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4 Sivan 5766 - May 31, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Zman Matan Toraseinu — Torah is Entirely for our Benefit

by Rabbi Zev Leff

Rabbi Leff's column appears every week in the print edition of Yated Ne'eman - Bnei Brak. It is included in Dei'ah Vedibur this week in honor of Shavuos and the importance of its message. Reb Yosi and the Chachomim argue as to whether the date when the Torah was given was the 7th of Sivan or the 6th of Sivan. Many say that the halochoh is like Reb Yosi that the Torah was given on the 7th day of Sivan. If so this raises a question raised by various sources, since Shavuos always falls on the sixth of Sivan according to our fixed calendar: Why do we say in our prayers Zman Matan Toraseinu, the time of the giving of the Torah on Shavuos — when in fact the Torah was not given until the next day?

Although the Rabbis refer to Shavuos as Atzeres connoting the holy convocation that accompanied the giving of the Torah, the Torah itself does not refer to Shavuos this way. The Seforno explains that this is due to the fact that the result of that convocation was nullified when the Luchos were broken by Moshe Rabbenu on the 17th day of Tammuz.

If so we can ask an even more fundamental question as to why we celebrate Shavuos at all as the day of the giving of the Torah. Even according to the opinion of the Chachomim that the Torah was in fact given on the 6th day of Sivan — that giving was subsequently rescinded and nullified. The Torah was not actually received until Yom Kippur.

The Torah relates the question of the wise son. "When your son will ask you in the future: what are the testimonies and statues and judgments which Hashem our G-d has commanded you, you should tell your son we were slaves unto Pharaoh in Mitzrayim and Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim with a strong hand — and Hashem commanded us to do all these statues for the good all the days to give us life as this day" (Devorim 6:20).

The Ibn Ezra explains that the son is not questioning as to what the mitzvos are, but rather as to what the intent is. Why we were given this yoke in contrast to all the other peoples who suffice with seven easy commandments?

The answer is that if G-d benefited us with redemption from Egypt, we should trust Him that the reason for giving us the mitzvos is for our good and not for His benefit — and that benefit is predominantly in the World to Come but also gives us life in this world.

This echoes the words of Rav Chananya ben Akasha that Hakodosh Boruch Hu wanted to refine and merit the Jewish people and therefore gave us an abundance of Torah and mitzvos. Perhaps it is for this reason that Hashem introduced Himself in the beginning of the Aseres HaDibros as the G-d who took us out of Egypt and not the G-d who created heaven and earth: in order to emphasize that just like redemption from Egypt was totally and obviously for our benefit, so too the totality of mitzvos represented by the Aseres HaDibros are solely for our good and not for Hashem's sake.

This concept does not contradict that which Chazal tell us, that mitzvos were not given to us to enjoy but rather as a yoke around our neck. True the mitzvah itself may be a yoke and its observance may not be considered an immediate pleasure or enjoyment, but ultimately the purpose of that yoke is totally for our benefit.

Perhaps this is the intent of the Haggodoh, which explains that this question represents the wise son. The answer we give him that the Haggodoh is that we don't eat after the Korbon Pesach so as to leave the taste of the Korbon Pesach in our mouths.

The intent is perhaps that the benefit deriving from a mitzvah such as the Korbon Pesach is what remains with us in the final analysis and hence leaves a palatable and enjoyable taste in our mouths.

Chazal point out that the Torah begins with gemilus chassodim — it begins with Hashem clothing Odom and Chava — and ends with gemilus chassodim — with Hashem burying Moshe Rabbeinu. This emphasizes that the entire foundation of Torah is chessed, G-d's total giving and kindness to His servants, and Torah is solely an expression of kindness and G-d's desire to do good for us.

In this light Torah is not an imposition on our life but rather the intent of all Torah is to provide us with a framework within which to earn eternal reward for our own good.

Delving deeper, the impact of Torah begins with the kindness of covering man's embarrassment with a body that transgressed G-d's will, thereby giving us a modest framework within which we can utilize that body in G-d's service to purify and elevate it to be G-dlike. After one achieves this by utilizing the entire Torah, the Torah concludes and culminates with the kindness of G-d in burying the body of Moshe Rabbenu that became so holy and G-dlike that only G-d Himself could bury it and put it away until the resurrection of the dead.

This is the very essence of Torah: to guide one to utilize one's body and elevate it from the shame of pure materialism to the lofty level of G-dliness. In the final analysis Torah, although a yoke in responsibility, is in reality totally for our benefit.

In this light we can understand the words of Chazal concerning the things whose fruits benefit a person in this world and their principle remains for the next world. These things are basically between man and man, such as visiting the sick, comforting mourners and the life. What then is the meaning of the conclusion, "and the study of Torah is equal to all of them?" How does Torah study fit in with the other kindnesses.

HaRav Aharon Kotler zt"l explains that the greatest gift to the world is the study of Torah and the Torah itself enables all existence to exist. Hence, the greatest chessed is the study of Torah.

The midrash relates that the Torah was given on the third day of preparation before giving the Torah to hint to the fact that just as trees and vegetation were created on the third day of creation and they satisfy the necessities of life, similarly the Torah is a tree of life satisfying the spiritual necessities of life. This is what Chazal intimate when they tell us that tov, good, applies exclusively to Torah.

With this idea we can explain the following verse: "And now Yisroel what does Hashem your G-d ask from you, only to fear Hashem, your G-d, to walk in all his ways, to love Him, to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul to observe the mitzvos of Hashem and His statues that I command you today for your good" (Devorim 10:12). At first glance the verse seems to begin by implying that G-d does not ask much from us, yet it then follows with an extensive, exhausting list that He in fact does demand of us.

The key, I think, is the last two words, letov loch, for your good. In fact G-d asks nothing from us. All that He demands of us to do is for our own good. He is giving to us rather than asking anything from us.

This perhaps was the mistake of the nations of the world who, when offered the Torah, asked what it contained. When G-d informed them — for example, to the children of Eisov He said that it contained the prohibition of murder — they questioned why this does not conflict with a blessing they received from Yitzchok Ovinu that they should live by the sword. Hashem then leaves them and goes on to the next nation.

Why didn't Hashem answer their question and explain to them that in fact there is no conflict? Why didn't He tell them that living by the sword does not mean wanton murder but as mercenaries in time of war? Why did He just abruptly leave them and go on to the next nation?

Perhaps the answer lies in the very response of the nation to G-d's offer of the Torah. When one asks someone to do them a favor, they may respond by first asking what it is before they can commit themselves to comply. However when someone offers a present, the recipient doesn't ask what it is but rather receives it graciously and later discovers what it is. The nations understood that G-d was asking them for something, hence they asked what it was. This basically disqualified them from receiving the Torah. Only the Jewish People understood correctly that G-d was offering them a benefit and giving them a present. Hence they responded naaseh venishma, give it and later we will find out what it entails.

An anecdote relates that the nations, when offered the Torah, questioned what it contained. But the Jews asked how much it cost and when G-d told them it was free they asked for two. This anecdote is not far from reflecting a truth.

The Dubna Maggid in explaining the following verse: Lo Osi koroso Yaakov ki yogata bi Yisroel, you have not called on me Yaakov for you have wearied yourself with me Yisroel (Yeshayohu 43:22), gives the following parable: A man asked his neighbor to bring home his luggage from the train station. When he hears his neighbor huffing and puffing and with great effort ascending the stairs to his home, he calls out from behind the door, Please return and get my luggage, you have brought me the wrong luggage. The neighbor is mystified and asks how the man could know that he brought the wrong luggage, considering that he called to him from behind the closed door and didn't see the luggage. The man responds that he only had a small attache case and therefore if the neighbor is huffing and puffing and putting such effort into carrying the luggage, it must not be his.

Similarly, if Hashem's mitzvos seem a burden and toil, they must not be His, for His mitzvos are relatively easy to keep — considering that they are for our ultimate good.

In this light the Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh explains the verse in Bilaam's prophecy: "Velo ro'oh omol beYisroel, that G- d does not see the effort and bother amongst the Jewish People — He does not sense that we consider the Torah and mitzvos a burden and a bother, but rather an opportunity.

This can be further compared to a treasure map that instructs one to travel far and to dig deeply to find a treasure. Although following the map demands effort and expense, the ultimate treasure makes the map an opportunity and benefit and not a liability.

This concept can explain the reaction of the angels who begged G-d to leave the Torah with them and not give it to human beings. Yet, when Moshe Rabbenu was directed by G-d to answer their claim, he refuted their request for Torah by saying that basically none of the Ten Commandments, and hence the Torah in general, applies to angels who have no idolatry, do not work, have no parents, cannot murder, have no immorality and so on.

Perhaps the angels knew that the Torah was not applicable to them, but they wanted the Jewish people to know through Moshe Rabbeinu that if it did apply they would have desired it as a benefit, and not that they breathed a sigh of relief that it was not being given to them as a liability.

The medrash in fact echoes this idea, for the medrash says, Do not think that I am giving the Torah to you as a liability for even the angels desired it.

When the Torah was given, the experience was so overwhelming that it caused their souls to flee and they died and had to be resurrected. Would it not have been easier if G-d gave them the strength to receive the Torah without dying? Perhaps Hashem wanted to show them that although Torah demands great self-sacrifice, and even sometimes to give up one's life for it, it is the Torah itself that revives the person, giving him eternal life.

The rabbis relate that the Dew of the Resurrection of the Dead is in fact the Torah itself. He who has the light of Torah, the light of Torah revives him (Kesuvos 111b).

In this light we can resolve the following question. The Rabbis relate that G-d lifted the mountain over us and literally forced us to receive the Torah. This was still considered valid since when one is coerced into buying something, the sale is nonetheless valid. However the question is raised that when one is coerced into selling something, the sale is not valid. To force someone to take something is considered in the end taken willingly, but to force someone to give up something remains forced, that is, it is invalid. When it is for one's benefit then it is valid but if it is a liability then it is not valid. If so, how could the forced Torah be considered to have been accepted willingly? It must be that the acceptance of the Torah was a benefit which the Jews received and not a liability which they to give up.

There is an argument whether one must enjoy every yom tov at a physical level, fulfilling the posuk that yom tov is a day of lochem, "for you," or perhaps it can be celebrated totally in a spiritual manner fulfilling the posuk, leHashem "a day for Hashem." Everyone, however, agrees that Shavuos, the day the Torah was given, must also be celebrated on a physical level. This is to emphasize that the Torah is a very concrete benefit on all levels.

This is one of the sources for the custom of bringing flowers and greenery into the home and shul on Shavuos. Rav Yaakov Emden attributes this to the mitzvah of simchas Yom Tov, enjoying the Yom tov enhanced by aromatic plants. But if so, why do we not fulfill this on all yomim tovim?

Perhaps the obligation to enjoy Shavuos physically is stronger than all other yomim tovim and we must include the enjoyment of sight and smell also, to emphasize that Torah benefits all aspects of man's existence.

The other customs of Shavuos also reflect the idea that Torah is a benefit. We read megillas Rus which related how Rus accepted the Torah — recognizing the great opportunity it provided.

We eat milk products since milk is the food that nurtures life at its inception, representing the fact that Torah is the foundation of life.

We stay up all night Shavuos eve in eager anticipation of the great occasion to occur in the morning, to show how precious the Torah is to us.

And we recite Akdomus before reading the Torah which graphically describes how precious the Torah is to us and how we resist the temptations of the nations who had wanted us to abandon the Torah in return for promises of the physical and material benefits of assimilation. We respond to them that all temptations are naught compared to the beauty and benefit of Torah.


This lesson that the Torah was given to us for our benefit was made evident already on the 6th day of Sivan. Tosafos explains that in fact the Torah was originally ordained to be given, according to everyone, on the 6th day of Sivan. However according to Reb Yosi, Moshe pushed it off one day.

Some explain that Moshe used his power to expound the Torah to delay its being given one day for Bnei Yisroel were not fully prepared on the 6th day.

The implication in this can be represented as follows: A wedding is set for a certain date. A hall, caterer, band, photographer, etc. have all been reserved for that date. The day before the wedding, a cousin calls and says he will not be able to arrive on the set date of the wedding and asks if the wedding can be delayed a day or two. Obviously this would be impossible. However, if the bride were to call and say that it is impossible for her to arrive on the set date and asks for the wedding to be delayed a day or two, she will definitely be accommodated and the wedding will not proceed without her.

If the Torah were a liability, it should have been given on the set date whether we were ready or not. But since the Torah is a present, and specifically for our benefit, so if we were not ready, the entire timetable of creation was changed to accommodate us. Therefore by not giving the Torah on the 6th of Sivan, G-d revealed that the main intent for giving the Torah was for our benefit.

Hence, it is a zman Matan Toraseinu, not the day we received the Torah, but rather the day it was evident that the Torah is a matonoh, a present.

This lesson was not only not abrogated or nullified when the Luchos were broken but was strengthened and intensified. This is due to the fact that the breaking of the Luchos because the Jewish people served the eigel only makes sense if the Torah is a present which Moshe Rabbenu denied the Jewish people because of their sin. If the Torah is a liability it would be totally illogical to remove a liability to punish a sin.

Therefore we celebrate the 6th of Sivan as zman Matan Toraseinu, a time where the nature of the Torah as a benefit was demonstrated to us in a most poignant manner.

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