead.
This is the very essence of Torah: to guide one to utilize
one's body and elevate it from the shame of pure materialism
to the lofty level of G-dliness. In the final analysis Torah,
although a yoke in responsibility, is in reality totally for
In this light we can understand the words of Chazal
concerning the things whose fruits benefit a person in this
world and their principle remains for the next world. These
things are basically between man and man, such as visiting
the sick, comforting mourners and the life. What then is the
meaning of the conclusion, "and the study of Torah is equal
to all of them?" How does Torah study fit in with the other
HaRav Aharon Kotler zt"l explains that the greatest
gift to the world is the study of Torah and the Torah itself
enables all existence to exist. Hence, the greatest
chessed is the study of Torah.
The midrash relates that the Torah was given on the
third day of preparation before giving the Torah to hint to
the fact that just as trees and vegetation were created on
the third day of creation and they satisfy the necessities of
life, similarly the Torah is a tree of life satisfying the
spiritual necessities of life. This is what Chazal intimate
when they tell us that tov, good, applies exclusively
With this idea we can explain the following verse: "And now
Yisroel what does Hashem your G-d ask from you, only to fear
Hashem, your G-d, to walk in all his ways, to love Him, to
serve Him with all your heart and all your soul to observe
the mitzvos of Hashem and His statues that I command you
today for your good" (Devorim 10:12). At first glance
the verse seems to begin by implying that G-d does not ask
much from us, yet it then follows with an extensive,
exhausting list that He in fact does demand of us.
The key, I think, is the last two words, letov loch,
for your good. In fact G-d asks nothing from us. All that He
demands of us to do is for our own good. He is giving to us
rather than asking anything from us.
This perhaps was the mistake of the nations of the world who,
when offered the Torah, asked what it contained. When G-d
informed them — for example, to the children of Eisov
He said that it contained the prohibition of murder —
they questioned why this does not conflict with a blessing
they received from Yitzchok Ovinu that they should live by
the sword. Hashem then leaves them and goes on to the next
Why didn't Hashem answer their question and explain to them
that in fact there is no conflict? Why didn't He tell them
that living by the sword does not mean wanton murder but as
mercenaries in time of war? Why did He just abruptly leave
them and go on to the next nation?
Perhaps the answer lies in the very response of the nation to
G-d's offer of the Torah. When one asks someone to do them a
favor, they may respond by first asking what it is before
they can commit themselves to comply. However when someone
offers a present, the recipient doesn't ask what it is but
rather receives it graciously and later discovers what it is.
The nations understood that G-d was asking them for
something, hence they asked what it was. This basically
disqualified them from receiving the Torah. Only the Jewish
People understood correctly that G-d was offering them a
benefit and giving them a present. Hence they responded
naaseh venishma, give it and later we will find out
what it entails.
An anecdote relates that the nations, when offered the Torah,
questioned what it contained. But the Jews asked how much it
cost and when G-d told them it was free they asked for two.
This anecdote is not far from reflecting a truth.
The Dubna Maggid in explaining the following verse: Lo Osi
koroso Yaakov ki yogata bi Yisroel, you have not called
on me Yaakov for you have wearied yourself with me Yisroel
(Yeshayohu 43:22), gives the following parable: A man
asked his neighbor to bring home his luggage from the train
station. When he hears his neighbor huffing and puffing and
with great effort ascending the stairs to his home, he calls
out from behind the door, Please return and get my luggage,
you have brought me the wrong luggage. The neighbor is
mystified and asks how the man could know that he brought the
wrong luggage, considering that he called to him from behind
the closed door and didn't see the luggage. The man responds
that he only had a small attache case and therefore if the
neighbor is huffing and puffing and putting such effort into
carrying the luggage, it must not be his.
Similarly, if Hashem's mitzvos seem a burden and toil, they
must not be His, for His mitzvos are relatively easy to keep
— considering that they are for our ultimate good.
In this light the Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh explains the verse in
Bilaam's prophecy: "Velo ro'oh omol beYisroel, that G-
d does not see the effort and bother amongst the Jewish
People — He does not sense that we consider the Torah
and mitzvos a burden and a bother, but rather an
This can be further compared to a treasure map that instructs
one to travel far and to dig deeply to find a treasure.
Although following the map demands effort and expense, the
ultimate treasure makes the map an opportunity and benefit
and not a liability.
This concept can explain the reaction of the angels who
begged G-d to leave the Torah with them and not give it to
human beings. Yet, when Moshe Rabbenu was directed by G-d to
answer their claim, he refuted their request for Torah by
saying that basically none of the Ten Commandments, and hence
the Torah in general, applies to angels who have no idolatry,
do not work, have no parents, cannot murder, have no
immorality and so on.
Perhaps the angels knew that the Torah was not applicable to
them, but they wanted the Jewish people to know through Moshe
Rabbeinu that if it did apply they would have desired it as a
benefit, and not that they breathed a sigh of relief that it
was not being given to them as a liability.
The medrash in fact echoes this idea, for the
medrash says, Do not think that I am giving the Torah
to you as a liability for even the angels desired it.
When the Torah was given, the experience was so overwhelming
that it caused their souls to flee and they died and had to
be resurrected. Would it not have been easier if G-d gave
them the strength to receive the Torah without dying? Perhaps
Hashem wanted to show them that although Torah demands great
self-sacrifice, and even sometimes to give up one's life for
it, it is the Torah itself that revives the person, giving
him eternal life.
The rabbis relate that the Dew of the Resurrection of the
Dead is in fact the Torah itself. He who has the light of
Torah, the light of Torah revives him (Kesuvos
In this light we can resolve the following question. The
Rabbis relate that G-d lifted the mountain over us and
literally forced us to receive the Torah. This was still
considered valid since when one is coerced into buying
something, the sale is nonetheless valid. However the
question is raised that when one is coerced into selling
something, the sale is not valid. To force someone to take
something is considered in the end taken willingly, but to
force someone to give up something remains forced, that is,
it is invalid. When it is for one's benefit then it is valid
but if it is a liability then it is not valid. If so, how
could the forced Torah be considered to have been accepted
willingly? It must be that the acceptance of the Torah was a
benefit which the Jews received and not a liability which
they to give up.
There is an argument whether one must enjoy every yom
tov at a physical level, fulfilling the posuk that
yom tov is a day of lochem, "for you," or
perhaps it can be celebrated totally in a spiritual manner
fulfilling the posuk, leHashem "a day for
Hashem." Everyone, however, agrees that Shavuos, the day the
Torah was given, must also be celebrated on a physical level.
This is to emphasize that the Torah is a very concrete
benefit on all levels.
This is one of the sources for the custom of bringing flowers
and greenery into the home and shul on Shavuos. Rav Yaakov
Emden attributes this to the mitzvah of simchas Yom
Tov, enjoying the Yom tov enhanced by aromatic
plants. But if so, why do we not fulfill this on all yomim
Perhaps the obligation to enjoy Shavuos physically is
stronger than all other yomim tovim and we must
include the enjoyment of sight and smell also, to emphasize
that Torah benefits all aspects of man's existence.
The other customs of Shavuos also reflect the idea that Torah
is a benefit. We read megillas Rus which related how
Rus accepted the Torah — recognizing the great
opportunity it provided.
We eat milk products since milk is the food that nurtures
life at its inception, representing the fact that Torah is
the foundation of life.
We stay up all night Shavuos eve in eager anticipation of the
great occasion to occur in the morning, to show how precious
the Torah is to us.
And we recite Akdomus before reading the Torah which
graphically describes how precious the Torah is to us and how
we resist the temptations of the nations who had wanted us to
abandon the Torah in return for promises of the physical and
material benefits of assimilation. We respond to them that
all temptations are naught compared to the beauty and benefit
This lesson that the Torah was given to us for our benefit
was made evident already on the 6th day of Sivan. Tosafos
explains that in fact the Torah was originally ordained to be
given, according to everyone, on the 6th day of Sivan.
However according to Reb Yosi, Moshe pushed it off one
Some explain that Moshe used his power to expound the Torah
to delay its being given one day for Bnei Yisroel were
not fully prepared on the 6th day.
The implication in this can be represented as follows: A
wedding is set for a certain date. A hall, caterer, band,
photographer, etc. have all been reserved for that date. The
day before the wedding, a cousin calls and says he will not
be able to arrive on the set date of the wedding and asks if
the wedding can be delayed a day or two. Obviously this would
be impossible. However, if the bride were to call and say
that it is impossible for her to arrive on the set date and
asks for the wedding to be delayed a day or two, she will
definitely be accommodated and the wedding will not proceed
If the Torah were a liability, it should have been given on
the set date whether we were ready or not. But since the
Torah is a present, and specifically for our benefit, so if
we were not ready, the entire timetable of creation was
changed to accommodate us. Therefore by not giving the Torah
on the 6th of Sivan, G-d revealed that the main intent for
giving the Torah was for our benefit.
Hence, it is a zman Matan Toraseinu, not the day we
received the Torah, but rather the day it was evident that
the Torah is a matonoh, a present.
This lesson was not only not abrogated or nullified when the
Luchos were broken but was strengthened and
intensified. This is due to the fact that the breaking of the
Luchos because the Jewish people served the
eigel only makes sense if the Torah is a present which
Moshe Rabbenu denied the Jewish people because of their sin.
If the Torah is a liability it would be totally illogical to
remove a liability to punish a sin.
Therefore we celebrate the 6th of Sivan as zman Matan
Toraseinu, a time where the nature of the Torah as a
benefit was demonstrated to us in a most poignant manner.