The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
There is an urgency in the two Torah commandments whose obligation is constant and ever-present: to learn Torah and to repent. The Torah is clear about this urgency in the Shema: “These words, which I command you this day, make them as a sign upon your heart and between your eyes ”
Our Sages comment that the word hayom, “this day,” means “the Torah should be ever fresh in your mind, as though you received the Torah today.” As for the duty to repent, Rambam teaches, “A man should always regard himself as if his death were imminent and he might die this very hour, while still in a state of sin. He should therefore repent of his sins immediately and not say, ‘When I grow old I shall repent,’ for he may die before he becomes old.”
This matter of days and Torah is fresh in our minds as we conclude Sefirat Ha’Omer and anticipate the coming of Shavuot, for what more concrete example of the importance of Torah and the power of days than the counting down from the end of Pesach to the Chag Mattan Torah?
Yet despite our celebration of the revelation at Sinai, the chag is not named in the Torah. How can we not be intrigued by this omission of the name of the day toward which we ultimately count – Chag Shavuot – or better yet Chag Mattan Torah, the holiday of the giving of the Torah?
“And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the Sabbath, from the day-you brought the sheaf of wave-offering, seven complete Sabbaths: Even unto the morrow of theseventh Sabbath You shall count fifty days . . .”
Why not simply inform us to count toward the significant date of Mattan Torah? Why doesn’t the Torah find it important to communicate that this counting is not merely related to Pesach, but rather that this day on which we received the Torah is worthy in its own right?
The Talmud considers Shavuot to be the culmination of Pesach, not a chag in its own right. Does this diminish the power of that day at Sinai? Not at all. It is simply that the commemoration of the giving of the Torah must not be limited to a particular time. It applies at all times. This day is each and every day. As it is written, “This day the Lord thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments.”
Every day is Yom Mattan Torah. Every day the excitement, enthusiasm, and vigor of being a committed and learned Jew must be renewed and reinforced. It is with this understanding that the Keli Yakar found significance in the Torah’s use of the phrase Vehikravtem mincha chadasha – “and you shall offer a new offering” – in regard to Shavuot. Each and every day the Torah must be received anew, just as if it were received from Sinai each and every day.
The joy and satisfaction of Torah study must not be limited to special days or occasions. It is to be ongoing, continually renewed and continually renewing. Torah study must always spiritually excite and emotionally uplift. It is for this reason the Keli Yakar says the same enthusiasm and ecstasy that occurred at the Revelation at Sinai must be searched for and found every day.
The Keli Yakar posits the same rationale for the Torah’s omission of the name Rosh Hashanah and its direct association with din and repentance. Should a man sin all year round and think of repenting only as he comes closer to Yom Hadin, when God sits in judgment? No. Rather, he should imagine that God sits in judgment recording his deeds every day. If he can think this way, he will continually engage in repentance.
Analysis, reflection, and introspection must be an everyday experience. For the thoughtful Jew every day is a Yom Mattan Torah and Yom Hadin. Such an attitude might also help us understand Lag B’Omer, the thirty-third day of the counting of the Omer when, according to the Talmud, the plague that caused the death of 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva ended.
Some 24,000 brilliant young scholars – lost! Our Sages ask why so many died. According to Talmudic and midrashic sources, they died because they did not sufficiently respect one another. Their scholarship, Torah learning, and erudition were taken for granted. For them, Torah learning was pursued as any other knowledge, without an excitement, enthusiasm, and fire resulting in new insights, renewed motivation, and novel ideas. They reveled in their Torah brilliance rather than the brilliance of Torah.
Lag B’Omer came to be known as “Scholar’s Festival” to remind those who devote themselves exclusively to the pursuit of Torah learning that there is more to Torah learning than book knowledge and text absorption. Torah learning encompasses love and devotion for fellow students, an excitement for the Divine word, growing sensitivity and feelings emanating from the subject being studied, a reaction to learning Torah that is to be likened to that of Mattan Torah.
The Ramban notes that when the Torah communicates the observance of Shavuot, it makes use of a phrase found only once more in the Torah, in regard to Yom Kippur – “And you shall proclaim on this very day (b’etzem hayom hazeh) a holy convocation .” This call to observe Shavuot is the same call to refrain from work on Yom Kippur – “and you shall do no manner of work b’etzem hayom hazeh, on this very day.”
Why are both Shavuot and Yom Kippur referred to as “this very day”?
Who would ever question or doubt the unique and unequaled features of Yom Kippur? Affliction of the soul, abstention from physical pleasures, consecration of the day – all are powerfully evident. Who could ever confuse Yom Kippur with any other day in the calendar?
Yom Kippur is such a powerful spiritual presence that its spiritual effects must linger on b’etzem hayom hazeh, every day.
A chassidic master taught that the blowing of the shofar at Neilah is simply a signal to begin preparing anew for the coming Yom Kippur, to count every subsequent day as hayom hazeh.
The same must be true of the effect of Shavuot, on this very day, every day.
The charge to make each day of learning like Yom Mattan Torah rests not only with students but with their teachers as well. Everyone involved in teaching Torah would do well to reflect and ask: Am I seeking new methods and exciting approaches for our Torah presentations? Am I creative and innovative in my Torah methodology and curriculum?
It is incumbent on students to learn. It is incumbent on teachers to teach as we want our students to learn. The goal of effective Torah education must be to attempt to make each day, every day, a unique and special experience for studentsso that they leave our classrooms as our forefathers departed from Sinai – awed and inspired.
The Midrash in Tanchuma (Ki Tavo) sums it up: What is meant by “this day”? Had the Holy One, blessed be He, not ordained these precepts for Israel till now? Surely the year in which this verse was stated was the fortieth? Why does the Scripture therefore state: “this day”? This is what Moses meant when he addressed Israel: “Every day let the Torah be as dear to you as if you had received it this day from Mount Sinai.”
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of communications and marketing.
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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