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.