Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 23 May 2020 / 29 Iyyar 5780

Shavuot, Day of Judgment on Torah

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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The Tolaat Yaakov explains that just as on Rosh Hashana Hashem analyzes and judges a person’s deeds, so too on Shavuot does Hashem judge a person on his commitment to mitzvah observance in general, and, more specifically, on bittul Torah (Shlah HaKadosh, Masechet Shavuot, Ner Mitzvah 19 in the name of the Tolaat Yaakov). This idea of a yearly judgment regarding both Rosh Hashana and Shavuot needs to be understood. Why does Hashem need to judge a person every year? After all, as long as a person is alive he can lose his good deeds by regretting having done them (see Kiddushin 40b), or rid himself of his bad deeds by doing teshuva. If so, wouldn’t it make more sense to delay one’s judgment until after death? Let us first analyze Rosh Hashana, where this is primarily addressed by the commentaries, and then apply it to Shavuot.

There is a well-known idea that Jewish holidays are not one-time events. Rather, they each have spiritual energies that surface every year with the coming of that holiday. How does this apply to Rosh Hashana? Rosh Hashana was the day on which Adam HaRishon was created, and was given both his first commandment to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge and also the job of working and guarding the land. It was also on this day that Adam HaRishon was given the tools he needed in order to accomplish this goal. He was placed in the ideal environment, given the ideal spouse, and was gifted with the fruits of all the trees — except the Tree of Knowledge — as food. This phenomenon repeats itself every year on Rosh Hashana. It is on this day that Hashem decides each person’s jobs and challenges for the year to come. Based on this, Hashem then delegates the tools one needs to fulfill his job. This is precisely why on this day Hashem judges who will live, who will prosper, who will get married, etc.

One of the factors Hashem takes into account when determining one’s upcoming year is a person’s spiritual stature. For example, Hashem may let a wicked person live out a prosperous year in order to repay him for the good deeds he performed in this world so that he will be left without reward in the World to Come. It says in the Torah: And He [Hashem] repays His enemies to their faces in order to destroy them (Devarim 7:10). Similarly, Hashem may decree that a righteous person should suffer for his transgressions in the upcoming year so that in the World to Come he will have only merits to be rewarded for. The opposite may be true as well. At times, Hashem may decide that a wicked person should suffer for his evil deeds to prompt him to do teshuva, while a righteous person should prosper to allow him to continue in his righteous ways.

The amount of spiritual help, or lack thereof, is also determined based on one’s spiritual standing. For example, Hashem may give a righteous person more opportunities to further improve himself, while, on the other hand, He may make it harder for the evil person to do teshuva. The Gemara says: In the way that a person wants to go is where he is led (see Makkot 10b, Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 6:3, Rashi and Ramban on Shemot 7:3). All these decisions are made by Hashem’s detailed, meticulous and mysterious calculations.

Based on the above we can understand why a yearly judgment of one’s spiritual stature is needed on Rosh Hashana: the outcome of that judgment helps determine the quality of a person’s upcoming year (based on Leshem Shevo V’Achlama and Mishnat Rabbi Aharon, Ma’amarim v’sichot Mussar II p. 179 “Shelosha Sefarim”).

Let us now turn to Shavuot.

Like other holidays, Shavuot was not just a one-time event, but rather certain aspects of it occur every year. The commentaries explain that every year on Shavuot Hashem decides how much help one will be given to learn, understand and come up with chidushei Torah (see Sefat Emet, Shavuot 5635, 5661 and Machsheves Mussar vol. 1, quoting Rav Shach zatzal in the name of Rav Issur Zalman Meltzer zatzal). To decide all this, Hashem judges a person’s commitment to mitzvah observance to see what is due to him. More specifically, He judges a person on bittul Torah because that is most relevant to what is being handed out. Now we can understand the necessity behind the yearly judgment that takes place on Shavuot. It is the outcome of that judgment that determines one’s overall success in Torah learning in the future. May we all succeed in sufficiently preparing ourselves for the yearly mattan Torah and thereby merit having a favorable judgment as well.

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