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26 Iyar 5762 - May 8, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Judgments of Shavuos

by L. Jungerman

"And you shall count for you from the morrow of the festival... seven weeks shall they be" (Vayikro 23:15).

The Zohar writes: "Come and see: any person who does not count this enumeration of seven complete weeks in order to merit this purity, is not considered pure and cannot be included in the category of the pure, and he is not worthy of sharing any part in the Torah!"

How can we understand this? Torah study should always be considered as new and fresh as if we just received it from Mt. Sinai. Chazal state this as follows, in Kiddushin, "Whoever teaches his friend's son Torah -- it is as if he received it directly from Har Sinai."

When the Jews left Egypt they were commanded to keep days of counting (Sefiroh) and preparation for kabolas haTorah through purification, and so significant were these that the Ramban considers them a continuation of Pesach: "For the days counted in between are like chol hamoed between the first and eighth day of Succos, with the final day being Atzeres, which is Shavuos." If so we too, in succeeding generations, must occupy ourselves with those selfsame preparations in order to arrive at the Giving of the Torah.

It follows, then, that the Days of Counting which are a preparation for receiving the Torah are like the days of Elul, which are the necessary forerunner for the Days of Judgment, and during these days we must be preoccupied with the 48 things necessary for acquiring Torah. Indeed, these days have aspects of judgment. Our poskim designated them as days of reckoning and judgment, for the disciples of R' Akiva died during this period and many other harsh decrees and troubles befell us during these intermediary days. But in reality, there is a deeper principle involved as well.

We find in Chok Yaakov (siman 493) in the name of Shibbolei Haleket, brought also by R' Yeruchom from Maseches Eduyos (chap. 4): Said R' Yochonon ben Nuri: the judgment of the wicked in Gehennom lasts from Pesach until Atzeres.

It is necessary to explain why these days were specifically established as days of accounting and judgment.

It appears that the root of the matter rests in the festival of Shavuos. On this day, Creation was finally completed, as is written in Bereishis, "`Yom Hashishi': for all of Creation was suspended [in uncertainty] until the sixth day of Sivan." The day when Creation was completed must necessarily be a day of judgment. For if on Rosh Hashonoh, the day when man was created, we say: "This the day of the commencement of Your deeds" and "Today is the birth-day of the world (haras olom)," then certainly, the day of the receiving of the Torah, when the work of creation was completed and reinforced, must also be one of judgment.

The Sheloh Hakodosh states in maseches Shavuos: "For this holy day is a day of judgment. And know that just as on Rosh Hashonoh Hashem desires to review and examine the actions of mankind, for it is the day of the primary Creation and renewal of the world, as R' Eliezer maintains that the world was created in Tishrei, thus did He deem that on the day of the Giving of the Torah, which also indicates the renewal of the world, He surveys and reviews all the doings of the world.

"This day can be considered as a veritable day of Creation and renewal of the world. As Rashi notes on the words, "Yom Hashishi: [the Torah is referring to] the sixth of Sivan for on this day Israel received the Torah and the entire primeval Creation was reinforced, and it is considered as if the world was created right now."

Rosh Hashonoh is the birth-day of the world, upon which man is demanded to make an accounting for himself to see if he fulfilled his mission in rectifying the world, as is brought in Sanhedrin 37: "Every single person is obliged to say: for me was the world created." And Rashi writes: "In other words, if I am as important as an entire world, how can I sin and be removed from the world for just one sin?" The feeling that the whole world was created only for him saddles a person with a tremendous sense of responsibility while investing him with strength and fortitude to overcome all kinds of tests. Therefore, on the day of the world's renewal, man is taken to task and examined to see to what extent he internalizes the feeling that the world was really created for his sake.

Thus is it with the final completion of the world, which took place at the Giving of the Torah, as is written, "Were it not for My covenant by day and by night, I would not have established the laws of Heaven and earth." Every single person is obligated to declare and feel that the entire Torah was given for his sake and that he is required to appreciate it day and night in order to receive it completely and properly. One must not think that others can receive and study Torah in his stead, since it was given for his sake!

Midrash Lekach Tov explains the verse, "I am Hashem your G-d" as follows: "Why were the Ten Commandments stated in the singular form? To teach you that every individual Jew must say: The Ten Commandments were given for my sake, and I must uphold them. Let him not say: Others can keep the Torah."

If so, this day is one of judgment for bitul Torah. And the significance of this day spreads itself out to all the days between Pesach and Shavuos, rendering them equally important on the day of matan Torah, for on this day the entire Creation reached its completion by fulfilling its designed purpose.

The whole period is the birth of the world; it was programmed into the root of the world that at this time the world would be judged and accounted for. Thus does this period of judgment also apply to sinners, who are judged between Pesach and Shavuos. Now we understand that it is also conducive to punishment and harsh judgment, as with the deaths of R' Akiva's disciples and other harsh decrees which our people have suffered as a result of laxity in Torah.

If a special day of judgment was established for slack in Torah, then we are obligated to be fearful, and to cherish every moment of Torah study lest it not be fully utilized. Anyone who is capable of studying Torah and does not do so, is considered to have abused the Torah, as it says, "For he abused the word of Hashem." Chazal analyzed the propensity of a person to slack off in his Torah study as an indication that he does not sufficiently cherish it and does not inherently feel and acknowledge that it is "your life and the length of your days." This is an aspect of abuse. Therefore, the day of Shavuos is not only a day of rejoicing in the Torah but also one of trembling.

This is why Dovid Hamelech said, "And rejoice amidst trembling."

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