Shavuos - What A Lovely Day!

Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Every Yom Tov has its own special message. Pesach is z'man cheiruseinu, the season of our freedom; we focus on true freedom - mastery over our yetzer hara, evil inclination. On Rosh Hashana, the anniversary of the creation of mankind, we focus on establishing Hashem as King, just as Adam harishon coronated Him on that first Rosh Hashana. Sukkos, z'man simchaseinu, season of our joy, is the time that we channel our joy to serve our Creator. What should our focus be for Shavuos? Although Shavuos is z'man Matan Torahseinu, the season of the giving of the Torah, nevertheless, the avodas hayom, the task of the festival, cannot just be to re-accept the Torah. Chazal say that one should consider the Torah as if it is given to us anew each day; Kabbalas HaTorah, re-accepting the Torah, is not limited to Shavuos. What then is unique about Shavuos? Another question to ponder: There are two days in the Jewish calendar designated to celebrate 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 Gemara1 relates that when Moshe ascended to Shamayim to receive the Torah, the melachim (angels) 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 honour and dignity." Moshe responded that the mitzvos of the Torah relate specifically to man: only man has parents to honour; only man can murder and steal; and only man has a yetzer hara (evil inclination). Only then did they consent to the giving of the Torah.

It is difficult to fathom what the melachim meant. First of all, is it not obvious that the Torah was written for man? Secondly, when Hashem created Heaven and earth, it was conditional. The Ribbono Shel Olam stipulated that if the Jewish people accept the Torah on the sixth of Sivan, then "You would endure. However, if they do not, I will return you to nothingness."2 If the Torah had remained in Shamayim instead of being given to Bnei Yisrael, the entire universe - including the melachim - would have been destroyed. Were the melachim trying to seal their own fate? Finally, since the Gemara says that Matan Torah was planned from the beginning of Creation, why did the melachim wait until Moshe ascended to Shamayim to complain?

The Dubno Maggid explains with a mashal.3 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 re-enter 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 Rabbi 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 realise how fortunate they are and will treat their new Rabbi with the dignity and respect that he deserves."

We can now understand what the melachim were intending to do. They had no real expectation that the Torah would be given to them. Rather, they were concerned that Bnei Yisrael would not fully realise how precious the Torah is - "more desirable than gold, sweeter than honey". 4 They might think:, "If Torah is Chachmas Elokim (Wisdom of Hashem), how can it be brought down to earth?" Therefore, when Moshe ascended to Shamayim, the angels claimed that they had a right to the Torah. Just as the kehilla members' protests demonstrated their esteem for the Rav, so too the melachim'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.

R' Akiva used to say5, " Beloved are Bnei Yisrael, for they are called children of the Omnipresent; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to them that for they are called children of the Omnipresent, as it is said: 'You are children to Hashem your G-d.'6 Beloved are Bnei Yisrael, for a kli chemda (cherished utensil) - the Torah - with which the world was created, was given to them; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to them that they were given a kli chemda, as it is said: 'For I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake My Torah.'" 7

Hashem displayed His tremendous love for the Bnei Yisrael 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 passuk where we learn that Hashem considers us His children is in the book of Devarim, which means the Dor Dei'ah, the generation in the Wilderness were aware of Hashem's affection for them. However the source that the Torah is a kli chemda is written in Mishle. 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 chemda. When did He tell them? Perhaps it was when Moshe came to receive the Torah. Hashem asked the melachim to object, stating that they desired the Torah for themselves. In this way, the preciousness of Torah was made clear to Bnei Yisrael. Furthermore, by orchestrating the protest, Hashem demonstrated His great love for Bnei Yisrael.8

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."9

This idea is reflected by the very day designated to commemorate this momentous. Shavuos is celebrated on the sixth day of Sivan. Yet, we find that the Sages debate over the exact date of Matan Torah.10 The Chachamim contend that the Torah was given on the sixth day of Sivan, while R' Yose argues that Matan Torah occurred on the seventh of Sivan. Since the halacha follows R' Yose's view11, how, asks Magen Avraham, can we declare on Shavuos that it is Z'man Matan Toraseinu?12

Furthermore, we know that the departure of the Jewish people from Egypt took place on a Thursday13, while the Revelation took place seven weeks later, on Shabbos.14 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 Chachamim concur with R' Yose 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!15

The Maharal answers16 that although we did not receive the Torah until the fifty-first day of the Omer, - which, according to R' Yose, 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 Rabbeinu adding an extra day of preparation that the Revelation was postponed to the following day. Thus, it is the fiftieth day that we celebrate; Hashem designated that day for Matan Torah. Thus, on Shavuos we declare Z'man Matan Toraseinu, the season the season of the giving of the Torah. We focus on Hashem's gift to us. Hashem was prepared to give us His kli chemda, demonstrating His deep love for the Jewish Nation, which was already evident on the sixth of Sivan.17

We see this notion of Shavuos being a manifestation of Hashem's affection for us, expressed in the Amida for Yom Tov. The Siach Yitzchak writes 18 that the introduction to the bracha of kedushas hayom, the blessing of Shemoneh Esrei that expresses the sanctity of the Festivals, contains a specific expression describing each of the Shalosh Regalim, the Three Festivals: Ata bechartanu mikol ha'amim - You have chosen us from all the nations - relates to Pesach19; Ahavta osanu - You loved us - refers to Shavuos; V'ratzisa banu20 - and He found favour in us - describes Succos.

The Siach Yitzchak explains, that love is achieved when two parties share a common goal and purpose. After Hashem plucked the Bnei Yisrael from the tuma, immorality and depravity of Egypt, they began to observe the mitzvos and return to their spiritual roots of kedusha, holiness in preparation for Kabbalas HaTorah. We then proved ourselves worthy of Hashem's affection. Ahavta osanu - He demonstrated His love by giving us His most treasured possesion, the Torah on Shavuos. And once we had the Torah, we were one with Hashem - Araissa v'Yisrael u'Kudsha Brich Hu chad hu, The Torah, the Jewish people and the Holy One Blessed be He, are all one - true love.21

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 Hashem's affection for us that this gift demonstrates. Therefore, we do not complete the Torah on Shavuos; the emphasis is on His love towards us.

After the festival of Succos, before we take leave of the Beis Hamikdash and the sanctity of the Yom Tov, we celebrate Simchas Torah. Hashem says to His beloved children: "Kasha alai pridaschem, Your separation is difficult for Me."22 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 Davar 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.23 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.


1 Shabbos 88b.
2 Ibid, 88a.
3 Ohel Yaakov Parshas Yisro p.153.
4 Tehillim 19:11.
5 Avos 3:18.
6 Devarim 14:1.
7 Mishlei 4:2.
8 See Ohel Yaakov, ibid; See also Shemos Rabba 33:1.
9 Shir HaShirim 1:2 as explained by Rashi.
10 Shabbos 86a-88a.The point of contention relates to the laws of tuma, spiritual impurity: how long a particular substance retains its potency and conveys tuma. In turn, this dispute hinges on how many days the Bnei Yisrael prepared before they received (yemei hagbala), 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 Chachamim contend that Moshe did not add another day; the Torah was received on the sixth of Sivan, as originally planned. R' Yose, however, argues that Moshe did in fact extend the waiting period, in effect postponing the Revelation to the seventh of Sivan.
11 Yoreh Deah 196:11.
12 Magen Avraham introduction to siman 494, see there.
13 Shabbos 87b.
14 Ibid,86b.
15 Magen Avraham, ibid; see also Rivash no. 96; Maharsha, Avoda Zara 3a; Tzelach Shabbos 88a and Pesachim 68b; Chok Yaakov 430:2 and 494:1.
16 Maharal, Tiferes Yisrael Ch. 27 (P. 83a).
17 In Megilla 31b we learn that Ezra instituted the reading of the Tochacha (Admonition) before Shavuos so that the year should end - Shavuos is Rosh Hashana for fruit of the tree - and the curses should end with it. Chazal also enacted 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 Yisrael in Parshas Bamidbar. Rashi (1:1) explains that Hashem repeatedly counted Bnei Yisrael 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 realise that He must have given us the Torah for our benefit, a manifestation of His love. If we approach the Torah with this attitude, we will surely realise that it is a kli chemda.
18 Siach Yitzchak, Siddur HaGra.
19 The Siach Yitzchak explains that the term bechira means to choose the best one of all the available options. If one is bocheir, it cannot necessarily be inferred that his selection was ideal. Rather, his choice has an advantage over the other options, or one sees dormant potential in his selection waiting to be developed. This aptly describes Bnei Yisrael at the time of the Geula, redemption. The Bnei Yisrael were not worthy on their own to be redeemed; the Jewish Nation had sinned and worshipped avoda zara, idolatry. Yet, Hashem liberated the Bnei Yisrael from Mitzrayim for He realized that they had only sunk so low because they were surrounded by the avoda zara and occult practices of the Egyptians. Hashem foresaw our tremendous potential, for the Jewish people are the descendants of the Avos, Patriarchs, who implanted in their progeny the seeds of devotion to Hashem and spiritual greatness. Therefore, bechira relates to Pesach.
20. Ratzon is the expression reserved for Succos. Favour knows no bounds, rhyme or reason. Although the Bnei Yisrael committed the sin of the golden calf, incurring Hashem's wrath, nevertheless He accepted their teshuva on Yom Kippur and rested His Shechina on the Jewish people on Succos.
21. Zohar, Acharei Mos.
22 Rashi, Vayikra 23:36.
23 See also Maharal Tiferes Yisrael ch.43 where he explains that the first four books of the Torah relate more to Hashem, the Nosein HaTorah, the giver of the Torah, whereas, the book of Devarim relates to the Bnei Yisrael, 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 Devarim is more appropriate for Shemini Atzeres.

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