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Remembering Har Sinai

In this week’s parshah Moshe Rabbeinu recounts ma’mad Har Sinai – the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai. Additionally, the Torah warns us earlier in the parshah not to forget the revelation that we witnessed at Har Sinai, for as the pasuk says: “Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen and lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Devarim 4:9).

The Rambam does not count this as a negative commandment. The Ramban, in his commentary to the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos (in the section of the prohibitions that the Rambam neglected to count mitzvah 2), writes that we learn from this pasuk that there is a prohibition for one to forget ma’mad Har Sinai and that the Rambam forgot to count it. He continues by explaining the importance of this mitzvah: for if we were to believe that our Torah came from a navi, even a true navi whom we trust, it would not be the same; another navi or dream could then discredit the Torah, creating doubt in our minds. However, now that we know that the Torah was given by Hashem to millions of people, no doubt could ever arise in our minds, since we were the ones who witnessed Hashem’s act of giving us the Torah.

The Magen Avraham (60:2) asks why Chazal did not decree that we should read from the Torah about the giving of the Torah, similar to the decree that we read about annihilating Amalek – since we must remember both events. He answers that it is because we have the Yom Tov of Shavuos to read about it – and that is sufficient.

The Aruch Hashulchan suggests another reason why we do not have a special reading on Shabbos to remember the giving of the Torah. He writes that even according to the Ramban’s view that it is a negative commandment to forget the giving of the Torah, it is only a prohibition to forget and not a positive commandment to remember. We only have special Torah readings when there is a mitzvah to remember, not against forgetting.

However, other Rishonim argue with the Ramban by saying that there is no negative commandment to forget ma’mad Har Sinai; rather the pasuk is prohibiting forgetting the Torah itself. The Yereim (359) says that the pasuk is referring to forgetting Torah, and draws a proof from the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:8) that says that anyone who forgets what he has learned is considered to be deserving of death. The Mishnah quotes this pasuk as a reference. The same is implicit from the Sefer Mitzvos Ketanos (96).

The sefer Megillas Esther (commentary to the Ramban’s commentary to the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos) explains that the Rambam did not count this pasuk as a negative commandment because he understood (like the other Rishonim) that it is referring to forgetting the Torah itself. This makes it a general mitzvah that encompasses all of the Torah, commanding us to follow the Torah and its mitzvos. The Rambam does not count this type of mitzvah in his count of mitzvos.

The Ramban asks on himself a question from the Gemara in Kiddushin 30a, which derives from this pasuk that when one learns Torah with his grandchildren Hashem considers it to be as if he himself accepted Torah on Har Sinai. Seemingly, the Gemara understands that this pasuk is referring to learning Torah and not remembering about the giving of the Torah. The Ramban answers that learning about emunas haTorah (belief in the Torah) is learning Torah as well.

The sefer Hararei Kedem suggests that the Rambam agrees with the Ramban that the pasuk is referring to forgetting the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai, yet the Rambam did not count it (among his mitzvos) because he believes that the prohibition of forgetting ma’mad Har Sinai is a part of the mitzvah of learning Torah. The Ramban explained that the teaching of emunas haTorah is also regarded as learning Torah.

This can be interpreted this way: There are two parts to the mitzvah of learning Torah. One is to learn Torah; the second is to teach emunas haTorah. It is regarding the second aspect of the mitzvah that the Gemara in Kiddushin said that one who learns with his grandchildren is considered as having accepted the Torah on Har Sinai himself. This is because when one learns Torah with his grandfather, it is as if he is learning with someone from one generation closer to Har Sinai. This learning has both aspects of the mitzvah in it. It has the actual learning, and it strengthens the grandchild’s belief in the Torah. Thus, regarding emunas haTorah, the Gemara reveres a grandfather who teaches Torah to his grandchildren – for it is as if he has accepted the Torah on Har Sinai.

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