Talmud Tips

For the week ending 23 January 2021 / 10 Shvat 5781

Pesachim 65 - 71

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Torah Is For You

Rav Elazar said, “Everyone agrees that Shavuot requires also (the element of) ‘for you.’ Why? Because it is the day on which the Torah was given.”

A beraita is quoted on our daf that teaches a dispute between two great Torah Sages regarding how to celebrate Yom Tom. Rabbi Eliezer says that it should be celebrated and dedicated in one of two ways: Either entirely “for Hashem” in prayer and study, or “for you” with food and drink. Rabbi Yehoshua disagrees and says that a holiday should be commemorated “half for you and half for Hashem.”

Rabbi Yochanan explains that both of these opinions are learned from the same words in the Torah. In Devarim 16:8 the verse refers to the Yom Tov as being “for Hashem,” and in Bamidbar 29:12 the verse refers to the Yom Tov as being “for you.” Rabbi Eliezer explains these verses as offering a choice: A person may choose the day to be all “for Hashem” or all “for you.” Rabbi Yehosua, on the other hand, explains that the Torah means to “divide” the day to be “half for Hashem” and “half for you.”

The gemara, however, cites three Sages who teach exceptions — i.e. days when even Rabbi Eliezer agrees that there is a need of “for you.” There is no choice on these days of “all for Hashem.” Rabbah said that on Shabbat there is also a need “for you” since the verse says “and you will call Shabbat a delight” in Sefer Yeshayahu 58:13. Rav Yosef said that everyone agrees that on Purim there is also a need “for you” since the verse in Megillat Esther 9:18 calls it “a day of feasting and joy.”

The Amora Rav Elazar said that Shavuot is also an exception. On that day, he teaches, everyone agrees that there is also a need “for you.” Why? “Since it is the day on which the Torah was given.”

At first glance, this reason might not seem all that appropriate and cogent. The Torah is not just a physical book or two stone Tablets of the Covenant. In its essence it is the way that Hashem speaks to us and teaches us how to be close to Him. It is an expression of the Will of Hashem, as it were. So, how does our receiving this seemingly purely spiritual gift of Torah lead to the need for us to celebrate the day on which it was given with food and drink? If anything, it would seem more logical to spend the entire day immersed in Torah study (and not just all night, as has been the widespread custom in many Jewish communities throughout history, and nowadays as well)!

One answer is found in the words of Rashi on our daf. He explains that our celebrating the day of Shavuot, the day on which the Torah was given, with food and drink, shows that our being given the Torah is “pleasant and acceptable” to us — and is not at all a burdensome list of tasks to do and activities to refrain from doing. Just the opposite! It is our way to connect to Hashem and merit eternal life, and with our physical celebration we show our great happiness in having been given it.

Another explanation that our commentaries offer for the need to experience physical pleasure on Shavuot is one that is based on the gemara in Masechet Shabbat 88b. Chazal relate that when Moshe Rabbeinu went up Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the angels challenged him, saying, “What is Man that You should remember him, and the son of Man that You should be mindful of him?” (Tehillim 8:5) They asked why this mortal was intruding into their “personal space” and their spiritual domain.

Moshe Rabbeinu stated, “I have come to take the Torah for the Jewish People.” The angels then turned to Hashem, pleading, “Please leave the Torah with us and we will honor it and cherish it.” Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to “go ahead and answer them.” Moshe Rabbeinu said, “My dear angels, just look at what the Torah commands: 'I am the Hashem, your G-d, Who has taken you out from the land of Egypt.' Also it commands, ‘Honor your parents.’ Do you have a father and a mother? Were you enslaved in Egypt? Do you have a yetzer hara, an ‘evil inclination’ that tempts you to disobey the word of Hashem?”

Moshe Rabbeinu presented the winning argument, the reason why the Torah should not be given to the angels in Heaven but rather to Mankind. This reason clearly shows that the Torah is meant for physical beings with an immortal soul — to guide the Jewish People and Mankind in the “way of Hashem.” The Torah teaches physical beings how to tackle the challenges of our physical world in a way that leads to closeness to Hashem and eternal life.

Our very physicality is the reason that we, and not the angels, were deemed suitable and worthy to receive the Torah — and we should therefore celebrate the giving of the Torah with the physical pleasure of food and drink for the sake of Heaven.

  • Pesachim 68a

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