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I Will Write It In Their Hearts - Volume 1
Letters from the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The significance of the holiday of Shavuos and the Giving of the Torah

Translated by: Rabbi Eli Touger

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  Guidance for the activities of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch in MontrealTable of contentsSoliciting involvement in Machne Israel; the campaign to study Mishnayos by heart; applying the concept that the tzimtzum is not to be interpreted literally in our Divine service  

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No. 74

B"H, 28 Iyar, 5703
To the editorial board of the Chaver[1]
Greetings and blessings,

For the upcoming Shavuos holiday, and in honor of the Jubilee edition of the Chaver, I would like to write a few words.

The holiday is called Shavuos, which means "weeks," recalling the verse:[2] "And you shall count seven weeks for yourselves." The day of the holiday itself is not counted. Nevertheless, all the days leading up to the holiday must be counted; only then is the holiday celebrated.

This is one of the differences between Shavuos and the other pilgrimage holidays. The Torah associates Pesach and Sukkos with a specific date. With regard to Shavuos, in contrast, the Torah merely states that it is to be celebrated on the fiftieth day after we begin counting (see Rosh HaShanah 6b).

What is the lesson we can derive from this?

Shavuos is the holiday [commemorating] G-d's giving us the Torah. Before the giving of the Torah, [the Jewish people] also studied the Torah. [As our Sages] (Yoma 28b) [relate]: "Avraham - the first Jew - was an elder, sitting in a yeshivah." This pattern continued in subsequent generations. At that time, however, the Jews were not commanded [to study]; they were acting [on their own initiative], with their own powers. Since they were not commanded to [study], they were able to proceed only as far as possible according to their own potential. Even those who had greater powers and were able to advance higher and higher, were nevertheless limited [in their degree of progress]. For every created being is limited.

When, however, G-d gave the Torah, He said (Shmos Rabbah, ch. 12): "The lower realms shall ascend to the higher realms, and the higher realms shall ascend to the lower realms. And I will begin." Through taking this initiative, He invested His own self in the Torah which He gave (Shmos Rabbah, ch. 33), and this granted the Jewish people the potential to ascend higher and higher without limitation.

Afterwards, from the giving of the Torah onward, this potential was granted to everyone, whether a small child or a man of developed intellect. For every Jew has a portion in the Torah.

For this reason, the event is called "The giving of the Torah," like the giving of a present. For one can only receive the Torah - and [more specifically,] the "light of the Torah" - as a present; it cannot be earned through one's own powers.[3]

On this basis, we can appreciate why when Moshe our teacher was on Mount Sinai, he would study the Torah and forget. He finally said: "I don't know anything," and then G-d gave him [the Torah] as a present (Shmos Rabbah, ch. 41; see also the Alshich). Now we know (Yoma, loc. cit.) that throughout our ancestors' days in Egypt, the existence of a yeshivah did not cease; while they were in Egypt, there was a yeshivah with them, as indicated by the verse:[4] "Go and collect...." Thus Moshe had studied Torah for several decades [and nevertheless, the giving of the Torah represented a new plateau which he could not reach with his own power].

[Although the Torah could not be earned,] a present is not given to everyone. One must be worthy, [as our Sages say:[5]] "If he had not generated pleasure for him, he would not have given him a present."

What did the Jews do to earn the gift [of the Torah]?

  1. [They possessed the merit of] the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos by their ancestors. For it was in the merit of the Patriarchs that the Torah was given (Shmos Rabbah, ch. 28).

  2. The Jews had also prepared themselves by leaving Egypt, "the nakedness of the land,"[6] and counting the days until they would receive the Torah, preparing themselves for this (the Midrash, as cited by Rabbeinu Nissim, end of tractate Pesachim; see also Zohar, Vol. III, p. 97).[7]


We must remember this at all times. We must remember that when we study the Torah, we are studying G-d's Torah. Therefore, a blessing must be recited before studying the Torah,[8] declaring "Blessed are You G-d, who gives the Torah," using the present tense. For G-d is giving us the Torah as a present now, at this moment, just like [He gave it] at Mount Sinai.

Therefore [we must approach the Torah with reverence, as our Sages commented] (Berachos 22a): "Just as [at Sinai,] there was awe, fear, and trembling..., so too, at present, there must be awe, fear, and trembling...." A person's fear of sin must precede his wisdom, for then "his wisdom will be perpetuated" (Avos 3:9).

We must work hard and generate light so that a person will attain all the 49 Gates of Understanding that he can acquire with his own strength. Through this he will merit to "Count 50 days," [i.e., be granted a revelation of the Divine potential which surpasses his understanding]. When he studies the Torah, "G-d will be with him,"[9] "the halachah will follow his view at all times (Sanhedrin 93b). When he studies, he will appreciate [the Torah's] inner truth, and will be granted very sublime [spiritual] lights [to advance] his Divine service and knowledge of G-d. {See the commentary of Rabbeinu Nissim to Nedarim 38a, the commentary of the Ramban to the Torah, and other sources. Although our Sages said (Nedarim, loc. cit.) that Moshe was lacking one of "the gates of wisdom," as it is written:[10] "You have made him slightly less than ohekt."[11] Nevertheless, our Sages also said (Avodah Zarah 5a): "Had our ancestors not sinned...,"[12] as it is written:[13] "I said: 'You are angels.' "}


The newsletter Chaver was established with the goal of reaching even homes which until now were far removed from Yiddishkeit. We must remember: No matter how far away a Jew is found, and no matter how deep he has stumbled, he can emerge from darkness to great light. We may not despair of his future, and we must tell him that he should not despair.

We must tell him: "I am G-d your L-rd who took you out of the land of Egypt."[14] G-d Himself, in His glory helps him and leads him out of his coarseness, as He took the Jews out of the 49 gates of the impurity of Egypt.

We must tell him that all that is necessary is for him to awaken his own will, the inner point of his Yiddishkeit, the pintele Yid [within his soul]. And then he will advance higher and higher. Having achieved all that he could achieve on his own potential, he will be given as a present a greater degree of holiness that will be conveyed upon him from above (Yoma 39a). And he will be granted "freedom from suffering," and "freedom from exile."[15]

I wish you success in all your efforts, and bless you to receive the Torah with joy and inner feeling; "Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,"

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Chairman of the Executive Committee

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) A newsletter for Jewish youth published by the Lubavitcher Yeshivah in Montreal.

  2. (Back to text) [Devarim 15:9.]

  3. (Back to text) [This is why the fiftieth day, the day of the giving of the Torah, is not counted.]

  4. (Back to text) [Shmos 3:16. Which speaks about gathering the elders of Isreal, the leaders of the yeshivah.]

  5. (Back to text) [Cf. Gittin 50b; Bava Metzia 16a.]

  6. (Back to text) [Cf. Bereishis 42:9.]

  7. (Back to text) [And similarly, our counting the 49 days of the Omer, prepares us for the fiftieth day, the holiday of Shavuos.]

  8. (Back to text) [See Bava Metzia 85b.]

  9. (Back to text) [I Shmuel 18:12.]

  10. (Back to text) [Tehillim 8:6.]

  11. (Back to text) [The term ohekt is one of the names of G-d, but it is also used to refer to the angels. In this context the intent appears to be that Moshe - and the entire Jewish people - also had a connection to the fiftieth level.]

  12. (Back to text) [They would have been like angels (Rashi, Avodah Zarah, op. cit.).]

  13. (Back to text) [Tehillim 82:6.]

  14. (Back to text) [Bamidbar 15:41.]

  15. (Back to text) [Cf. Eruvin 54a.]


  Guidance for the activities of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch in MontrealTable of contentsSoliciting involvement in Machne Israel; the campaign to study Mishnayos by heart; applying the concept that the tzimtzum is not to be interpreted literally in our Divine service  


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