- Shabbat and Holidays
- The Giving of the Torah
Last week's Shavuot holiday is relevant today, as it marks the perpetual renewal of the giving of the Torah to Israel – every generation, all the time.
The holiday of the Giving of the Torah to Israel at Mt. Sinai is, paradoxically, the holiday of the Oral Law. This is because it belongs to the Torah Sages of each and every generation. Every generation, the Torah is given to us anew; the day of Shavuot is the day that symbolizes and manifests this most quintessentially. Every year on this day we reenact that great event of the year 2448 (counting from the creation of the world).
Just like the festival of Pesach is the time of freedom each year, so too Shavuot is the time of receiving the Torah anew each year, each generation. When we celebrate Shavuot, we are not merely commemorating something that happened once long ago, but rather the very essence of the day – and it is renewed every year.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 4,8) teaches as follows: "All the sacrifices mention sin, except for Shavuot." The Talmud here is actually asking a question: Why is it that all the festival sacrifices include a sin-offering – except for Shavuot? (See Bamidbar 28,22; 29,5; 29,11; etc., and compare with Bamidbar 28,30.)
The Talmud answers: "G-d said: Because you accepted upon yourselves the yoke of Torah, I consider it as if you never sinned at all." The Korban HaEdah commentary explains: "Shavuot every year is like the day on which we stood at Mt. Sinai, and on it we receive the Torah anew. As [the Talmudic Sage] Rav Yosef said: 'If it weren't for this very day that made the difference, I would be just like any other Yosef in the market' – and so, there is no sin-offering on that day."
That is, Rav Yosef was saying that the very day of Shavuot made the whole difference in his life: If not for the Torah that was given on Shavuot and that he spent his life studying, his entire essence would have been different. The reality that renews our acceptance of the Torah each and every year is that which leads to the atonement of our sins every year anew.
We know that Israel's acceptance of the Torah is encapsulated in their response when they first heard words of the Torah: "Everything that G-d said, we will do and we will listen" (Sh'mot 24,7). Every year when we hear these words read aloud from the Torah on Shavuot, we accept the Torah yet again. And every individual Jew also has his own individual acceptance of the Torah.
In this light, let us understand the afore-mentioned teaching of Rav Yosef in the Talmud about the "very day" of Shavuot and its imprint on him. Why does he say that it made him who he was? After all, the entire world would have been lacking if not for the Torah, not just Rav Yosef!
Answer: What Rav Yosef is teaching is that not only was the Torah given to the world and the Jewish People on that day, but also individually to each person! And therefore, just as Israel's acceptance of the Torah is renewed each year on Shavuot, the same is true for each individual.
[Translator's note: The end of this article is not available, and so we conclude with the words of Rav Chaim Ben-Shushan, a Ra"m (rabbi and teacher) in Yeshivat Beit El:]
Although Shavuot is only one day a year [it is celebrated for two days outside Israel], but it is something that we must remember every day of the year; we must live it every day. Just like the Torah does not say straight out that Rosh HaShanah is the Day of Judgement, because this feeling is something that must be with us all year, every day - so too the Torah does not tell us that Shavuot is the day of the Giving of the Torah – because the Torah must be with us every single day.
translated by Hillel Fendel
translated by Hillel Fendel