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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Meir b"r Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

Shavuot and the True Value of Torah

On the Festival of Shavuot, we must remember this important point: Everything which we learn we learn because the Almighty commanded us to do so, and the true value of Torah study is that it gives vitality to all of creation.


Rabbi S. Yossef Weitzen

1. Covering Up All Connection
2. Inverse Explanations
3. "Like a Golden Ring in a Swine's Snout"
4. Setting Boundries
5. "Shema Yisrael"

Covering Up All Connection
In the Torah, the Festival of Shavuot is connected to the world of nature, to the realm of agricultural. Scripture veils the fact that the Torah was given on Shavuot, refraining from mentioning it explicitly. This fact has given rise to a classic difficulty - Why, one wonders, did the Torah "conceal" the connection between Shavuot and the revelation at Mount Sinai?
In essence, the question runs even deeper, beyond the Festival of Shavuot. What sort of value does Jewish tradition attribute to the giving of the Torah from the perspective of our national character?

While the Torah relates to the Exodus from Egypt from a variety of different angles - there are Mitzvoth whose entire purpose is the recollection the Exodus; there are other Mitzvoth the observation of which stems from the fact of the Exodus - the giving of the Torah at Sinai receives nearly no emphasis. In Jewish law, it is not entirely clear that the Torah obligates us to recall the Sinaitic Revelation at all. True, in the Book of Deuteronomy, Scripture deals with the giving of the Torah at length. Yet, it appears that the main intention there is to warn us lest what we saw at Sinai cause us to worship idols.

Inverse Explanations
This said, let us provide two possible directions in answering our difficulty.
The revelation at Mount Sinai was such a unique event in history, so beyond our comprehension that we do not possess the ability to grasp it. It was an otherworldly event, a bolt of lightning. The revelation at Sinai is comparable to a blast of light that the world cannot endure for any extended period of time - light, like that unique light which, according to tradition, was stored away for the righteous in the World to Come. No other level of prophecy can compare to that which accompanied the revelation at Sinai. Hence, the rule that no prophet is permitted to nullify a word of what Moses received at Sinai. The Exodus, on the other hand, is quite understandable to us. Therefore we feel more at home with it. More comfortable. The Exodus from Egypt is the revelation of God through the Jewish people. God's revelation at Mount Sinai was an act that did not allow for the participation of man. The Jews merited viewing it from a distance, but not participating as such.

This is one possible way of viewing things. Yet, it is possible to offer a completely different explanation. It is possible to point to the fact that we relate to the Sinaitic Revelation not as a one-time event in history, an event represented by the yearly Festival of Shavuot. Rather, the giving of Torah is a ceaseless relationship; we confront the Torah on a daily basis. And all of this is a direct continuation of what transpired at Sinai. The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai represents a starting point that continues uninterrupted until the present day. Every day there is another Sinaitic Revelation. By involving ourselves in the Torah on a daily basis, we maintain contact with the original giving of the Torah.

The Exodus, though, was an inspiring one-time event that each one of us is called upon to take with him into the future. Therefore we sit down on Seder Night and "replay," as it were, the event that took place in our distant past. Yet, in order to experience the Exodus, we are in need of an abundance of Mitzvoth and performances. Our connection with the revelation at Sinai is such that we need not perform any unusual acts. The Torah is like the bread we eat and the water we drink day after day. If we sever our connection with Sinai, we are no longer able to exist.

The Sages teach that every time a Jew sits down to learn Torah it is as if he stands before Mount Sinai. Rabbi Yaakov Baal HaTurim writes that we fulfill the commandment to recall the revelation at Sinai every day when we say the blessing: "...who chose us from among the nations and gave us the Torah..." - This is Sinai. Each time we study, we must feel as if God approaches us and speaks to us all over again.

"Like a Golden Ring in a Swine's Snout"
In the Mishna, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: Every single day a heavenly voice emanates from Mount Horeb, proclaiming and saying, "Woe to the people because of their insult to the Torah!" For whoever does not occupy himself with the Torah is called "Rebuked," as it says: "Like a golden ring in a swine's snout..." (Avot 6:2)

There are two aspects of our connection to the Torah:
Firstly, Torah gives life to the universe. Therefore, we must busy ourselves with the words of Torah. If we do not do this, creation will cease to exist.
Secondly, the Torah equips the Jew with practical knowledge. The Torah produces fruits as well. Because of study, one learns how to think and how to act. The Torah builds and elevates the entire practical human aspect of our existence.

It is important to understand that that aspect which views the Torah as universe-sustaining, divine and abstract, and not confined to the realm of equipping man for existence, is much more essential and basic an aspect than that which emphasizes the practical advantages which one gains from Torah study. This is what the Mishna is coming to tell us. There are those who study Torah only because the Torah enlightens them. Yet, one must study with the understanding that the act of study itself gives life to creation, and one who does not study in such a manner is not aware of the true importance of Torah study. For this reason, the Mishna brings its analogy of the "... golden ring in a swine's snout..."

Setting Boundries
"Place a boundary for the people around [the mountain], and tell them to be careful not to climb the mountain, or to touch its edge" (Exodus 19:12)

We spoke about the fact that it is possible to view the revelation at Sinai from two different angles: like a one time burst of light, unbearable to the human eye; or as an event which continues to be with us, lighting our path each and every day. The boundary which Moses is commanded to set for the people around Mount Sinai serves as an expression of the first of these two approaches; our hearing the Ten Commandments serves as an expression of the latter.

According to what we said above - that every time one studies Torah it is as if he stands before Sinai - it is only fitting that before studying Torah one begin with a measure of restraint - a boundary. Before a Jew begins to study Torah and to attain its practical aspects, he is met by an obligation to establish a boundary, an act which informs him that the Torah is what provides inner vitality to man, the deepest and most vital force that man possesses. Only after this initial act of restraint is one able to receive the Ten Commandments.

The revelation at Sinai is unique in that it comes to teach us fear of Heaven. This being the case, why was it at all necessary for a commandment of restraint? Why the boundary? In fact, we are being taught an important lesson in psychology. If man does not prepare himself by acknowledging the fact that there are things beyond his comprehension, things that it is impossible to grasp, things that are beyond all knowledge that he might attain through studying Torah - if man does not prepare himself in this regard, there exists the danger that after receiving Torah at Sinai, he may get the impression the he himself is equal to the Torah. The words of the Torah will appear to him to be of human origin, he will lack the power to grasp the true greatness of the Torah.
The Torah possesses unique qualities that keep it from becoming outdated. Yet, for this, there is a need to precede study with restraint.

"Shema Yisrael"
The recital of the "Shema" portion typifies our approach to the Torah. And just as every time a Jew recites the Shema he feels something new, while infusing in his heart the depth and the love of these passages, so too all of our Torah study should possess an aspect of freshness, for this is the aspect which binds us to the Torah. And if for one moment we become detached for the Torah, we become detached from life. On the Festival of Shavuot, we must remember this important point: Everything which we learn we learn because the Almighty commanded us to do so, and the true value of Torah study is that it gives vitality to all of creation. This is what endears the Torah to us so much.
May it be God's will that we merit possessing love for the Torah and fear of Heaven.

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