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SHAVUOSNow therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own treasure among all peoples; for all the earth is mine. (Shemos 19:5)
And the Lord said to Moshe, Go to the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, And be ready by the third day; for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai. And you shall set bounds to the people around, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that you go not up into the mount, or touch its border; whoever touches the mount shall be surely put to death. There shall not a hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live; when the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mount. And Moshe went down from the mount to the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, Be ready by the third day; do not come near a woman. (Shemos 19:10-15)
After Reb Sholom Shwadron gave a speech a few days before Shavuos, one of the audience came over to him. He had a few issues in Yiddishkeit that didn't sit well with him. He was a very smart and intelligent person who had once been non-religious, now he had become observant and attended shiurim. Therefore Reb Sholom understood that he looked disturbed about the issues, but he meant well and really wanted to understand.
"Reb Sholom. You rabbis know how to bend everything your way. I've heard much about the importance of learning Torah and how it has to be the center of one's life. This type of talk sounds a bit exaggerated to me, but I understand. However, this time I think you went too far. You talked about the holiday of Matan Torah and how we learn the whole night, and how important it is to learn all night. I don't understand this at all. How did you manage to bend everything to learning Torah?
"What are we talking about anyway? The day that Torah was given. And what happened? Hashem gave the 10 commandments. What's written there? Don't steal, don't kill, honor your father, etc. Nu! Dear Rabbi, what does all this have to do with learning Torah? Where's there any hint of learning Torah? How did you take an event about doing so many mitzvos, and you turned it into one mitzvah - learning? What's going on here?"
Reb Sholom spent quite some time explaining to him:
You're right. When they received the Torah, they received the commandment of the mitvos. But if all that happened was the giving of the 10 Commandments, why did the event need so much preparation?
The gemara tells us Shavuos revolves around learning Torah. "Rav Yosef used to say on Chag Shavuos to make him a nice fat calf. 'If not for this day how many Yosefs are there in the market!' (Pesachim 68b) Because of Shavuos, I'm special." The Yom Tov of Shavuos created the difference between the Rosh Yeshiva HaGaon Rav Yosef, and Yosef who works in the market.
It must be that the joy of Shavuos is because of learning Torah. Look at how many mitzvos Klal Yisroel were commanded during the 40 years, both before and after Har Sinai. None of them required such a celebration! If Shavuos only commemorates the 10 Commandments what was the big commotion? Why did the giving of the 7 Noachide laws pass so quietly, while here the whole world was in an uproar. During Matan Torah Hashem came down on Har Sinai with thunder and lightning. We do we find such an event by any other mitzvah!
All the nations gathered around Bilaam and asked, what's this commotion going on? Is there going to be another Flood? Bilaam answered them, Hashem has a wonderful gem in His treasure house, hidden away 974 years before Creation, and He is giving it to His Children."
Bilaam didn't say that this was the day the Jews became a people, that happened much later (Devorim 27:9). Bilaam said that Hashem was giving a secret treasure to Klal Yisroel.
Until Shavuos, Torah had been the possession of the Angels. Even if a person would learn Torah, but it wasn't his. It belonged to Heaven. Now, on this day Torah was given to Yisroel. It's ours. When we learn, it's our Torah! When the chachomim decide on the halacha, that becomes the reality. They have the power to change nature according to how they poskin. Because Torah belongs to the people of Yisroel.
The gemara in Shabbos (88b) relates that when Moshe went up to receive the Torah the Angels protested. What does Torah have to with puny little Man, a lowly material being? Torah belongs to the realm of Heaven and the purely spiritual! Hashem told Moshe, "Answer them." "But I'm afraid they will burn me up with the fire coming from their mouths." "Hold on to My Throne of Glory and answer them." So Moshe held on to the holy Throne and answered: Look at what is written in the Torah, Do not steal, do not murder, do not covet. Is there any theft up here? Is there any jealousy up here? Torah belongs to us. Man needs the Torah!
Until Matan Torah the angels didn't protest when someone wanted to learn Torah. When the Avos learned Torah it wasn't theirs. What did the angels care if someone learned Torah. But after Shavuos, Torah is no longer in Shomayim. It's ours.
What is more, Torah has the power to change the person. If we learn Torah, it becomes a part of us. It lifts us up and we become different. Torah changes that puny physical creature called Man into something else, something more spiritual. They are different people. Look at the gedolim who are so attached to their Torah. They're different. They are a sefer Torah!
And so on this day when the situation changed, and Hashem brought Torah down to this world, He had to open up the 7 Heavens and there was a tremendous commotion. The entire world changed! We now have the Torah. We are different.
Before we learn we make the bracha: "Blessed are You…. Who has chosen us from all the nations and given us His Torah." We don't make this bracha by any other mitzvah. We don't give such a praise to Hashem for giving us any mitzvah. We praise Him for giving us His Torah. Now it's ours! Such a bracha is possible only by Torah.
(Adapted from Lev Sholom, v. II, pgs. 241-245)
Gut Yom Tov!
© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers) and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop - Lakewood).
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