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by Zvi Akiva Fleisher

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THE EXTREME IMPORTANCE OF ACCEPTANCE OF TORAH SHEB'AL PEH - THE ORAL TORAH The gemara Shabbos 87a derives from the words, "Va'yisyatzvu b'sachtis hohor" (Shmos 19:17) that the bnei Yisroel literally were standing below the mountain, Har Sinai. Hashem lifted it up above them as a keg over their heads and said, "If you accept the Torah all is fine, but if not, there will be your grave." Tosfos asks why there is a need for coercion, as the bnei Yisroel very willingly accepted the Torah, as evidenced by their saying, "naa'seh v'nishmo" (Shmos 24:7). Tosfos answers that since the bnei Yisroel were witness to a powerful manifestation of fire, lightning, etc., there was the fear that out of pure awe they would back off. The Mahara"l of Prague asks that logically the opposite should be true, that upon witnessing such a powerful supernatural manifestation they would be even more motivated to accept the Torah. He answers that this is exactly the point. Hashem's exposing the bnei Yisroel to such a powerful display is in and of itself a spiritual coercion, i.e. they could not say no after they experienced such a powerful display.

The Medrash Tanchuma Noach #3 answers that "naa'seh v'nishmo" was only a response of acceptance of the written Torah, which is finite, but the bnei Yisroel were unwilling to accept the oral Torah, which is without limits or parameters, i.e. the Rabbinic explanations and added safeguards, etc. would continuously be added. The coercion was specifically for the oral Torah. The words of the Medrash Tanchuma are so powerful and enlightening that I consider them a "must read" at least on Shovuos. I therefore include a loose translation of the Medrash:

< And Yisroel did not accept the Torah until He held the mountain over them as a keg, as the verse says, "Va'yisyatzvu b'sachtis hohor" (Shmos 1:17). And Rabbi Dimi bar Chama said, "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Yisroel, 'If you accept the Torah it is good, and if not, there will be your grave.'" If you will ask, "At the moment that Hashem asked them if they would accept the Torah they all responded with, 'Naa'seh v'nishmo' (Shmos 24:7)," (the answer is) that there is not in her (the written Torah) (deep) understanding and pain (to grasp its meaning), and it is limited. But rather, what did He say to them (will you accept the Torah), on the oral Torah, which has in it minutia details of the mitzvos, both the easier and the harder ones. It (comprehending it) is severe as death and harsh as the abyss is its zealousness, because the one who studies it is only one who loves the Holy One, blessed be He, with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his capacity, as the verse says, "V'ohavto eis Hashem Elokecho b'chol l'vovcho uvchol naf'sh'cho uvchol m'o'decho" (Dvorim 6:5). How do you derive that this love means only the Talmud? See what is written right afterwards, "V'hoyu hadvorim ho'eileh asher onochi m'tzavcho al l'vo'vecho" (verse 7). This must mean the Talmud, which is upon one's heart (it requires analytical understanding that sits well in one's heart). Therefore say, that "V'shinantom l'vo'necho" (ibid.) refers to the Talmud, which requires sharp discernment. This teaches you that the first chapter of the Shma reading does not clarify the reward (for fulfilling its dictates) as does the second chapter, "V'hoyoh im shomo'a tish'mu (Dvorim 11:13), V'nosati m'tar atrz'chem" (verse 14), which is the reward for those who involve themselves in mitzvos (another version says the written Torah), but do not busy themselves with the Talmud. This comes to teach you that whoever loves wealth and pleasures cannot properly learn the written Torah, because it involves pain and sleep deprivation, and one wears himself out and degrades himself (physically) for it. Therefore its reward is set aside for the world-to-come, as the verse says, "Ho'om haholchim bachoshech ro'u ohr godol" (Yeshayohu 9:1) The great light refers to the light that was created on the first day of creation, which the Holy One, blessed be He, hid for those who toil in the oral Torah by day and by night, in whose merit the world stands, as the verse says, " Ko omar Hashem im lo vrisi yomom voloyloh chukos shomayim vo'oretz lo somti" (Yirmiyohu 33:25). What is the covenant that applies both day and night? It is the Talmud. As well, the verse says, "Ko omar Hashem im to'feiru es brisi hayom v'es brisi haloyloh gam brisi sufar es Dovid avdi " (verse 19). The verse also says, "Ki im b'toras Hashem cheftzo uvsoroso yeh'geh yomom voloyloh" (T'hilim 1:2).

And also, the Holy One, blessed be He, concluded a covenant with Yisroel that the oral Torah will not be forgotten from their mouths and the mouths of their children, even until the end of all generations, as the verse says, "Vaani zose brisi osom omar Hashem ruchi asher o'lecho udvorai asher samti b'ficho lo yomushu " (Yeshayohu 59:21). The verse does not say "mimcho" (only from YOU it will not be removed), but rather, "mipicho umipi zaracho umipi zera zaracho" (ibid.).>> Why this medrash appears in parshas Noach deserves an explanation. Perhaps it is because the parsha of Noach relates that the world was on the brink of extinction. Similarly, the world was also on the brink of extinction when the Torah was offered to the bnei Yisroel. Had they not accepted it the world would have come to an abrupt end, as related in the gemara Avodoh Zoroh 3a.

1) Based on the Medrash Tanchuma we might explain the words of Chaza"l, that Moshe encountered difficulty in creating the menorah. Commentators say that the Holy Ark in the Mishkon/Mikdosh represents the written Torah, as it contains the TEXT of the Ten Commandments whose words allude to all 613 mitzvos, as explained by Rabbi Saadioh Gaon. according to an opinion in the gemara Yerushalmi Shkolim chapter 6 all 613 mitzvos were actually inscribed in the Holy Tablets, "Galin v'ga'lei galin." The menorah, which illuminates, represents the oral Torah. In light of (pun intended) the enlightening words of the Medrash Tanchuma, we might say that Moshe's difficulty is the difficulty one has when studying and attempting to fully comprehend the oral Torah. This might also explain, at least as an allusion, why the Holy Ark had rings and poles attached to it, and the menorah did not. Having rings and poles allows one to readily lift and move an item, i.e. having control. Lacking poles with which to lift and carry an object reflects the difficulty in grasping it.

2) On the words of Shmos 34:26,27 "Lo s'vasheil g'di bacha'leiv imo, Va'yomer Hashem el Moshe ksov l'cho es hadvorim ho'eileh ki al PI hadvorim ho'eileh korati itcho bris v'es Yisroel," - Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk, And Hashem said to Moshe write for yourself these words because according to these words I have concluded a covenant with you and with Yisroel - the medrash relates a startling conversation between Hashem and Moshe. When Hashem told Moshe to redact the words of verse 26, which are a repetition of Shmos 23:19, and would again be repeated in Dvorim 14:21, Moshe asked what the meaning of the repetitions is. Hashem responded that one verse is to be taken literally, one teaches that it is prohibited to eat meat and milk that were cooked together, and the third verse teaches that it is prohibited to derive benefit from this mixture. Moshe took issue with this, saying that it seems to him to be too far-fetched to derive these explanations from the text, and suggested that Hashem dictate words that more closely reflect these laws. Hashem responded with the words of verse 27, "Ksov l'cho es hadvorim ho'eileh ki al PI hadvorim ho'eileh korati itcho bris v'es Yisroel." Write for yourself exactly these words because it is on the basis (literally the MOUTH) of these words that I have concluded a covenant with you and with Yisroel. The choice of the words "al PI" teach us that the covenant was concluded specifically by virtue of the bnei Yisroel accepting the oral Torah, as explained by the Medrash Tanchuma. It goes on in great length to extol the virtues of the oral Torah over those of the written Torah.

Based on this medrash it is very well understood why Hashem points out specifically in this verse that the covenant was concluded through acceptance of the oral Torah, as Moshe felt that there was a large chasm between the text and the actual intention.

3) Given this preface, we have an insight into numerous anomalies surrounding Shovuos:

A) We eat both dairy and meat meals, something that is not mentioned by halachic authorities by any other Yom Tov. Because the covenant was concluded over the acceptance of the oral Torah, and this is most accentuated by the verse that prohibits the eating of a cooked meat and milk dish, we specifically eat both dairy and meat, to show that we comply with the prohibition, being careful to not mix the two, which would not be manifest if we ate only meat.

B) The calendar date of Shovuos is not mentioned in the Torah, as is every other Yom Tov. Indeed, when the new months were determined through witnesses testifying about lunar sightings, Shovuos could be either the fifth, the sixth, or the seventh of Sivon. This demonstrates that the theme of the Yom Tov is that it is not based in the text of the Torah, but rather depends upon Rabbinic intervention and interpretation.

C) Not only is the calendar date of Shovuos not mentioned in the Torah, but the Torah's words in their simple reading seem to strongly indicate that it always falls on a Sunday, and this in itself would be an explanation for the exact day of the month not being mentioned. This is indeed the opinion of the non-believers in the oral Torah, the Saducees. The Torah says, "Usfartem lochem mimochoros haShabbos miyom haviachem es omer hatnufoh sheva shabbosos temimos ti'h'yenoh. Ad mimochoros haShabbos hashviis tis'p'ru chamishim yom v'hikravtem minchoh chadoshoh laShem. Ukro'sem b'etzem hayom ha'zeh mikra kodesh." (Vayikra 23:15,16,21). Translated literally these verses say, "And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the SHABBOS, from the day of your bringing the uplifted omer seven complete weeks they shall be. Until the day after the seventh SHABBOS shall you count, the fiftieth day (see Rashi) and you shall bring a new meal offering to Hashem. And you shall proclaim in this actual day a holy proclamation." The key word form that is mentioned twice in these verses is HASHABBOS. Usually it means the seventh day of the week. However, our sages explain that it means the first day of Pesach, as explained in the gemara M'nochos 65b,66a. Our tradition of the meaning of SHABBOS in verses 15 and 16, as transmitted to us through our sages, is even more stilted when we realize that "mimochoros haShabbos" of verse 15 means the day after the first day of Pesach, while "haShabbos hashviis" of verse 16 means "the seventh WEEK," as explained by Targum Onkelos ("sheva SHABBOSOS" even according to the Saducees must mean seven WEEKS). Why all this ambiguity? Once again, it is very well understood in the light of the theme of the primary commitment to Rabbinic interpretation and decrees.

D) The first day of Shovuos, which is the only Torah mandated day of the Yom Tov, demonstrates this theme in a most powerful manner. The gemara Shabbos 88a and Y'vomos 62a says that although the words of Hashem seem to indicate that the Torah would be given two days later, Moshe added on a day on his own cognizance. He calculated that the intention of preparing "hayom umochor" (Shmos 19:10), is to prepare "hayom" similarly to "mochor." Just as tomorrow would be a 24 preparation, so too, "today" would be a 24 hour preparation. As the present day had numerous hours that had already passed, Moshe decided that "hayom" is the first immediate day of 24 hour preparation, i.e. tomorrow, and tomorrow, is the day after that, albeit the simple words of the prophecy were contrary to this interpretation. Hashem agreed with him as we find that the Holy Spirit descended upon Har Sinai and Hashem spoke to the bnei Yisroel one day later. Why indeed was Hashem so cryptic, and why didn't He clearly say that the preparation period should end after two full days? The Tiferes Shlomo, the holy Admor of Radomsk, answers that Hashem wanted to teach the bnei Yisroel that all matters of the Torah require the interpretation of our Rabbis. This lesson is strikingly poignant when the actual date of the giving of the Torah hinged upon Moshe's understanding, as the literal words of Hashem seemed to indicate otherwise.

E) The need for a second day of Shovuos, which is observed in the Diaspora, also requires an explanation. Since the Torah states that Shovuos takes place on the fiftieth day after the "omer" offering, we know exactly which day that is, even in the remote areas of the Diaspora, contra-distinctive to any other Yom Tov, where there was a doubt in the outlying areas as to when the month began. Nevertheless, there was a Rabbinically instituted second day by way of not differentiating, "lo ploog," between Shovuos and the other Yomim Tovim (Rambam hilchos kiddush hachodesh 5:5). Interestingly, the Chasam Sofer in his responasa O.Ch. #145 says that since this second day is not based on a doubt, it is stricter in its prohibitions than any other second day of Yom Tov. All of this demonstrates, more so than by any other Yom Tov, the impact of Rabbinic involvement.

F) The one and only communal offering at the Beis Hamikdosh that is chometz is the two loaves of bread, made of wheat that is specifically from the newly harvested grain. The symbolism of the omer offering being "s'orim," barley (oats according to Rabbi Dovid Luria, the Bichover Rov), and the breads of Shovuos being wheat is well known. Barley (oats) is in the main, animal food, while wheat is consumed by humans. This alludes to our spiritual ascent from the level of an animal on Pesach (at the time of the exodus) to that of a human on Shovuos (at the time of receiving the Torah), but the unique feature of the two breads being chometz begs clarification. Once again, based on the theme of acceptance of the oral Torah, i.e. the explanations, decrees, and safeguards instituted by Chaza"l, being the pivotal point of the covenant being binding, this is understood. Non-leavened bread retains the shape it originally had, even after being baked. Leavened bread swells and takes on a new or expanded shape, different from when it leaves the hands of its shaper. The basic bread is the text of the Torah, while the expansion is the additional interpretation, etc. of the oral Torah, hence a bread offering of chometz.

G) The reading of Megilas Rus on Shovuos is especially well understood in light of the above. The lynchpin upon which the intrigue of this story stands is the issue of interpretation of the verse, "Lo yovo Amoni uMoavi bikhal Hashem" (Dvorim 23:4). Are an Amonis or a Moavis (female) included in or excluded from this prohibition? The Talmud actually deals with this, and although there is an indication from the written words that they are excluded, nevertheless, it is only the conclusion of the court of Shmuel that they are excluded, that brought the ruling into acceptance. From generation to generation this was not always clear to the masses. This ruling surely required the input of Chaza"l, and is based on the oral Torah.

4) The gemara Shabbos 113b says that Boaz alluded to Rus that she would become the matriarch of the house of Dovid and all subsequent kings. We similarly find the word "HaLoMe" when Dovid said "ki heviasni ad halome" (Shmuel 2:7). The possibility of Dovid being king is predicated on the ruling "Moavi v'lo Moavis," the restriction of a Moabite convert to marry a born Jew applies to their males only. As just mentioned, the gemara brings proofs pro and con and gives no logical proof, nor a conclusive proof based on the text of the Torah. It is only because there was a tradition handed down from Moshe and taught by the court of the prophet Shmuel that only Moabite men are included in the restriction that Rus was permitted to become Boaz's wife. Commentators say that Boaz alluded to her that she was permitted to become his wife because of "HaLoMe," whose letters are an acronym for Halacha L'Moshe MiSinai.

We might add that in the verse of the Torah's restriction we likewise find this allusion. Later in the verse it says, "Gam dor asiri lo yovo LoHeM bikhal Hashem." The word "LoHeM" seems to be superfluous. Again, we might say that it is an acronym of Halacha L'Moshe MiSinai, that this law is regulated by acceptance of the words of Chaza"l who say that there is an oral tradition that an Amonis and a Moavis are excluded from the prohibition.

5) This theme might very well be an insight into Shmos 19:9, "Hinei onochi boh eilecho b'av he'onon baavur yishma ho'om b'dabri imoch v'gam b'cho yaaminu l'olom" - Behold I am coming to you in the thickness (veil) of a cloud so that the nation will hear as I speak with you and they will also believe in you forever. The "thickness of a cloud" can be interpreted as a low level of prophetic exposure, allowing each and every one of the bnei Yisroel to hear. This brings the bnei Yisroel to be actual witnesses to the communication, and in turn their belief in Moshe as Hashem's unique prophet is solid. Following our theme, the verse might also be saying that the vague and even contra-indicative nature of the timing of the giving of the Torah, i.e. Hashem's appearance at Har Sinai, brings to trust in Moshe, who embodies the Torah leaders of all generations, as explained in the Holy Zohar, that there is an "expansion of Moshe" in all generations. The stress is the BELIEF in Moshe, i.e. the unwavering trust in the interpretation of the oral Torah.

6) We can now interpret the three matters that Moshe took into his own hands, adding a day of preparation for receiving the Torah, breaking the Tablets, and separating himself from his wife even before Hashem actually commanded him to do so (gemara Shabbos 87, Y'vomos 63), as all stemming from this one concept, to strengthen the idea of acceptance of the oral law, to accept the words of our sages.

A) Moshe added a day of preparation of his own accord. The Tiferes Shlomo, the holy Admor of Radomsk, explains that Hashem wanted to teach the bnei Yisroel that all matters of the Torah require the interpretation of our Rabbis. This lesson is strikingly poignant when the actual date of the giving of the Torah hinged upon Moshe's understanding, as the literal words of Hashem seemed to indicate otherwise.

B) Moshe broke the tablets of his own accord. The letters flew upwards, leaving the tablets without the many areas devoid of spaces where there was no stone, and they became exceedingly heavy, and in turn were broken. Tablets without the letters is the concept of not having the text of the Torah, but nevertheless, still having the Torah. This is the oral Torah, which, although clearly based on the written word, is transmitted by our sages verbally. Moshe saw that they did not properly understand his words, that he would return at a certain time, and this is because they understood that the day of his ascent was day one, when in reality, the count only began with a full 24 hour day, quite similar to the days needed for preparation for receiving the Torah. To strengthen the bnei Yisroel's future acceptance of the oral law, i.e. Rabbinic ruling, the text of the Tablets was rendered useless. Nevertheless, the Tablets have a powerful purpose, as they represent the oral Torah. Therefore they must remain in the Holy Ark, alongside the second set of complete Tablets. Chaza"l say that with the breaking of the Tablets, forgetfulness of Torah one studied, came into existence. This might also lend to strengthening of trust in our sages, as we see that we forget and can easily be mistaken.

C) Moshe separated himself from his wife of his own accord. Miriam and Aharon wondered why Moshe did this, given that they too received prophecy and did not take on this stringency. Equating oneself with the leading sage(s) weakens one's reliance on and subordination to our sages, a sort of corrupting or softening our acceptance of the words of our sages. Moshe, predating this incident, took upon himself to act in this unusually stringent sanctified manner, not only to be ready at a moment's notice to receive a prophecy, but also to display that the leader of the generation is not on an equal level with others, and thus they would accept his words, including the oral Torah, more readily.

7) In the Haftorah for the 2nd day of Shovuos we read these words from the prophet Chavakuk 3:4, "V'shom chevyon uzO," and there is the love of His power. The word "uzO" is spelled (Ksiv) with the letter Hei at the end, but is read with a Vov (kri). The written, textual spelling is with a Hei, representing the five volumes of the written Torah, while what we read, the actualization is read with a Vov, representing the six volumes of the mishnoh, the oral Torah.

8) Perhaps the Torah does not spell out that Shovuos is the day of the giving of the Torah because the text was transmitted on that day, but not the oral Torah. The written Torah was readily accepted, but not the oral.

9) In preparation for receiving the Torah, Hashem tells Moshe, "V'kidashtem hayom umochor" (Shmos 19:10). The Holy Admor of Kotzk interprets these words to mean that Moshe should imbue the people with such a lofty level of sanctity that they will be holy not just "today," when they receive the Torah and are witness to so many supernatural manifestations, prophecy, etc., but that it should also last for "mochor," a later time. He similarly explains, "Zose chanukas hamizbei'ach acha'rei himoshach oso" (Bmidbar 7:88) to mean that the emotion present at the time of the dedication of the Mishkon should likewise last AFTER it was anointed.

The Ramban writes (parshas Emor) that we can view Shovuos as a sort of Shmini Atzerres after Pesach, with the days of the "sefiras ho'omer" serving as a "cholo shel mo'eid." Perhaps we can say that one aspect of the connection is "mochor." In Shmos 13:14, the verse says, "V'hoyoh ki yisholcho bincho MOCHOR," and it will be when your son asks you tomorrow. Rashi comments that "mochor" is not limited to tomorrow literally, but also means "at a later time." Prepare for Pesach in a manner that your son will want to ask you about Pesach at a later time, that there should be a continuity of generations that do the mitzvos. This will be a matter of great joy, as indicated by the word "V'hoyoh" (gemara Megiloh). This is also "v'kidashtem hayom uMOCHOR" of "kabolas haTorah." Here lies a most powerful message. It is of the utmost of importance that we do the mitzvos with great joy, and this emotion will be infectious and carry over to later generations.

We find the same concept in the verses in parshas Nitzovim (30:19), "Hachaim v'hamovves nosati l'fonechoh habrochoh v'hakloloh uvocharto bachaim l'maan tichyeh atoh v'za'echo." As explained by the commentators, among them the Tzemach Tzedek, "b'chiroh," discerning choice only applies to a choice between two or more matters that seriously come into consideration. How then does the Torah give us a choice of life or death, as the choice of life is obvious? They answer that life and death both mean that one chooses that which the Torah dictates. Life means doing these activities with joy and alacrity, with LIFE. Death means that they are done only with the motivation of fear of retribution (albeit there should be a component of fear in our spiritual repertoire). The verse ends that the choice should be life, "l'maan tichyeh atoh v'za'echo," so that not only you should have life through performance of the mitzvos, but so that it should carry over to your children.

11) The gemara Shabbos 23 a says that one who love the sages merits to have children who will themselves be sages. One who honours the sages merits to have sons-in-law who are sages. One who fears the sages merits to himself becoming a sage. The Maharsha asks that from this is seems that the reward for serving Hashem with fear is greater that with love, contrary to the general rule that serving with joy is greater than with fear. Perhaps we might say that "his will become sages" means that besides his becoming a sage his children too, will become sages. This answers the Maharsha's question. The logic of this is as above, that loving the sages, i.e. not groaning each time they institute another stringency, but rather accepting happily that they know what is best for us, will spill over in a positive manner to one's children, which will not be the case if he only fears them, although he follows their dictates, it is only out of fear of retribution. Summing it up, serving Hashem with joy is a most important component in our fulfillment of mitzvos. May we merit to serve Hashem with both "yiroh" and AHAVOH.


Chag Shovuos so'mei'ach, v'ein simchoh k'simchas haTORAH!


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