Shavuot and Matan Torah

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

When the Torah wishes to inform us of the 'historical' reason for a holiday, it certainly knows how to do so. Take for example the two other pilgrimage holidays - Chag HaMatzot and Succot. Even though these holidays are also presented from their 'agricultural' perspective (see Shmot 23:14-17), the Torah informs us of their historical perspectives as well (see Shmot 12:17, 13:3 etc. and Vayikra 23:42-43).

Therefore, it is simply baffling that the Torah presents Shavuot only from its agricultural aspect, without mentioning even a word about its connection to events of Matan Torah! In this week's shiur, we attempt to understand why.

Shavuot in the Bible
Before we begin our shiur, let's verify our statement that Shavuot is presented solely from its agricultural perspective by quickly reviewing the five 'parshiot' in which it is mentioned:

In each of these five parshiot, Shavuot is presented solely as a harvest holiday, when we must thank God for our grain crops, while Matan Torah is not mentioned even once!

As we can see from the above psukim, even without the events of Matan Torah, there is ample reason to celebrate Shavuot. Considering that grain is man's staple, after its harvest we must celebrate together with God in order to thank Him for His providence during this most critical time of the year.

[Recall also that the custom of the nations of Canaan was to relate the growth of grain to various local gods such as Baal, Ashera and Dagon etc. This made it even more important to celebrate Shavuot, to assure that Bnei Yisrael would thank the proper God and not fall into the traps of avoda zara. For more detail, see Hoshea chapter 2 (which just so happens to be the Haftara for Parshat Bamidbar). See especially Hoshea 2:7,10,14-18 and 23!]

So, should we conclude that it is only coincidental that Shavuot falls out on the date of Matan Torah? Would that explain why Chumash makes no connection at all between that event and this holiday?

Before we answer this question, we must take a closer look at how the Torah records the date of Matan Torah.

The Date of Matan Torah
When the Torah wishes to inform us of the precise date of a certain event, it certainly knows how to do so. Once again, take for example Pesach and Yetziat Mitzraim. See Shmot 12:6,12-14,17-18 and 13:3-8! The Torah mentions not only the events, but their precise dates as well!

However, in regard to Matan Torah, the Torah is much more ambiguous. Indeed we are told that Bnei Yisrael arrive at Har Sinai in the third month (Sivan), but we are not told on what day of the month they arrived:

"In the third month of Bnei Yisrael's departure from the Egypt, on this day, they came to Midbar Sinai." (19:1)
Not only is the phrase "on this day" ambiguous, it is quite difficult to determine how many days actually transpire between their arrival at Har Sinai and Matan Torah (see Shmot 19:3-16).

Even if we assume that Bnei Yisrael arrived on the first day of the month (see Rashi 19:1 - "b'yom hazeh"), the lack of a clear chronology in the subsequent events still makes it impossible to pinpoint that date. We know that Moshe goes up and down the mountain several times, and that three days are required to prepare for that special occasion, but we never told how many days elapse in the interim.

In the Mechilta (and in Mesechet Shabbat 86b), Chazal calculate that the Torah was given on either the sixth or seventh of Sivan (see also Rashi on 19:2-19), yet the fact remains that the Torah prefers to obscure the precise date of this event.

Thus, we really have a double question. Not only is it strange that Torah makes no connection between Shavuot and Matan Torah; it doesn't even tell us when Matan Torah took place!

Again, the question remains - why?

To answer this question, we must consider a fundamental difference between two of the greatest events in our history: Yetziat Mitzraim and Matan Torah.

Matan Torah: An Uncommemorated Event
In the Torah, we find numerous mitzvot through which we commemorate Yetziat Mitzraim, both on the anniversary of the Exodus: e.g. eating matzah, telling of the story of Yetziat Mitzraim, korban Pesach etc.; and even all year round: e.g. "mitzvat bikkurim" (bringing the first fruits to Yerushalayim), t'fillin, shabbat, and the daily recital of "kriyat shma," etc., all of which the Torah relates to the Exodus (i.e. "zecher l'yitziat mitzrayim").

In contrast, in Chumash we do not find even one specific mitzvah whose explicit purpose is to commemorate the events of Matan Torah. [Sefer Devarim does require that we not forget the events that transpired at Har Sinai (see 4:9-16), but it does not command us to perform any specific positive mitzvah in order that we not forget! See Further Iyun section.]

Why does the Torah call upon us to commemorate these two events in such dramatically different ways?

One could suggest that the Torah is sending an implicit message - that Matan Torah is not an historically bound event; because every day we must feel as though the Torah has just been given. This concept is reflected in the Midrash on 19:1:

"... it should have been written: 'On that day.' Why does the pasuk say: 'On this day?' This comes to teach us that the words of the Torah should be considered new to you - as though they were given today!" (quoted by Rashi Shmot 19:1)
In other words, we should not view Matan Torah as a one time event; rather, every generation must feel as though they have just entered into a covenant with God (see Devarim 5:1-3). Every generation must feel that God's words were spoken to them no less than to earlier generations. To celebrate the anniversary of Matan Torah as a single moment in our history could diminish from that meta-historical dimension.

But without a commemorative mitzvah, how is Matan Torah to be perpetuated? As we explained in our study of Sefer Shmot, this may have been the purpose of the Mishkan (see Ramban on Shmot 25:1). In this manner, Ma'amad Har Sinai lives on.

In contrast to Matan Torah, there is no need to re-live the experience of Yetziat Mitzrayim, rather it is important that we remember that event. Even if we must act as though we went out of Egypt on the seder night (see in the Hagada - "b'chol dor v'dor chayav adam lir'ot atzmo k'ilu..."), it is in order that we put ourselves in the proper frame of mind to praise God and thank Him for our redemption.

Yetziat Mitzrayim was, and should remain, a one time event in our history - our national birth. As such, it needs to be commemorated. Matan Torah is totally different! It is an event which must be constantly re-lived, not just remembered, for it is the essence of our daily existence.

So is it wrong to commemorate Matan Torah on Shavuot? Did Chazal make a 'mistake' (chas v'shalom) by connecting a 'purely agricultural' holiday with the historical event of Matan Torah?

Of course not! Is it possible that the most important event in our national history not be commemorated on its yearly anniversary?!

In this regard, Chazal strike a beautiful balance between Torah "she'bichtav" (the Written Law) and Torah "she'b'al peh" (the Oral Law). Chumash emphasizes one perspective, the inherent danger of commemorating this event, while tradition balances this message by emphasizing the other perspective, the historical significance of remembering that day, by re-living that event.

Therefore, Chazal instituted that just like on "leil ha'seder (Passover eve) we spend the entire evening 're-telling' the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim, on "leil Shavuot," we spend the entire evening engrossed in the study of Torah, 're-living' the experience of Ma'amad Har Sinai!

Some Biblical 'Hints'
Even though the connection between Matan Torah and Shavuot is not explicit in Chumash, we do find several interesting 'hints' to their connection in Parshat Emor.

Recall how Parshat Emor is the primary source for the specific details of the special laws of Shavuot (see Vayikra 23:15-21). That parshia discusses the special korban of the Shtei HaLechem, offered at the conclusion of the 50 days of "Sfirat Ha'omer." Together with the Shtei HaLechem, the "tzibur" (the community of Israel) is commanded to bring an additional korban of "olot u'shlamim." [The Olah is 7 sheep, 2 rams, and 1 bull, together with the standard goat for the chatat offering. For the shlamim the tzibur offers 2 sheep, whose meat is waved ('tnufa') together with the Shtei HaLechem.]

The Shtei HaLechem
There are two unique laws regarding the Shtei HaLechem - the special korban of Shavuot.

1) Chametz U'Matzah
As we explained in earlier shiurim, matzah symbolizes the initial stage of a process, whereas the fully risen 'chametz' symbolizes its completion. Thus, the mitzvah to bake the Shtei HaLechem as 'chametz' may indicate that Matan Torah should be understood as the culmination of the redemption process that began with Yetziat Mitzrayim. Just as the Shtei HaLechem marks the culmination of the wheat harvest, the staple of our physical existence, the historical process that began with the Exodus culminates with Matan Torah, the essence of our spiritual existence.

Just as we find in Chag HaMatzot and Succot, the agricultural time of year 'sends' an educational message that helps us better appreciate the significance of the historical event that we commemorate. [See shiur on Parshat Emor.]

2) Korban Shlamim
If we compare the korbanot offered on Shavuot to the various korbanot offered on all the other holidays, we reach a very interesting conclusion: Shavuot is the only holiday when the "tzibur" must offer a korban shlamim, i.e. the two k'vasim that are offered with the Shtei HaLechem.

As usual, to understand the significance of this korban, we must uncover its biblical precedent.

The first instance where we find a korban shlamim is at the end of Parshat Mishpatim (Shmot 24:4-8) when the Torah describes the special covenantal ceremony which takes place at Ma'amad Har Sinai. At this ceremony, Bnei Yisrael proclaim "Na'aseh V'nishma" while entering into a covenant to become God's special nation by accepting the laws of Matan Torah.

That ceremony included the offering of special korbanot: olat and shlamim (see Shmot 24:5). The blood from these korbanot, sprinkled both on the mizbayach and on the people, symbolized Bnei Yisrael's entry into the covenant (24:6-8). [The meat of the shlamim was eaten at the conclusion of the ceremony (24:11).]

Thus we find that the very first korban shlamim is offered as a symbol of Bnei Yisrael's acceptance of Matan Torah. Recall our explanation (see shiur on Parshat Vayikra) of how a shlamim reflects a joint feast shared by covenental partners. Therefore, the korban shlamim that is presented together with the Shtei HaLechem on Shavuot may serve as a symbolic reminder of Matan Torah.

In fact, we find two additional instances in Chumash when Bnei Yisrael offer a special collective shlamim offering, and once again, both relate to Ma'amad Har Sinai:

1) In many ways, Yom HaShmini - the day of the dedication ceremony of the Mishkan - can be considered an extension of Ma'amad Har Sinai. Considering that God's Sh'china, which had left Bnei Yisrael in the aftermath of Chet Ha'Egel, now returns to the Mishkan, and God begins once again to teach Bnei Yisrael mitzvot - now from the Ohel Moed instead of from Har Sinai - we can view this event as parallel to the day of Matan Torah.

Furthermore, this day marks the first time that God appears to Bnei Yisrael (see 9:4-5) since He appeared to them on the day when they first proclaimed "Na'aseh V'nishma" (see 24:9-11).

Once again, the korban shlamim offered during this ceremony may reflect the re-establishment of the covenant of Har Sinai, which was broken due to Chet Ha'Egel.

2) The purpose of the ceremony that God commands Bnei Yisrael to perform on Har Eival (to teach Bnei Yisrael the Torah and offer korbanot olot and shlamim) is clearly to re-create the experience of Matan Torah for the new generation (for most of them were not present at the original event). Here once again, we find a thematic connection between the korban shlamim and Matan Torah.

Therefore, it is only logical to assume that special korban shlamim that the Torah obligates us to offer with the Shtei HaLechem on Shavuot alludes to the deeper thematic connection between Shavuot and Matan Torah.

Indeed, Shavuot remains as "Zman Matan Torateinu."

Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Reuven Weiser.

For Further Iyun
1. Based on the above shiur, can you find a deeper meaning to the popular phrase "Im ein kemach - ein Torah" [if there is no flour then there is no Torah]?

2. In regard to Devarim 4:9-10, note how these psukim could be understood as an introduction to the prohibition to make any image to represent God, as explained in 4:11-22. Therefore, this may not be considered as an independent mitzvah to remember Matan Torah. Only Ramban counts it as a mitzvah; see his pirush on 4:9 and the Hasagot HaRamban to Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam - Lo Ta'aseh #2. Note, that even if it is counted as a mitzvah, it does not require any specific action by which we are to commemorate that event; we are simply commanded never to forget it.

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