Shlomo BrownShavuot: Festival of Torah

Rabbi Shlomo Brown
Director, Midreshet Lindenbaum Overseas Programs

In the tefillat Amida of each chag we mention the unique characteristics of that chag:

  • Pesach –   חַג הַמַּצּות הַזֶּה זְמַן חֵרוּתֵנוּ
  • Shavuot – חַג הַשָׁבוּעות הַזֶּה זְמַן מַתַּן תּורָתֵינוּ
  • Sukkot – חַג הַסֻּכּות הַזֶּה זְמַן שמְחָתֵנוּ


Although in the tefilla we mention Shavuot as Chag Matan Torah, when reading the parshiot discussing the moadim there is no reference to the fact that on Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah.

The Abarbanel writes:

והנה לא נתנה התורה טעם לחג הזה שיהיה זכר ליום מתן תורה, לפי שלא הוקבע החג לזכרון מתן תורתנו, כי התורה האלוקית אשר היתה בידינו והנבואה אשר בידינו, עדים על עצמה ואין צורך לקדש יום לזכור אותה, אבל היה טעם חג השבועות להיותו התחלת קציר חיטים, … ואין ספק שביום חג השבועות ניתנה התורה, אבל לא נצטווה החג על זכירתה…

The Torah doesn’t state that the reason for celebrating this chag is the giving of the Torah, because the chag wasn’t fixed for this purpose. The divine Torah and prophecy serve as their own witnesses and there is no need to designate a day to commemorate the day we received them. On Shavuot we note the beginning of the harvest… there is no doubt that the Torah was given on this day, but the chag wasn’t established to observe this…

 There are two important points to be learned from the Abarbanel’s explanation:

1. The Torah was given on Shavuot

2. Shavuot does not mark the giving of the Torah

Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, in his book Akeidat Yitzchak, adds two explanations to the fact that the Torah doesn’t command us to celebrate the giving of the Torah on Shavuot, or state the day that the Torah was given. The first, technical explanation that he offers is that the commandment to celebrate the giving of the Torah could only be given after the Torah was actually given. Therefore, continues the Ba’al Ha’Akeda, we must rejoice in receiving the Torah every day, “בכל יום יהיו בעיניך כחדשים”, as the Sifrei states in Sefer Devarim:

אשר אנכי מצוך היום, שלא יהו בעיניך כדיוטגמא  ( מצווה כתובה מאת המלך ) ישנה שאין אדם סופנה אלא כדיוטגמא חדשה שהכל רצים לקרותה  (ספרי דברים פרשת ואתחנן פיסקא לג)

 We still need to understand how and why Shavuot became Chag Matan Torah. Firstly, if we pay close attention to the words of the tefilla we will note that Shavuot is referred to as זמן מתן” תורתנו”, not “יום מתן תורתנו”. There are different opinions in Chazal as to the exact day when the Torah was given. In order to cover all possibilities we say “זמן מתן תורתנו”. We can add to this the explanations given by Abarbanel and Ba’al Ha’Akeda that we do not want to limit ourselves to a specific day on which we celebrate the Torah, as we should do so every day.

The Torah relates to Shavuot as the Festival of Harvest. We learn from Chazal that the Torah was given on the Festival of Harvest, and there are two important lessons to be learned from this connection:

1. The inter-dependence between Torah sheBeal Peh and Torah sheBichtav. The Torah SheBeal Peh is an essential component in understanding the Torah SheBichtav, in many aspects, including the fact that it teaches us when the Torah SheBichtav was given.

2. The connection between the Festival of Harvest and the Torah. The Torah wasn’t given in order to detach us from the world. Its purpose is to give us tools to sanctify the world. On Shavuot we thank Hashem for the harvest – the flour. If there is no flour there is no Torah, and if there is no Torah, the flour has no purpose.

When we were exiled and stopped reaping the harvest of the land, the central element of Shavuot dwindled, and the element of the giving of the Torah took over. When the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt and we start bringing minchat hakatzir again, we will be able to return to celebrating the chag fully.

May this happen in our days.

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