From time immemorial, our gedolim have taught us to take Shavuos with us into the rest of the year. In truth, every Yom Tov carries this timeless quality. Yet, with Shavuos, the continuity is much more pronounced and dramatic. First of all, in ancient times, if someone was unable to offer the Shavuos korbanos during Yom Tov, he could do so for a week after. Furthermore, according to some poskim (see Chok Yaakov 473:1), if someone forgot to recite Shehecheyanu during Yom Tov, he can do so during the week following Shavuos. Although the majority of poskim do not seem to follow this opinion, the very fact that after Shavuos we can utter this brocha during a seemingly random weekday is unparalleled.
Indeed, everything to do with Mattan Torah carries the leitmotif of continuity and perpetuity about it. For instance (see Be’er Hachaim on Shavuos, page 546), when Moshe Rabbeinu first encountered Har Sinai at the s’neh (burning bush), his response was “asurah na ve’ereh – I will turn aside now and look at this great sight” (Shemos 3:3). The seforim hakedoshim understand this to mean that Moshe davened, “Hashem! Help me so that even after I leave this amazing sight, I should maintain the level of kedusha I have achieved.”
The tremendous amount of Torah represented by last week’s sedra, Parshas Naso, also represents our ongoing learning after Mattan Torah. It is the longest sedra (176 pesukim) and has the longest Medrash Rabbah and Zohar of any other parsha. This signifies the fact that Chazal, too, in Torah Shebaal Peh, radiated a powerful effulgence of Torah interpretations and chiddushim in the Torah portion immediately following Mattan Torah.
The Radbaz (6:2,178), citing the Ritvah (Yoma 21b), also gives a beautiful metaphor for this continuity. The Gemara (Chagigah 26b) relates that when the Bais Hamikdosh stood, the visitors to the Bais Hamikdosh on the three Yomim Tovim were able to witness the miracle of the lechem haponim. The shulchan was lifted and everyone was able to see that the bread that had been placed there last week was still steaming and fresh (no warming drawers were necessary). An announcement was made to the olei regel, “See how beloved you are to Hashem, for the bread is the same at its removal as when it placed upon the table.”
This usually occurred during Chol Hamoed, but the Radbaz suggests that Shavuos, which doesn’t have a Chol Hamoed, the people waited until the following Shabbos to see the neis. This, too, reflects the ongoing Shavuos theme of carrying Mattan Torah with us. Many shuls, also, followed the custom not to say Tachanun for the past week in commemoration of the seven days after Yom Tov when we could still fulfill our sacrificial obligations, a sign that Shavuos was not really yet over.
The Slonimer Rebbe, author of the Yesod Ha’avodah, teaches the same lesson from a different source. He quotes the posuk (Tehillim 111:10) we often recite in davening: “The beginning of wisdom is fear of Hashem, seichel tov lechol oseihem – good understanding to all their practitioners.” He understands these words as a reference to the days after Shavuos, when we must prove that we are “practitioners” of the Torah and not merely theoreticians or hypothetically attracted to the Torah. The acid test of our Kabbolas HaTorah is whether we are actually oseihem – people who live by and do His commandments.
Rav Yonasan David, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Pachad Yitzchok (haskamah to Sefer Kedosh Yisroel, page 21), explains this uniqueness of Shavuos in his analysis of Rav Yisroel Salanter’s singular contribution to Klal Yisroel. Steering away from the more common statement that Rav Yisroel founded the mussar movement, Rav David quotes his father-in-law, Rav Yitzchok Hutner. In a Shavuos maamar (Pachad Yitzchok 41), Rav Hutner established that Rav Yisroel’s major chiddush – his most novel and original innovation – was the equalization of the two arenas of Torah actions. For a long time, the intensity of study and concentration of halachic analysis was primarily limited to bein adam laMakom, the laws between G-d and man. Rav Yisroel founded the movement that elevated the study of bein adam l’adam – for instance, development of good character and middos – to the same exalted level. Rav Hutner saw this as a fulfillment of the format of the bris haTorah at Sinai which presented two identical Luchos, one bein adam laMakom and the other bein adam lachaveiro. In Pachad Yitzchok (41:9), Rav Hutner illustrated the depth of this approach by pointing out that Rav Yisroel’s call for this equalization had inspired “from the same pen and the same heart” the Mishnah Berurah (laws between man and G-d) and the Chofetz Chaim (laws between man and man).
Rav Yonasan David adds to this thesis that according to Rashi (Shir Hashirim 7:4), the two Luchos correspond exactly one to the other, one bein adam lachaveiro for each bein adam laMakom. This system sets forth for us a constant elevation in our avodas Hashem. Even as we are involved with our fellow man, we look upward toward how we can simultaneously act similarly toward Hashem.
Rav David points us to another Rashi (Shabbos 31a), where the Creator Himself is referred to as our “friend.” He completes this profound thought by explaining that if we see in each “friend” the Tzelem Elokim of our most Majestic Friend, we can truly combine the bein adam laMakom with bein adam lachaveiro.
As if this was not deep enough, Rav David refers us to another of Rav Yisroel Salanter’s revelations. He taught us that from the year 5600 (1840), “the gates of heaven have opened for us to understand and appreciate the inner depths of the Torah.”
Rav Yisroel explains that the source of this dating system are the words of Chazal (see Zohar, Vayeira 117a) on the posuk (Bereishis 7:11), “In the six hundredth year of Noach’s life…on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened.” Now what does this posuk about the flood have to do with the opening of the heavenly gates of wisdom?
Rav David explains that Chazal (see Rashi, Tehillim 29:10) tell us that at Mattan Torah, all the nations sent anxious delegations to Bilam, who was considered, so-to-speak, the head of the United Nations, to inquire if another flood was coming to the world. He reassured them that they have nothing to worry about. Hashem was just giving the Torah to the world and therefore “Hashem sat enthroned at the Flood; Hashem sits enthroned as King forever. Hashem will give might to His nation; Hashem will bless his nation with peace” (Tehillim 29:10-11).
It is impossible to think that Bilam merely reassured the nations that they were completely wrong about the possibilities of a flood and all was well. Rav David explains that Bilam was telling the world that Mattan Torah actually was a flood of sorts. Just as the gates of heaven had opened at the time of the Great Flood, so did they again at Mattan Torah. However, at the Mabul, mankind was not equipped or prepared to receive the incredible beneficence of heaven and so they were destroyed. Had they repented as they were supposed to, the rains would have been an astonishing blessing. “Hashem sat” and wished to give, but there was no one to receive. Even Noach, the tzaddik, was ensconced in the teivah and could neither save the world nor receive what could have been given.
At Mattan Torah, on the other hand, Hashem elevated and allowed Klal Yisroel to become a kli kibbul – a proper receptacle – to absorb the truth and holiness of the Torah. But even we were unable to do so without dying in the process until Hashem revived us with the “dew of life.” This is the “peace” the posuk speaks of which Hashem granted us at Har Sinai.
Rav Yisroel refers us to the last Rashi (20:23) in Parshas Yisro that we should view our friend as having been created in the image of G-d and therefore treat him with the ultimate respect. This leads directly to Parshas Mishpotim, which brings the lesson of human dignity down into practical halacha and daily life. Such was the essence of Rav Yisroel Salanter’s teaching and his life’s mission as well, to unify the two sides of the Luchos in our minds and hearts.
As we forward to the summer, a time of great potential and great spiritual danger, let us remember to take Mattan Torah with us wherever we go. The way we act toward Hashem will certainly resound in heaven, but the way we treat our fellow man can make an incredible kiddush Hashem as well. If we follow up properly on these dual challenges, Hashem will be sure to double our reward as well.