What was required for the Jewish people to receive the Torah at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai) over 3,300 years ago, and what has been necessary for us to receive the Torah every year since then at the time of Shavuot? Much of what I will be presenting is based on ideas that I heard from Rav Matis Weinberg, the nephew of my Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l.
Let’s begin with a number of questions related to Shavuot. Each question will then be repeated and explained in the course of this article.
- Why is the holiday of kabalat haTorah(receiving the Torah) called “Shavuot” (Weeks)? Since a Hebrew name always identifies the essence of whatever it is describing, how is “Weeks” the essence of this holiday?
b. Since we don’t believe in historical coincidence, what is the connection between the sefirah(counting) period preceding kabalat haTorah and the aveilut(mourning) for Rabbi Akiva’s students which happened during this sefirah period?
c. Why did the plague, which caused Rabbi Akiva’s students to die, stop specifically on the 33rd day of the sefirah period?
d. Why is the counting of the Omer a count-up and not a count-down?
e. Why do we count only 49 days of the sefirah, when the Torah speaks about counting a full 50 days?
In order to answer these questions, we first need to gain a perspective on the nature of Torah.
The Torah is compared to Water
The Gemara Yuma 72b says something that might sound heretical if it weren’t found in the Talmud. It makes a play on the word “sam” (placed) from the verse – “V’zot haTorah asher sam Moshe – And this is the Torah that Moshe placed” (Dev. 4:44). The word “sam” can also mean “a drug” or “medicine.” The Gemara explains that the Torah can be compared to a “sam” (drug), which can either be a “sam chayim – medicine of life,” or, G-d forbid, a “sam misa – drug of death.”
It is obvious how the Torah could be a “sam chayim” – it shows us how to live our lives and it keeps us in touch with reality. In what way, however, could it ever be a “sam misa?”
Many classical sources compare the Torah to water. The Rambam (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:9), for example, tells us that, just as water always flows to the lowest spot, Torah is found only in individuals who are humble. In addition, just as we cannot survive for three consecutive days without water, we never go more than three days without a public Torah reading.
The essential quality of water is that it facilitates growth and development. What growth is enhanced by watering a field? Obviously, whatever was already planted in the ground, whether crops or flowers. There is also, of course, a much less ideal possibility. If nothing productive had been planted in the ground such as weeds, then the water will facilitate their growth, just as it could facilitate the growth of desirable plants.
There is an important parallel of this when it comes to the Torah, which also facilitates growth and development. Just as water enhances the growth of whatever was planted in the ground, whether good or bad, this is also true with the Torah. It will similarly enhance the growth of whatever was “planted” within ourselves, whether positive or negative.
“Derech eretz kadmah l’Torah” – Proper middot (character traits) precede Torah”
The first comment of Rashi in the Torah asks a famous question – Why does the Torah begin with the book of Bereishit? …. To continue and read the full article click here.
Rabbi Asher Resnick serves as a senior lecturer at Aish Hatorah’s Executive Learning Center, and is a senior training lecturer for Aish’s Rabbinical Ordination program. As a close student of Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, he developed a special expertise in addressing fundamental issues in Judaism, as well as in bringing classical texts to life. As a bereaved parent, Rabbi Resnick’s extensive writings on loss, suffering and trauma provide a sensitive Jewish perspective on coping with these fundamental life cycle issues. NLEResources.com is happy to highlight several essays over the coming months featured on his website JewishClarity.com.