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See You At Sinai

Shavuot, unlike the other holidays mentioned in the Torah, is not assigned a date. Its date is fixed as the night after the completion of the counting of the omer. In Temple times, when the new month was determined by the sighting of the new moon, Shavuot could fall on the 5th, 6th or 7th of the month of Sivan. When the calendar was fixed mathematically, Shavuot was set on the 6th of Sivan. Similarly, the date of the giving of the Torah was not designated in the Torah. Without going deeply into the rabbinic debate, the rabbinic sages determined that it must have occurred on either the 6th or the 7th of Sivan. The fact that there is no definitive answer to this question presented a problem. When should it be celebrated? Since, in the end, the sages wanted it to coincide with the holiday of Shavuot, we celebrate it on the 6th. This, of course raised the question: Are we really celebrating it on its authentic date?

This question was raised by one of the important commentators on the law code, the Shulhan Arukh, the Magen Avraham (Rabbi Avraham Gumbiner – 16th century Poland). Here is his discussion as recorded by the Hassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak from Berdichev:

In the Shulhan Arukh Siman 494, the Magen Avraham asks how can we call Shavuot – ‘Zman Matan Torateinu – the Time of the Giving of our Torah’ for don’t we hold like Rabbi Yehudah that the Torah was given on the 7th of Sivan and yet, [nevertheless] we celebrate it on the 6th of Sivan, It seems to me the response to this question is found the verse: ‘You shall keep this law in its season from year to year’ (Exodus 13:10) This verse [prompts a related question]. We need to determine how it is possible for us to say: this is the time of our freedom on Pesah and this is the time of the giving of the Torah on Shavuot every year, for hasn’t much time passed since these events occurred?

The explanation for this is that every year when we, the children of Israel, observe the commandment of the Creator blessed be He, who commanded that we refrain from eating leaven and [instead] eat matzah on Pesah, it awakens in us, through God’s great kindness a great light just like the light which shone for our ancestors at the time of the Exodus as a reward for their observance of the commandments of Pesah. Similarly, when we, their progeny, observe the commandments, we too receive the light which shone for our ancestors on Pesah.

Therefore, we say on Pesah – ‘This is the time of our deliverance’ and on Shavuot – ‘this is the time of the giving of our Torah’ – for our observance of the day awakens in us the time of deliverance and the time of the giving of the Torah, according to our good deeds and our fulfillment of the commandments. (adapted from Kedushat Levi Shavuot)

The bottom line of this teaching is revolutionary. The observance of Pesah and Shavuot are not to be seen as commemorations of the past. By observing the commandments of these festivals, we make them ever relevant because we are living them, allowing God’s light to shine forth. The past is not the past; it is the ever present!

See you at Sinai.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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