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4 Sivan 5762 - May 15, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Shavuos -- Showing Hashem's Love for Us

by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Every yom tov has its own special message. Pesach is zeman cheiruseinu, the season of our freedom; we focus on true freedom -- mastery over our yetzer hora. On Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of the creation of mankind, we focus on establishing Hashem as King, just as Odom Horishon crowned Him on that first Rosh Hashanah. Succos, zeman simchoseinu, is the time that we channel our joy to serve our Creator.

What is our focus for Shavuos? Although Shavuos is zeman matan Torahseinu, nevertheless the avodas hayom cannot be just reaccepting the Torah. Chazal say that one should consider the Torah as if it is given to us anew each and every day -- so kabolas HaTorah is not limited to Shavuos. What then is unique about Shavuos?

Another question: There are two days in the Jewish calendar designated to rejoice about the Torah: Shavuos and Simchas Torah. On Simchas Torah we rejoice over completing the Torah. Would it not be more appropriate to complete the Torah and celebrate this milestone on Shavuos, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah? What is the difference between these two holidays?


The gemora (Shabbos 88b) relates that when Moshe ascended to Shomayim to receive the Torah, the mal'ochim asked Hashem, "How can the precious Torah be given to mere flesh and blood? Is man truly worthy of this treasure? Let it remain in the Heavens where it will be treated with proper honor and dignity."

Moshe responded that the mitzvos of the Torah relate specifically to man: only man has parents to honor; only man can murder and steal; and only man has a yetzer hora. Only then did they consent to the giving of the Torah to man (Shabbos 88b).

It is difficult to fathom what the mal'ochim meant. First of all, is it not obvious that the Torah was written for man?

Second, when Hashem created Heaven and earth, it was conditional. The Ribono Shel Olom stipulated to the Heavens and earth that if the Jewish people accept the Torah on the sixth of Sivan, then "You will endure. However, if they do not, I will return you to nothingness (Ibid., 88a)." If the Torah had remained in Shomayim instead of being given to Bnei Yisroel, the entire universe -- including the mal'ochim -- would have been destroyed. Were the mal'ochim trying to seal their own fate?

Finally, since the gemora says that matan Torah was planned from the beginning of Creation, why did the mal'ochim wait until Moshe ascended to Shomayim, to complain?


The Dubno Maggid explains with a moshol (Ohel Yaakov Parshas Yisro p.153). An aging and well-respected rabbi in a very large city was finding that his many responsibilities were becoming too taxing for him. He convened the city elders and asked to be relieved of his duties. He wished to take a rabbinical post in a small village where he could live in tranquillity. The elders consented to his request and wished him well.

He notified a nearby village that his services were available. Naturally, the villagers were delighted with the prospect of having such a venerable sage for a rav, and they immediately dispatched a delegation to receive the rabbi, along with a wagon for his belongings. As they entered the large city, the delegation was greeted with shouts, "You're stealing our rav. We won't let you take our rav!" And they were driven away.

They tried to reenter the city gates and again their way was blocked. Finally they said, "Let us bring the matter before the rav and see what he has to say."

The rav asked his congregants, "Didn't you consent to my retiring to a smaller village? Why are you now blocking my departure?"

The community members responded, "Heaven forbid, we never intended to block the rav's departure. However, if we were to let the rav leave without any fuss, this new community might get the impression that the rav was driven away from his post, and they would not fully appreciate the rav's greatness. Now that we have protested, demonstrating our affection and admiration for the rav, the villagers will realize how fortunate they are and will treat their new rabbi with the dignity and respect that he deserves."

A Demonstration of Love

We can now understand what the mal'ochim intended to do, along these lines. They had no real expectation that the Torah would be given to them. Rather, they were concerned that Bnei Yisrael would not fully realize how precious the Torah is -- "more desirable than gold, sweeter than honey (Tehillim 19:11)." They might think: "If Torah is chochmas Elokim, how can it be brought down to earth?"

Therefore, when Moshe ascended to Shomayim, the angels claimed that they had a right to the Torah. Just as the kehilla members protested to demonstrate their esteem for the rav, so too the mal'ochim's complaint showed Moshe how precious the Torah really is. We might add, however, that while the rav in our story played no part in his congregants' scheme, at matan Torah, Hashem was aware of the angels' plan; perhaps it was even His idea, so to speak.

R' Akiva used to say (Ovos 3:18): "Beloved are Bnei Yisroel for they are called children of the Omnipresent; indicative of a greater love is that it was made known to them that they are called children of the Omnipresent, as it says: `You are children to Hashem your G-d (Devorim 14:1).'

"Beloved are Bnei Yisroel, for a kli chemdoh -- the Torah -- with which the world was created, was given to them. Indicative of a greater love is that it was made known to them that they were given a kli chemdoh, as it is said: `For I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake My Torah (Mishlei 4:2).'"

Hashem displayed His tremendous love for the Bnei Yisroel in two ways: He revealed to us that we are His children and He told us that He cherishes the Torah that He gave us. R' Akiva quoted a source for both these teachings. The posuk where we learn that Hashem considers us His children is in Devorim, which means that the Dor Dei'ah, the generation in the Wilderness, was aware of Hashem's affection for them. However the source that the Torah is a kli chemdoh is in Mishlei.

Did we have to wait until Shlomo Hamelech authored this work to be made aware of how special the Torah is? Hashem surely must have revealed to the Dor Dei'ah that the Torah is a kli chemdoh. When did He tell them?

Perhaps it was when Moshe came to receive the Torah. Hashem asked the mal'ochim to object, stating that they desired the Torah for themselves. In this way, the preciousness of Torah was made clear to Bnei Yisroel. Furthermore, by orchestrating the protest, Hashem demonstrated His great love for Bnei Yisroel (See Ohel Yaakov, ibid.; See also Shemos Rabbah 33:1).


This is the essence of Shavuos -- we celebrate Hashem's deep love of our nation. We recall the show of affection that can never be duplicated. At matan Torah, we merited to hear the first two commandments directly from Hashem. We beseech Hashem, "Communicate Your innermost wisdom to me again in loving closeness (as You did at matan Torah), for Your friendship is dearer than all earthly delights (Shir HaShirim 1:2 as explained by Rashi)."

This idea is reflected by the very day designated to commemorate this momentous event. Shavuos is celebrated on the sixth day of Sivan. Yet, we find that the Sages debate the exact date of matan Torah (Shabbos 86a- 88a).

The point of contention relates to the laws of tumah, spiritual impurity: How long a particular substance retains its potency and conveys tumah. In turn, this dispute hinges on how many days the Bnei Yisroel prepared before they received (yemei hagboloh): Two or three days. Everyone agrees that the initial command was to prepare for two days and the Torah would be given on the third day. The Sages debate whether Moshe extended this period by another day. The chachomim contend that Moshe did not add another day; the Torah was received on the sixth of Sivan, as originally planned. R' Yosi, however, argues that Moshe did in fact extend the waiting period, in effect postponing the Revelation to the seventh of Sivan.


The Chachomim contend that the Torah was given on the sixth day of Sivan, while R' Yosi argues that Matan Torah occurred on the seventh of Sivan. Since the halacha follows R' Yosi's view (Yoreh Deah 196:11) how, asks Mogen Avrohom, can we declare on Shavuos that it is zeman matan Toraseinu (Mogen Avrohom introduction to siman 494)?

Furthermore, we know that the departure of the Jewish People from Egypt took place on a Thursday (Shabbos 87b), while the Revelation took place seven weeks later, on Shabbos (Ibid. 86b). A calculation of the number of days between that Thursday night, which would have been the beginning of the Omer period, and the Shabbos when the Torah was received, comes to fifty-one days. Inasmuch as the Chachomim concur with R' Yosi on this issue, we can conclude that the Torah was given on the fifty-first day of the Omer. Yet Shavuos is celebrated on the fiftieth day after the Omer was brought (Mogen Avrohom, ibid.; see also Rivash no. 96; Maharsha, Avoda Zora 3a; Tzelach Shabbos 88a and Pesochim 68b; Chok Yaakov 430:2 and 494:1).

The Maharal answers (Maharal, Tiferes Yisroel Ch. 27 p. 83a) that although we did not receive the Torah until the fifty-first day of the Omer which, according to R' Yosi, was the seventh day of Sivan, nevertheless Hashem had been prepared to present the Torah to us on the fiftieth day. It was only due to Moshe Rabbenu adding an extra day of preparation that the Revelation was postponed to the following day.

Thus, it is the fiftieth day that we celebrate since Hashem designated that day for Matan Torah. Thus, on Shavuos we declare Zeman Matan Toraseinu, the time of the giving of the Torah. We focus on Hashem's gift to us. Hashem was already prepared on that day to give us His kli chemdoh, demonstrating His deep love for the Jewish Nation, which was thus already fully evident on the sixth of Sivan.


In Megilla 31b we learn that Ezra instituted the reading of the Tochochoh before Shavuos so that the year should end -- Shavuos is Rosh Hashanah for fruit of the tree -- and the curses should end with it. Chazal also arranged that parshas Bamidbar be read beforehand (See Tosafos and the Maharsha, ibid.). Surely, this parsha must contain a message pertinent to Matan Torah.

We see Hashem's love for Bnei Yisroel in parshas Bamidbar. Rashi (1:1) explains that Hashem repeatedly counted Bnei Yisroel in the desert because of His deep love for us, like a shepherd who counts his beloved flock. Unlike a shepherd though, Hashem already knew the total of His nation. His counting was to demonstrate His love for us (See also Da'as Torah, Bamidbar 1:1).

Perhaps this is why we always read parshas Bamidbar before Shavuos, to remind us of His love and devotion to us.

Looking at all the obligations set forth in the Torah, one could easily think that the Torah is a yoke and a burden. When we recall Hashem's love however, we realize that He must have given us the Torah for our benefit, as a manifestation of His love. If we approach the Torah with this attitude, we will surely realize that it is a kli chemdoh.

We see this notion of Shavuos being a manifestation of Hashem's affection for us, expressed in the Amidah for yom tov. The Siach Yitzchok writes (Siddur HaGra) that the introductory paragraph to the brochoh of kedushas hayom, the blessing of Shemoneh Esrei that expresses the sanctity of the festivals, includes phrases alluding to each of the Sholosh Regolim: Atoh bechartonu mikol ho'amim - - You have chosen us from all the nations -- alludes to Pesach when Hashem chose us from among the Egyptians; ohavto osonu -- You loved us -- refers to Shavuos; verotziso bonu -- and You found favor in us -- describes Succos.

The Siach Yitzchok explains that love is achieved when two parties share a common goal and purpose. After Hashem plucked the Bnei Yisroel from the tumah, immorality and depravity of Egypt, they began to observe the mitzvos and return to their spiritual roots of kedusha in preparation for kabolas haTorah. We then proved ourselves worthy of Hashem's affection. Ohavto osonu -- Hashem demonstrated His love by giving us His most treasured possession, the Torah, on Shavuos. And once we had the Torah, we were one with Hashem -- Yisroel veOraissa veKudesho Berich Hu -- chad Hu. The Jewish people, the Torah and HaKodosh Boruch Hu are all one -- true love (Zohar, Acharei Mos).

The Siach Yitzchok explains how the other expressions refer to Pesach and Succos. He writes that the term bechiroh means to choose the best one among all the available options. If one is bocheir, it cannot necessarily be inferred that his selection was ideal. His choice may just have some advantage over the other options, or he sees dormant potential in that selection, waiting to be developed. This aptly describes Bnei Yisroel at the time of the Geula. Bnei Yisroel were not worthy on their own to be redeemed; the Jewish Nation had sinned and worshiped avoda zora. Yet Hashem liberated the Bnei Yisroel from Mitzrayim for He realized that they had only sunk so low because they were surrounded by the avoda zora and occult practices of the Egyptians. Hashem foresaw our tremendous potential, for the Jewish People are the descendants of the Ovos, who implanted in their progeny the seeds of devotion to Hashem and spiritual greatness. Therefore, bechiroh relates to Pesach.

Rotzon is the expression reserved for Succos. Favor knows no bounds, rhyme or reason. Although Bnei Yisroel committed the sin of the Golden Calf, incurring Hashem's wrath, nevertheless He accepted their teshuvoh on Yom Kippur and rested His Shechina on the Jewish People on Succos.

Shavuos is Hashem's Love for Us; Simchas Torah is our Love of Torah

Now we can understand the difference between the celebrations of Shavuos and Simchas Torah. On Shavuos we focus on Hashem's gift to us and His affection for us that this gift demonstrates. Therefore, we do not complete the Torah on Shavuos; the emphasis is on His love towards us not on our actions and reactions.

After the festival of Succos, before we take leave of the Beis Hamikdosh and the sanctity of the yom tov, we celebrate Simchas Torah. Hashem says to His beloved children: "Koshe olai pridaschem, Your separation is difficult for Me (Rashi, Vayikra 23:36)."

Our response? We complete the Torah and rejoice over this accomplishment. In effect, our rejoicing with the Torah is a declaration of our attachment to the Torah; wherever we may be, we will toil over the Torah, the dvar Hashem. In this way we are telling Hashem that He should not be sad over the end of the festival, for there will not be any separation.

See also Maharal (Tiferes Yisroel ch. 43) where he explains that the first four books of the Torah relate more to Hashem, the Nosein HaTorah, whereas the book of Devorim relates to Bnei Yisroel, the Torah's recipients.

Therefore, on Shavuos we read the Luchos Rishonos, the First Tablets mentioned in the book of Shemos; the emphasis is on Hashem's giving of the Torah. The celebration of the completion of the entire Torah, which also marks the conclusion of Devorim is more appropriate for Shemini Atzeres.


This Shavuos, Let us reflect on Hashem's love for us. Then let us reciprocate His affection by dedicating ourselves to the Torah and its mitzvos . . . . And come Simchas Torah we will have what to celebrate.

Rabbi Levinson is a member of the Melbourne Kollel and editor of its journal Moadim Uzmanim.

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