June 21, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 21, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

When the Torah wishes to inform us of the “historical” reason for a holiday, it certainly knows how to do so. For example, the two other pilgrimage holidays—Chag HaMatzot and Sukkot—even though these holidays, as Shavuot, are first presented in Shemot 23:14–17 from their “agricultural” perspective, in other instances, the Torah informs us of their historical perspectives as well (Shemot 12:17 and Vayikra 23:43).

Therefore, it is simply baffling that the Torah, in each of the five instances (Shemot 23:15, 34:22, Vayikra 23:15–21, Bamidbar 28:26 and Devarim 16:9–12) when it discusses Shavuot, presents the holiday solely from its agricultural aspect and never even mentions any connection to the events of Matan Torah! Should we conclude that it is only coincidental that Shavuot falls out on the same date as Matan Torah?

To answer this question, we must first take issue with our original assumption that the Biblical date of Matan Torah indeed coincides with the holiday of Shavuot.

When the Torah wishes to inform us of the precise date of a certain event, it does (Shemot 12:6,12–14,17–18 and 16:1). However, in regard to Matan Torah, the Torah is quite vague. Note how that story begins: “In the third month of Bnei Yisrael’s departure from Egypt, on this day, they came to Midbar Sinai” (Shemot 19:1).

Even if we assume Bnei Yisrael arrived on the first day of the month (Rashi, Shemot 19:1, “bayom hazeh,”), the lack of a clear chronology in the subsequent events makes it impossible to determine how many days transpire between their arrival at Har Sinai and Matan Torah.

The Midrash (Shabbat 86b) calculates that the Torah must have been given on either the sixth or seventh day of Sivan, yet the Torah itself never mentions that date, even though it could! Furthermore, we never find a specific mitzvah whose purpose is to commemorate that date or event (in Devarim 4:9–11 we are told never to forget what happened, but not to commemorate).

To answer this question, we must consider a fundamental difference between the very nature of two monumental events in our history, i.e., the Exodus and Matan Torah.

One could suggest that the Torah’s deliberate obfuscation of the date of Matan Torah may suggest that we should not treat it as a historically bound event. Instead, the Torah wants one to feel as though the Torah has just been given each and every day. This concept is reflected by the famous Rashi in 19:1: “ … it should have been written: ‘on that day.’ This comes to teach us that the words of the Torah should be considered new to you, as though they were given today!” (Rashi, Shemot 19:1). We should not view Matan Torah as a one time event. Rather, every generation must feel as though God’s words were spoken directly to them, no less than they were to the first generation. Hence, a celebration of its anniversary as a singular moment in our history might diminish from its eternal meta-historical dimension.

In contrast, the Exodus—the birth of our nation—was, and should remain, a one time event in our history. As such, it becomes an event that must be constantly remembered, but not necessarily relived.

So why do we commemorate Matan Torah on Shavuot? In this regard, we find a beautiful balance between our oral and written traditions. Even though the Torah’s obfuscation of this event may reflect the inherent danger of its commemoration, our oral tradition could not possibly totally neglect its anniversary.

Therefore, unlike Passover eve, when we gather at the Seder to “retell” the story of the Exodus, on the evening of Shavuot, we “relive” that experience by engaging in Torah study, a most appropriate expression of our gratitude for God’s most precious gift.


Rabbi Menachem Leibtag is an internationally acclaimed Tanach scholar and online Jewish education pioneer. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers). The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles