Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 1 June 2019 / 27 Iyyar 5779

Receiving the Torah Anew

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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There is something peculiar the commentaries point out regarding the description of the holiday of Shavuot in the Torah. While we know with certainty, both through the Oral Torah and through hints in the Written Torah, that Shavuot is the day we received the Torah, the verses mentioned in the Torah that describe the holiday never explicitly say that it is the day when we received the Torah. Why is this so, and what can we learn from it (see Alshich and Kli Yakar Vayikra 23:15-17; Akeidat Yitzchak shaar 67 end of perek 4; Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim 494:2).

The Torah tells us:And it will be if you will listen to My commandments that I command you today.(Devarim 11:13)Rashi, quoting the Midrash, comments: today —they should be to you as if you heard them today.One way to fulfill what it says in the Midrash above is through learning Torah every time with the same enthusiasm as the first time. But how can we do this practically? After all, there are many parts of the Torah we have already learned many times!

Source of all Wisdom

Chazal tell us in many places that the Torah preceded the world, and was used as a blueprint for the world’s creation. (Bereishet Rabbah 1:4; Pesachim 54a) The commentaries explain that the Torah that preceded the world was entirely spiritual and didn’t contain any spaces to separate the letters into words like the Torah we have now. As Chazal teach us, the Torah is filled with names of G-d. G-d took deep spiritual ideas and translated them into physical manifestations, such as stories and tangible mitzvot, only after He decided to give the Torah to physical beings who occupy a physical world. (Introduction of Ramban’s commentary on the Torah; Shut Radbaz vol. 3 siman 643; Gra on Bava Batra 15a)

In fact, the Radbaz says that this is why a Torah scroll is neither punctuated nor vowelized — so it should not be limited to one manner of reading. In this way, those who are able to may explain the Torah in a way that deals with the deeper names of G-d that are similar to the Torah that preceded the world. The only reason we have it punctuated in Chumashim is because of the concern that we might come to forget the physical form the Torah. This is similar to the Oral Torah, which was meant to remain strictly oral, but was eventually written because of the same concern. (Shut Radbaz vol. 3 siman 643)

Bearing the above in mind, it is no wonder why the Mishna in Pirkei Avot says to dwell on the Torah over and over again because everything is in it. (Avot 5:22) Furthermore, it is no wonder then how each verse in the Torah can be explained in seventy facets. It is also no wonder how Rabbi Akiva was able to give deep explanations for even the crowns atop the letters! (Menachot 29b) Being a condensed physical manifestation of all wisdom and all deep ideas, every little detail teaches something.

This is not only true with the written Torah, but with the oral Torah as well. The same Gemara that can be learned in a condensed half-hour daf yomi lesson can be learned in a yeshiva setting for weeks, taking every word written by the commentaries into account — what is written and what isn’t — to learn from it.

Something for Everybody

Based on the above, Rav Yerucham explains that in secular studies, as a person progresses from grade to grade he is given a different textbook that contains new information for the new level of learning he has reached. However, when it comes to Jewish studies, this is not so. The first book that is given to a child to study is the Chumash, and ultimately the goal of every person, after years and years of learning, is to be able to derive everything from that very Chumash he started with it. Furthermore, the same Gemara learned in elementary school is used by the top rabbis to determine life and death issues. Originally, the child begins by learning the raw stories, laws and mussar that are mentioned in Tanach, Gemara and poskim. However, as he progresses he is expected to see even deeper ideas behind the seemingly straightforward stories and laws. (See Daat Chochma U’Musar 24.)

When the Midrash tells us to treat the Torah as if it was given today, it means to tell us to find new depths within the Torah every time we learn it. In this way, even when learning the portions of the Torah we have learned many times we can still learn with the same enthusiasm as the first day we received it. This idea is beautifully portrayed by the ending of the text of the beracha we recite on learning Torah: Blessed are You, G-d, Who gives the Torah. The Chida points out that the ending of the blessing is in the present tense to teach us to reaccept the Torah anew through coming up with new ideas in our everyday learning. (P’nei David, Emor 7)

As if it was given today…

Let’s go back to our original question. The commentaries point out that in addition to Shavuot, the Torah also never explicitly says that Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment. One reason for this is so that one wouldn’t think he only has to do teshuva before Rosh Hashanah, since, after all, there is also a smaller scale judgment that takes place every day, and a person never knows when he will die. This is why the Torah didn’t want to limit the “Day of Judgment” to just one day.

Similarly, the Kli Yakar says that the reason why the Torah refrained from explicitly telling us that the holiday of Shavuot was when we received the Torah is to hint to the idea that we are meant to treat every day as if it was the day we accepted the Torah. It is because of this that the Torah didn’t want to limit the day of receiving the Torah to just one day. (Kli Yakar on Vayikra 23:16)

Through contemplating on the ideas above and learning on a different and higher level each time, may we be able to merit seeing the depth behind the Torah and thereby be able to receive it anew every day.

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