Back to Sinai

Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Shavuos is the Yom Tov that commemorates the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai over three thousand years ago. It also presents a good opportunity to ponder the Torah that we possess today. As Chazal say, "b'kol yom yihiye b'einecha ki'ilu hayom nitna, every day we should look at the Torah as if it was given today"1. In this way, we will come to appreciate the giving of the Torah not simply as an historical event but as an ongoing miracle that continues to motivate our every deed.

The Torah alludes to the concept of "b'kol yom yihiye b'einecha ki'ilu hayom nitna", many times2. It is commonly understood to be an exhortation to always view the Torah as new and exciting. Chazal tell us "mi sheyeish lo manna rotzeh masaim, when someone has one hundred dollars, he then wants two hundred dollars"3.Every word of Torah is precious. As the Gra writes, we fulfil the mitzva of Talmud Torah with each word of Torah we learn and each mitzva of Talmud Torah is equivalent to all the other mitzvos combined4. When we realise that Torah is the ultimate treasure, this innate desire to accumulate more wealth is awakened.

Our success in Torah learning is obviously dependent on how enthusiastically we approach our studies. This is perhaps why the Torah mentions the concept "b'kol yom yihiye b'einecha ki'ilu hayom nitna" so often. Even if we have learnt a particular Gemara many times, we should review it with the same enthusiasm we had when learning it for the first time.

Seemingly, wherever this lesson is derived, the Torah happens to be discussing a past event or pronouncement. Yet the Torah insists on using the present tense. This gives the reader the impression that he is not reading an historic account, rather he is presently experiencing those events. The possuk "V'hayu hadevarim ha'eleh asher anochi mitzavicha hayom - and these matters that I command you today"5, not only tells us that Hashem commanded Bnei Yisroel in the Midbar, it also teaches that Hashem is commanding us today.

There is however one possuk in which this maxim seems to be incongruous within the context in which it is mentioned. When Bnei Yisroel arrived at Har Sinai, the Torah states - In the third month from the Exodus of Bnei Yisroel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Sinai Desert6. Since the Torah is retelling a past event, we would expect the possuk to say bayom hahu, "that" day. Why then is it written "bayom hazeh", "this" day? Rashi answers that this is another reminder that we should look at the Torah as if it is being given today.

As the Torah states, Bnei Yisroel's arrival at Har Sinai occurred on Rosh Chodesh. Let us assume that the Torah wants us to feel that we are also coming to Har Sinai. But where is the Torah? The Torah wasn't given until the sixth day of Sivan. How do Chazal infer from this possuk that we should feel we are receiving the Torah every day? Also, whilst it is true that visualising the Torah as being given each day will make learning more exciting, how can the feeling of arriving at Har Sinai six days before Matan Torah help us to see the Torah as fresh and alive?

HaRav Yeruchom Levovitz z'tl writes that there is an additional meaning to this Maamar Chazal. He explains that we must always look at the Torah as if it being given today because this is actually the case. Yes, Torah tziva lanu Moshe - Moshe Rabbeinu received the Torah and taught it to us. Without Moshe Rabbeinu we would not have the Torah. He ascended to Shamayim, stayed for forty days and brought the Torah down to us. However, we must still prove ourselves worthy recipients by standing before Har Sinai every day and accepting anew the yoke of Torah.

The Torah is chochmas Elokim, the wisdom of G-d. Hashem is infinite. It is impossible for man with his limited intellect to comprehend anything of His great wisdom. Yet Hashem gave us the ability to understand His Torah. Chazal say "Yagaati u'matzasi, if one works hard he will succeed", but even then it is a "find"7. Through our ongoing Kabbolas HaTorah and through toiling in Hashem's teachings we are given the Torah as a gift.

The Shelah HaKodesh adds that any prophecy or enactment that Chazal instituted and all Torah novellae throughout the ages, emanate from Sinai. The Torah relates that the revelation at Matan Torah was with a "Kol gadol v'lo yassuf - a great voice v'lo yassuf8. Rashi quotes Targum Onkelos' inter-pretation of v'lo yassuf - "which did not stop". The Shelah explains that there is a continuous Kol emanating from Har Sinai. All prophecy, any Rabbinic decree and all Chidushei Torah are a result of this Kol.

This is the meaning of the Mishna in Avos (6:2). Everyday a Bas Kol emanating from Har Sinai cries out - "Woe to man because of the shame of the Torah". Every day the Torah is given at Har Sinai. We can go and listen to the Kol and learn the Torah. Yet there are some that do not take advantage of this opportunity. It is this wasted opportunity that the Bas Kol bemoans. That is indeed a shame to the Torah.

Now we can appreciate the significance of, "Bayom hazeh ba'u midbar Sinai". Arriving at Har Sinai represents the preparations needed to be able to accept the Torah. The Bnei Yisroel used that time to purify themselves before Kabbolas HaTorah. We must also continuously come before Har Sinai and prepare ourselves to accept the Torah.

How can we prepare for Kabbalas HaTorah? We can learn from the Dor De'ah, our forefathers who stood at Har Sinai.

After they arrived at Har Sinai, the Torah states "Vayisu MiRiphidim vayavo'u Midbar Sinai vayachanu bamidbar, vayichan sham Yisroel negged hahar", They travelled from Rephidim, and arrived in the Sinai Desert, and they camped in the desert and Yisrael camped opposite the mountain.9 The Ohr HaChaim explains that this possuk alludes to three requirements for Kabbolas HaTorah. At Rephidim, Bnei Yisroel's commitment to the Torah was weakened. They now travelled away from Rephidim, ie., they strengthened their bond to the Torah. A prerequisite for Kabbolas HaTorah is strengthening our connection and toiling in the Torah. The possuk continues "vayachanu bamidbar", they camped in the desert, which is uninhabited and desolate. We must humble ourselves like the desert before we receive the Torah. And finally, "vayichan Yisroel" - and Bnei Yisroel camped. This possuk is written in singular form. We must be a united nation, a single unit. We cannot receive the Torah if we see ourselves as individuals.10

By preparing ourselves daily to receive the Torah and toiling in it's words we ingrain within us the knowledge that Torah is chochmas Elokim. This insight into the uniqueness of the Torah in turn gives us a greater appreciation and love for the Torah and the wherewithal to approach our learning with greater enthusiasm and joy. This is the special message we can take with us from Shavuos - the anniversary of the day we first received this precious gift. It is only because He gave us the Torah then that we have the opportunity to toil and understand His holy words now. Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu u'ma na'im goraleinu.

1.Rashi, Shemos, 19:1.
2. Shemos, 19:1, Devarim 6:6, 11:13, 26:16.
3. Makkos 10a.
4. Shenos Eliayhu, Peah 1:1.
5. Devarim 6:6.
6. Shemos 19:1.
7. Nefesh Hachaim.
8. Devarim 5:19.
9. Shemos 19:2.
10. See also Sichos Mussar, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, 5731, Maamar 7, who elaborates on these three steps.

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Jerusalem, Israel