A guided approach to understanding the events of Shavuos from the Gemara (Shabbos 88a).



The Gemara in Shabbos 88a relates several of the events which occurred on Shavuos when Hashem gave us the Torah. It teaches that He lifted Har Sinai over our heads כגגית – like a barrel.

Numerous questions need to be answered to understand this statement, including:

• How does the Gemara know that Hashem lifted up the mountain?

• Why was this necessary? If it was to make sure we would accept the Torah, we had already done so when we said “נעשה ונשמע – We will do it and understand it.” 

Significantly, Tosfos and the Maharal differ on the reason that Hashem lifted Har Sinai above our heads, and what we learn from this.

Summary of the Gemara

The Gemara in Mesechtas Shabbos describes the events of the giving of the Torah on Shavuos.

It begins on daf 86a with a dispute regarding whether Matan Torah occurred on the sixth or seventh of Sivan. (Here, we follow the opinion that it was on the sixth, the day of Shavuos.)

On daf 88a, the Gemara relates some of the events which occurred at Har Sinai on Shavuos. The Gemara quotes the verse (Shemos 19:17) – “(Moshe brought the people forth from the camp toward Hashem) and they stood בתחתית ההר – under the mountain.” Rashi says they stood literally under the mountain. The Gemara quotes Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa who says, “The verse teaches that HaKadosh Baruch Hu lifted the mountain over their heads like a barrel.” (Rashi says that this barrel is a vessel used to make beer. The Aruch says it refers to a woven basket.)

The Gemara continues, “And Hashem said, ‘If you accept the Torah, fine. But if not, here will be your burial spot.’”

QUESTION: How does the Gemara know that the phrase,  בתחתית ההר”– under the mountain” means that Hashem lifted up the mountain? The simplest meaning of these words is that the Jews stood at the foot of the mountain.

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Rabbi Michoel Gros is the co-author of the Derech B’Yam HaTalmud series on the Gemara.  Derech B’Yam HaTalmud presents a guided approach to aid in the learning and teaching of Gemara B’Iyun. It offers a live daily iyun shiur in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and written and electronic materials for learning and teaching.

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