Torah – Take a Deep Breath
Ask anyone who knows their way around a Jewish calendar (a “luach”) and they’ll tell you that Sukkos begins on the 15th of Tishrei, Pesach on the 15th of Nissan, and Shavuos on the 6th of Sivan. While they are indeed correct, in reality there is a slight misconception in their timetable. Presently, since we do not have the authoritative Sanhedrin (High Court), it is not possible to establish the months according to the witnessing of the new moon. The Sages therefore established a luach which keeps us in check as to when the months change, and subsequently when the festivals are to be observed. Under the guidance of the present-day luach, Shavuos indeed always occurs on the sixth day of Sivan.
But, if you were to look in the Torah for the exact timing of Shavuos, you would find that it has nothing to do with any given day of the year. Rather, we are told to “count fifty days” from the second day of Pesach (see Vayikra/Leviticus 23:16; Talmud Menachos 65a), and on the fiftieth day, we are to celebrate Shavuos. Depending on when the witnesses came to establish the in-between months of Iyar and Sivan, Shavuos could have been on either the 5th, the 6th, or the 7th day of Sivan.
Bearing this in mind, it is strange that we refer to Shavuos as “Zeman Mattan Toraseinu – The Time of the Giving of Our Torah.” There is a Talmudic discussion (Shabbos 86a) as to when exactly the Torah was given: Some say it was given on the 6th day of Sivan, and others say on the 7th. Even if we concur with the view that it was given on the 6th, since Shavuos could occur on any of three days, it is far from certain that on any given year we will celebrate Shavuos on the exact day the Torah was given!
The fact that Shavuos is the only Yom Tov which has no established calendar-date is itself noteworthy. Why didn’t Shavuos get a day of the year just like all the other Yamim Tovim?
One of the first things a Jew does when he gets up in the morning is to recite the Birkos Ha-Torah – the benedictions over the Torah. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who chose us from among the nations, and gave us His Torah. Blessed are You, Giver of the Torah. “Giver of the Torah” is said in the present. Not “Who gave us the Torah,” but “Who gives.” Receiving the Torah was not a one-timer; a memorable date in Jewish history worthy of commemoration. Receiving the Torah is an ongoing process. It began on the sixth (or seventh) day of Sivan many years ago. It continues each day when a Jew takes out a Chumash or a Mishnayos or a Gemara and studies Hashem’s word.
Judaic scholars have long noted the relative dearth of historians among the distinguished numbers of Talmudic scholars our nation has produced. The reason for this seeming reluctance to devote time to the study of history is addressed by R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzenski zt”l in his approbation to R’ Yehudah HaLevi’s Sefer Dor Yesharim:
Torah scholars never gave much thought to the study of Jewish history. Nor did they take the time to write biographies of the great individuals of past generations. This is because the words of our Sages are still alive and vibrant to this day in the mouths of those who study Torah. Our study-halls and synagogues are full from wall to wall with people studying the Living Torah, not as one studies history, but as if the Torah had been given to us this very day.
David HaMelech (King David) encourages us (Tehillim/Psalms 34:9): “Taste – and you will see that the Torah is good!” Torah, he says, is not meant to be studied the way one might study medicine or archaeology; Torah is something one must taste! Torah study does not produce Jewish theologians – scholars knowledgable in the Jewish religion. Torah study produces living, enthusiastic, dedicated Jews.
Walk into any Bais HaMidrash of any shul or any Yeshiva this Shavuos night (or almost any other night for that matter), and you will find Jews learning Torah. Young and old, scholarly and uneducated; the very air bustles with the words of Torah. Unlike the deathly hush of a library, the study-halls of Torah are alive! One feels as if one could almost breathe-in Torah through the air. This is tasting the Torah. It is something that can’t be accurately described in a book. It can’t be explained by conventional logic. These are Jews receiving their portion in the Torah directly from Hashem, each person according to his level and according to his neshama. We bless Hashem for “giving” us the Torah, in the present tense, thereby recognizing that receiving the Torah is a constant process; it is our life blood.
We refer to Shavuos as Zeman Mattan Toraseinu because just as the Torah was given after a fifty-day count from the 2nd day of Pesach, so too today we count fifty days and then celebrate Shavuos. The Torah did not attach Shavuos to a specific day, for to do so would be tantamount to saying that Hashem giving us the Torah was a once- upon-a-time occurrence which we commemorate yearly. Shavuos is not the Yohrtzeit of the Torah – it is its birthday! Unlike any other Yom Tov, Shavuos jumps around from year to year. It, like the Torah it symbolizes, can not be tied down (see Akeidas Yitzchak, Emor 67; K’li Yakar, Emor 23:16). It is vibrant, living, and just as current and as relevant now as it was over 3,000 years ago.
Come to a Beis HaMidrash to learn Torah Shavuos night and you’ll “taste” it in the air. See you there!
Wishing all our readers a good Yom Tov and a good Shabbos.
This week’s publication is sponsored by Mr. Hershy Weinberg, in memory of his mother, Chaya Sara bas R’ Chaim Tzvi Aryeh HaCohen.