Preparing for Kabbalat HaTorah
by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein
The Torah states in Shemot (19:2), “VaYis’u MeiRephidim VaYavo’u Midbar Sinai VaYachanu BaMidbar, VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar,” ”And they traveled from Rephidim and arrived in Midbar Sinai, and they camped in the desert, and Israel camped there opposite the mountain.”
This pasuk can be divided into three segments. Each segment causes leaves us with a question. Firstly, why is it necessary for the Pasuk to tell us that they left Rephidim and arrived in Sinai if we already know that from the previous Pasuk? Secondly, isn’t it clear that if they were staying in the desert, they would also be camping there? And finally, why does Hashem switch from describing Israel in plural to describing Israel in singular?
Looking at these questions, it becomes clear that the purpose of the Pasuk is not to give us the details of Bnei Yisrael’s arrival in Midbar Sinai. This Pasuk is actually an introduction to Kabbalat HaTorah. In fact, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh sees in each of these three segments a necessary preparation for a Jew to properly receive the Torah.
“And they traveled from Rephidim.” The Gemara in Berachot tells us that the reason Amalek was able to challenge us at Rephidim (17:8) was that we were weak in our conviction to acquire Torah. Leaving Rephidim is symbolic of our reinvigoration and rededication to the pursuit of Torah.
“They camped in the desert.” As the Midrash Rabbah teaches us, Torah will only be acquired by someone who makes himself barren like a desert. Camping in the desert is a reminder that humility is a prerequisite for the acquisition of the Torah.
“And Yisrael camped there opposite the mountain.” As Rashi explains, the Pasuk refers to Yisrael in the singular to teach us that in order to receive the Torah, Bnei Yisrael need to be a united group.
Each year, Chag HaShavuot provides us with the opportunity to relive Kabbalat HaTorah. In order to fully appreciate this experience, we too must reflect on the example of our ancestors. We can look back at this Pasuk and remember that it is only through building our enthusiasm for Torah and Mitzvot, becoming humble people and by working to unite all of Klal Yisrael that we will be prepared to once again receive the Torah into our hearts and lives.
by Ilan Griboff
The Torah tells us the reason for all the Chagim except two- Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah. Why is this? A simple explanation may be that every day has the elements of both Rosh Hashanah and Shavuot. We learn Torah every day of our lives in addition to going through tests so that Hashem is able to judge us. Had the Torah given the reason for these Chagim, one might have erroneously assumed that Torah study and judgment apply only on those particular Chagim and on no other days throughout the year.
A proof for this idea lies in our lack of knowledge as to which mountain in the Sinai desert is Har Sinai. We know the “locations” of Pesach and Sukkot – Egypt and Har HaBayit (The Temple Mount, Jerusalem), respectively. Hashem wanted us to lose the knowledge of Har Sinai’s geographical locale to show us that Torah applies all over the world, not just at one centralized location.
The Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) states that the Yetzer Harah plots against us everyday to tempt us into sinning. Therefore, every day is a day of judgment because each day we are given a different test in fighting our Yetzer Harah. The Gemara also states that the Torah should be new to us everyday. As a result, every breakthrough that we make in Torah study is like receiving the Torah at Har Sinai anew, making everyday a miniature Shavuot.
We can extract a message from this idea that links the above themes together. If we would only take all of the principles that we learn from our studies on every mini-Shavuot and implement them in our lives, we would hopefully be able to pass the different tests the Yetzer Harah throws our way on every mini Rosh Hashanah.
by Avi Levinson
Parshat Bemidbar always falls out the Shabbat before Shavuot. The Gemara in Megillah explains that this is because Chazal wished to have a “buffer” Parsha between the curses of the Tochacha in Parshat Bechukotai and the “Yom HaDin” of Shavuot. In what way is Shavuot considered a Yom HaDin? The Gemara answers that on Shavuot, Hashem determines what the yield of fruit trees will be in that year (see Rosh HaShanah 16a). By placing Parshat Bemidbar between Shavuot and the Tochacha, we metaphorically say to Hashem, “The curses should apply to the previous year’s fruit crop and not affect the coming year.” But is there some other connection between Parshat Bemidbar and Shavuot?
Rabbi Schwarzberg, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, answers that the Torah states over and over again (1:2, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, et al) that the census taken in Parshat Bemidbar was done “BeMispar Sheimot,” “According to the number of their names.” This places an emphasis on the individual. By annually juxtaposing the census of Parshat Bemidbar and Shavuot, the Torah communicates to us that keeping the Torah is incumbent on each individual, not just the people in general. One cannot claim that because the people around him are keeping the Torah, it is alright if he does not. Everybody has a personal obligation to uphold the Torah to the best of his ability.
Rabbi Jachter also stressed this point in a Shiur he gave this year at TABC. If one contrasts the two versions of the Tochacha that appear in the Torah, a strange discrepancy between them arises. In Parshat Bechukotai, the Tochacha is addressed to the nation as a whole. However the Tochacha in Parshat Ki Tavo is addressed to the individual. Why is this? The answer is that Moshe emphasizes that it is not sufficient for the people in general to be keeping the Torah. Each individual must do his utmost to follow Hashem’s commandments.
Seven is Special
by Shmuly Reece
Kabbalah teaches that the number seven represents wholeness and completion. Hashem created the seventh day as a day of rest after He had completed the creation of the world.
On Shabbat, we stop all work and strengthen our faith in Hashem, remembering each week that Hashem created the world for us. During Kiddush, we are reminded that Hashem freed us from our bondage in Mitzraim. We spend extra time learning on Shabbat, something we don’t have as much time to do during the week, as we are busy working. According to the Vilna Gaon, the Gematria of the customary foods eaten during the Shabbat meals are related to the number seven. Dag (fish) is 4+3. Similarly, (without counting digits whose value is zero) Basar (meat) is 2+3+2.
Another famous cycle of the number seven is the Shemitah cycle, which culminates with Yovel in the 50th year after 7 Shemitah cycles. Each 7th year, the land is put to “rest for Hashem.” Rashi comments that this language is similar to the language of the Shabbat of creation. Chizkuni says that our intention of not working the land should not be for the benefit of the land, but rather for us to have more time to perform Hashem’s Mitzvot and concentrate on improving ourselves. On a related note, just as on Shabbat we learn extra Torah, so too, during the Shemita year, Bnei Yisrael spend the extra time concentrating on learning Torah.
The Omer consists of seven weeks, each of which is a separate entity. In fact, counting weeks is considered by some to be a separate Mitzvah from counting the days. The Book of Our Heritage quotes the Zohar Chadash, who says that when Hashem took Bnei Yisrael out of Egyptm, they were on the 49th level of impurity. Hashem led us to the 49th level of wisdom at Har Sinai. By counting 49 days, we are reminded that each day Hashem raised us another level to enable us to receive the Torah. Thus, by the time that the first 49 days in the Midbar had expired, Bnei Yisrael were whole and complete as a unified nation, ready to receive Torat Hashem at Har Sinai.
by Dani Yaros
Throughout the Torah, the Shalosh Regalim are discussed many times, and the Torah assigns specific Mitzvot and names to them. On Sukkot, there is a Mitzvah of Arba Minim as well as to live in the Sukkah. The Torah relates that Sukkot is to be held on the 15th of Tishrei, and the Torah concludes that that the festival of Sukkot is to commemorate the Sukkot, or tents, that Klal Yisrael lived in while traveling through the desert. On Pesach, we are commanded to eat Matzah and communicate the story of the exodus from Egypt The Torah relates to us that Pesach is to be observed on the 15th of Nissan, and the Torah again concludes by telling us that Pesach is to commemorate the Yetziat Mitzrayim. However, there are no specific Mitzvot in the Torah to be done on Shavuot, Shavuot is not named or given a specific date in the Torah, and the Torah never even relates that Shavuot is held to commemorate the day we received the Torah. How could the Torah “leave out” such prominent details in its description of Shavuot, perhaps the most important day in Jewish history?
Nechama Lebowitz, in the name of the Akeidat Yitzchak offers an interesting explanation. The Mitzvot of Pesach, eating Matzah and telling over the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim in great detail, have no applicability to other days of the year. If one eats Matzah any other time during the year he has fulfilled no Mitzvah. Similarly, the Mitzvot of Sukkot can’t be done on other days of the year. However, on Shavuot this is not the case. The “special Mitzvah” of Shavuot, learning Torah, is not a Mitzvah that is done only on the 6th of Sivan when Shavuot falls out. Torah must be learned all year round, and Shavuot is just an additional day to learn Torah. If the Torah were to relate this Mitzvah to learn Torah on Shavuot, one might have thought that one has to learn on Shavuot not on other days of the year. In order to prevent this mistaken impression, the Torah does not go into specifics of Shavuot. No name is given, “Zeman Matan Torateinu” is omitted, and even the date of Shavuot is left out.
This Devar Torah should be LeIllui Nishmat Tzvi Meir ben Avraham Pinchas HaKohen, whose Sheloshim ended this past Monday.