Question: Was the Torah actually given on Shavuos? From my study of this question, it seems like the answer is not clear.
Answer: (We will continue our series on “Making Up For All That Was Missed” in next week’s issue.) The Torah does not tell us when Hashem descended on Har Sinai to give us the Torah, but a simple calculation places this event right around the time of Shavuot.
The book of Exodus (19:1) tells us that Bnei Yisrael arrived in the Sinai desert in the third month after leaving Egypt, which is Sivan. The Torah says they arrived “bayom hazeh – on this day,” which according to the Gemara (Shabbat 86b) was Rosh Chodesh.
The Gemara records a dispute about the days leading up to the giving of the Torah. In R. Yosi’s view: Rosh Chodesh was declared on Sunday; on Monday, Moshe Rabbeinu reported Hashem’s words, “Ve’atem tihyu li mamlechet kohanim vegoy kadosh – And you shall be unto me as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6); on Tuesday, Bnei Yisrael were commanded to set boundaries around Mount Sinai, and on Wednesday they were commanded to separate from their wives for three days – Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The Sages, on the other hand, maintain that the events occurred as follows: Rosh Chodesh was declared on Monday; on Tuesday, Bnei Yisrael were told they would be a kingdom of priests; on Wednesday, they were commanded to set boundaries; and on Thursday, they were commanded to separate from their wives for two days – Thursday and Friday. (According to R’ Yosi, the third day of separation was Moshe’s idea, which G-d approved. According to the Sages, Moshe did not add a third day of separation.)
Rava notes that both opinions agree (based on a gezeirah shavah) that the Torah was given on Shabbat. But was it given on Shavuot (which is defined as the 50th day after the first day of Pesach)?
According to the Sages, it clearly was. There were 15 days in Nissan after the first day of Pesach, 29 days in Iyar, and five days in Sivan before Shabbat for a total of 49 days. The Jews received the Torah on the following day – the 50th day – which was Shavuot.
However, according to R. Yosi, Rosh Chodesh Sivan was on a Sunday, and thus there were six days before the Shabbat on which the Torah was given. In other words, the Torah was given on the 51st day, which is the day after Shavuot.
The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 494:1) makes this calculation and concludes that the Torah was given on the 51st day as a hint to yom tov sheni shel galuyot – the second day of Yom Tov that we celebrate in the Diaspora.
Chok Yaakov (Orach Chayim, ad loc.) is very critical of this answer because, based on it, the 51st day should be the main day of Shavuot. Yet, in Eretz Yisrael this day is not celebrated at all! Therefore, he suggests the following (with Shulchan Aruch HaRav agreeing): In ancient times, when the new moon was proclaimed based on eyewitness testimony, Shavuot would indeed sometimes fall on the seventh of Sivan, which was when the Jews received the Torah according to R’ Yosi.
In our prayers on Shavuot, we say, “Zeman mattan torateinu – the time we were given the Torah” instead of “Yom mattan torateinu – the day we were given the Torah,” but that’s not because we don’t know the Torah was given on the day of Shavuot. It’s because the term “zeman” is more appropriate for all the other yamim tovim (which extend over several days) and we follow the rule of lo plug – that the Rabbis did not differentiate, seeking one uniform law.
Why, though, does the Torah not state clearly the date on which the Torah was given? The Klei Yakar, commenting on Leviticus 23:16 (“…vehikravtem mincha chadasha laShem – and you shall offer a new meal offering to Hashem”), writes that the word “chadasha” (new) in this verse, which describes the 50th day of the Omer (the day the Torah was given), teaches us that the Torah must seem new to us every day, as if we just received it. We should feel just as excited about the words of the Torah today as we did when we first received it.
Interestingly, the Torah never states that Rosh Hashanah is a day of judgment either – and perhaps for the same reason: We should view every day as a day of judgment. R. Eliezer (Shabbat 153a) states, “Repent one day before your death.” How does a person know when he will die? He doesn’t. Thus, to properly fulfill this directive, a person must view every day as if it were the day before his death and repent.
May our people merit the imminent redemption speedily in our days.