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Parshas Bamidbar

A Prelude To Matan Torah- The Count Before the Mount
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Each year, on the Shabbos preceding Shavuos, we read Parshas Bamidbar. Surely this is not a coincidence. Let us see if we can find a lesson in the parsha that relates to Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah. (In Megilla 31b we learn that Ezra instituted the reading of the Tochacha - admonition - before Shavuos so that the year should end and therefore the curses should end with it. Shavuos is Rosh Hashana for fruit of the tree. Chazal also ensured that Parshas Bamidbar should be read beforehand, see Tosafos and the Maharsha).

Every Yom Tov has its own special avoda. What should our focus be for Shavuos? It cannot just be to re-accept the Torah, for that is not limited to Shavuos. Chazal say that one should consider the Torah to be given anew every day. What then is unique about Shavuos?

The Gemara (Shabbos 88b) 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? How can man be considered 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, wasn't it 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 "they would endure. However, if they do not, I will return you to nothingness." (Ibid, 88a) Should the Torah have remained in Shamayim instead of being given to Bnei Yisrael, the entire universe - including the melachim - would have been destroyed. Were the melachim requesting extinction? 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 moshal. A well-respected Rabbi in a very large city was getting on in years. His many responsibilities were becoming too taxing for him, so the Rabbi convened the city elders, and requested to be relieved him of his duties. He wished to take a rabbinical post in a small village where he could live in tranquility. 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 Rav 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 Rabbi! " And they were driven away. They tried to re-enter the city gates and again their way was blocked. Finally, they brought the matter before the Rav. 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 illusions 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" (Tehillim 19). 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 protestations 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, the Hashem was involved.

R' Akiva used to say, "Beloved are Bnei Yisrael, for a kli chemda (cherished utensil) - the Torah - with which the world was created, was given to them." The fact that they know they were given a kli chemda is indicative of a great love, as it is said, "For I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake My Torah." ([Mishlei 4:2] Avos 3:18). When did Hashem reveal to us that the Torah is a kli chemda? Perhaps it was when Moshe came to receive the Torah. Hashem asked the melachim to protest that they desired the Torah for themselves, in this way revealing how precious the Torah really is. He did so to demonstrate His great love for Bnei Yisrael.

This idea is also expressed in the Amida for Yom Tov. The Siach Yitzchak explains that ata bechartanu mikol ha'amim - You have chosen us from all the nations - was on Pesach. Ahavta osanu - You loved us -refers to Shavuos (by giving us the Torah, He showed His love for us). V'ratzisa banu - and He found favour in us - is Succos, when we were forgiven for making the eigel hazahav, the golden calf.

This is the essence of Shavuos - we celebrate Hashem's deep love of our nation. We recall that 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." (Shir HaShirim 1:2 as explained by Rashi).

We also see Hashem's love for Bnei Yisrael in this week's parsha. Rashi 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. 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.

Let us reflect on Hashem's love for us. Then let us reciprocate His affection by dedicating ourselves to the Torah and its mitzvos.

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