19th January 14:36
Shavuoth and Matan Torah 5764 - 1 (history offerings feast omer order)
THE TANACH STUDY CENTER [http://www.tanach.org]
In Memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag
Shiurim in Chumash & Navi by Menachem Leibtag
SHAVUOT & MATAN TORAH
When the Torah wishes to inform us of the 'historical'
reason for a holiday, it certainly knows how to do so. Take
for example the two other pilgrimage holidays - "chag
ha'matzot" & "succot": Even though these holidays are also
presented from their 'agricultural' perspective (see Shmot
23:14-17), the Torah informs us of their historical
perspectives as well (see Shmot 12:17, 13:3 etc. and Vayikra
Therefore, it is simply baffling that the Torah presents
Shavuot ONLY from its agricultural aspect, without mentioning
even a word about its connection to events of MATAN TORAH!
In this week's shiur, we attempt to understand why.
SHAVUOT IN THE BIBLE
Before we begin our shiur, let's verify our statement
that Shavuot is presented solely from its agricultural
perspective by quickly reviewing the five 'parshiot' in which
it is mentioned:
I. Shmot 23:15 = "v'et chag ha'KATZIR bikurei ma'asecha"
[the HARVEST holiday - the first fruits of your work]
II. Shmot 34:22 = "v'chag shavuot... bikurei KTZIR CHITIM"
[Feast of Weeks, the first fruits of the wheat harvest]
III. Vayikra 23:15-21: "u'sfartem lachem..."
"And you shall count from the time you offer the OMER
offering (from your first harvest/ see 23:10) seven
weeks... and you shall offer a new MINCHA to God..."
IV. Bamidbar 28:26 = "u'v'yom ha'BIKURIM..."
"And on the day of the first fruit offering, when you
bring a new MINCHA to God on Shavuot..."
V. Devarim 16:9-12 = "...m'ha'chel chermesh b'kamah..."
"Count SEVEN weeks, starting when the sickle is first put
to the standing grain, then you shall celebrate the
holiday of SHAVUOT to God..."
As you review these five sources, note how in each
instance Shavuot is presented solely as a harvest holiday,
when we must thank God for our grain crops; while its
connection MATAN TORAH is never mentioned - not even once!
However, when we study the above sources, it also becomes
quite clear that there is ample reason to celebrate SHAVUOT,
even without the events of MATAN TORAH. Considering that grain
is man's staple, it is only logical that we are commanded to
celebrate its harvest together with God, in order to thank Him
for His providence during this most critical time of the year.
[Recall also that the custom of the nations of Canaan was to
relate the growth of grain to various local gods such as
Baal & Ashera and Dagon etc. This made it even more
important to celebrate Shavuot, to assure that Bnei Yisrael
would thank the proper God and not fall into the traps of
AVODA ZARA. For more detail, see Hoshea chapter 2 (which
just so happens to be the Haftara for Parshat Bamidbar). See
especially Hoshea 2:7,10,14-18 & 23!]
Based on these sources, should we conclude that it is only
coincidental that Shavuot falls out on the date of Matan
Torah? Would that explain why Chumash makes no connection at
all between that event and this holiday?
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.
THE DATE OF MATAN TORAH
When the Torah wishes to inform us of the precise date of
a certain event, it certainly knows how to do so. Once again,
take for example the events of Exodus. Review Shmot 12:6,12-
14,17-18 and 13:3-8, noting how the Torah informs us of the
precise date (and even the time of day) when the Tenth Plague
struck and when Bnei Yisrael left Egypt! Later on, the Torah
even records the precise date when Bnei Yisrael arrived at
Midbar Sin (on the 15th of Iyar, see Shmot 16:1).
However, in regard to Matan Torah, the Torah is quite
vague. Indeed we are told that Bnei Yisrael arrive at Har
Sinai in the third month (Sivan), but we are not told on what
DAY of the month they arrived:
"In the third month of Bnei Yisrael's departure from the
Egypt, ON THIS DAY, they came to Midbar Sinai." (19:1)
Not only is the phrase "on this day" ambiguous, it is
quite difficult to determine how many days actually transpire
between their arrival at Har Sinai and Matan Torah (see Shmot
Even if we assume that Bnei Yisrael arrived on the first
day of the month (see Rashi 19:1-"b'yom hazeh"), the lack of a
clear chronology in the subsequent events still makes it
impossible to pinpoint that date. Even though it is recorded
how Moshe goes up and down the mountain several times, and
that three days are required to prepare for that special
occasion; we never told how many days elapse in the interim.
In the Mechilta (and in Mesechet Shabbat 86b), Chazal
calculate that the Torah was given on either the sixth or
seventh of Sivan (see also Rashi on 19:2->19), yet the fact
remains that the Torah clearly prefers to obscure the precise
date of this event.
However, there is an additional manner by which it is
possible to calculate the approximate date of Ma'amad Har
Sinai. If we assume that tenth of Tishrei was chosen as 'Yom
Kippur' specifically because it marks the date when Moshe
descended from Har Sinai with the second "luchot" [See further
iyun section for a discussion of how we can prove this.], then
we can calculate 'backwards', using the three sets of 'forty
days' that are described in the story of chet ha'egel in
Devarim chapter 9.
Working 'backwards' from the tenth of TIshrei; we can arrive
at the following approximate dates of these three sets of
The last forty days - from 1 Elul until 10 Tishrei.
[when Moshe receives the second Luchot.]
The middle forty days - 19 Tamuz until 29 Av
[when Moshe's prayer for their f****venss.]
The first forty days - from either 6 or 7 Sivan until 17 Tamuz.
[when Moshe receives the first Luchot.]
These calculations leads us to the conclusion that the Torah
was given on either the 6th or 7th of Sivan (depending if the
month of Sivan that year was 29 or thirty days).
However, even if all of the above assumptions are correct,
the fact still remains that the Torah never ********ly
mentions the date of Matan Torah, even though it has ample
opportunities to do so!
Thus, we really have a double question. Not only is it
strange that Torah makes no connection between Shavuot and
Matan Torah, it doesn't even tell us WHEN Matan Torah took
Again, the question remains - why?
To answer this question, we must consider a fundamental
difference between the very nature of these two monumental
events in our history: Yetziat Mitzraim and Matan Torah.
MATAN TORAH: AN UNCOMMEMORATED EVENT
In the Torah, we find numerous mitzvot through which we
commemorate Yetziat Mitzraim, both on the:
ANNIVERSARY of the Exodus: e.g. eating matzah, telling of the
story of Yetziat Mitzraim, korban Pesach etc.; and ALL YEAR
ROUND: e.g. "mitzvat bikkurim" (bringing the first fruits to
Yerushalayim), tfillin, shabbat, and the daily recital of
"kriyat shma", etc., all of which the Torah relates to the
Exodus (i.e. "zecher l'yitziat mitzrayim").
In contrast, in Chumash we do not find even one specific
mitzvah whose ******** purpose is to commemorate the events of
Matan Torah. [Sefer Devarim does require that we not forget
the events that transpired at Har Sinai (see 4:9-16), but does
not command us to perform any specific positive mitzvah in
order that we do not forget that event! Certainly, those
psukim do not require that we commemorate that event on any
specific day. See Further Iyun section for additional sources
on this topic.]
Why does the Torah call upon us to commemorate these two
events in such dramatically different ways?
One could suggest that by this manner of presentation,
the Torah is sending a complex message. Even though the Torah
provides us ample information to calculate the approximate
date of Ma'amad Har Sinai, its deliberate obfuscation of that
date may suggest that we should not treat Matan Torah as a
historically bound event. Instead, from a certain
perspective, each and every day one should feel as though the
Torah has just been given.
This concept is reflected by the famous Midrash, quoted
by Rashi on 19:1:
the words of the Torah should be considered new to you - as
though they were given TODAY!" (see Rashi Shmot 19:1)
In other words, we should not view Matan Torah as a one
time event. Rather, every generation must feel as though they
have just entered into a covenant with God (see Devarim
5:1-3). Every generation must feel that God's words were
spoken to them no less than to earlier generations. To
celebrate the anniversary of Matan Torah as a single moment in
our history could diminish from that meta-historical
Similarly, in our study of the Mishkan, we showed how the
primary function of the Mishkan was to perpetuate the
experience at Ma'amad Har Sinai. [See Ramban on Shmot 25:1,
and the TSC shiurim on Parshiot Terumah & Tezaveh.] From that
source as well, it appears that the Torah would rather we
treat Matan Torah as an event that needs to be perpetuated,
more than commemorated.
In contrast to Matan Torah, the Exodus is not an event
that must be re-lived. Rather it is an event that the Torah
emphasizes over and over again that we must REMEMBER. Even if
we must ACT as though we went out of Egypt on the seder night
(See in the Hagada - "b'chol dor v'dor chayav adam lirot atzmo
k'ilu..."), it is in order that we put ourselves in the proper
frame of mind to praise God and thank Him for our redemption.
Yetziat Mitzrayim was, and should remain, a one time
event in our history - our national birth. As such, it needs
to be commemorated. Matan Torah is totally different! It is an
event that must be constantly RE-LIVED, not just remembered,
for it is the essence of our daily existence.
So is it wrong to commemorate Matan Torah on Shavuot? Did
Chazal make a 'mistake' (chas v'shalom) by connecting a
'purely agricultural' holiday with the historical event of
Of course not! Is it possible that the most important
event in our national history not be commemorated on its
In this regard, Chazal strike a beautiful balance between
Torah "sh'bichtav" (the Written Law) and Torah "sh'baal peh"
(the Oral Law). Chumash emphasizes one perspective, the
inherent danger of commemorating this event, while tradition
balances this message by emphasizing the other perspective,
the historical significance of remembering that day, by re-
living that event.
Therefore, Chazal instituted that just like on "leil
ha'seder (Passover eve), when we spend the entire evening 're-
telling' the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim, on "leil Shavuot", we
spend the entire evening engrossed in the study of Torah, 're-
living' the experience of Ma'amad Har Sinai!
SOME BIBLICAL 'HINTS'
Even though the connection between Matan Torah and
Shavuot is not ******** in Chumash, we do find several
interesting 'hints' to their connection in Parshat Emor.
Recall how Parshat Emor is the primary source for the
specific details of the special laws of Shavuot (see Vayikra
23:15-21). That parshia discusses the special korban of the
"shtei ha'lechem", offered at the conclusion of the 50 days of
"Sfirat Ha'omer". Together with the shtei ha'lechem, the
"tzibur" (the community of Israel) is commanded to bring an
additional korban of "OLOT u'SHLAMIM". [The Olah is 7 sheep, 2
rams, and 1 bull, together with the standard goat for the
chatat offering. For the shlamim the tzibur offers 2 sheep,
whose meat is waved ('tnufa') together with the "shtei
THE SHTEI HA'LECHEM
There are two unique laws regarding the "shtei ha'lechem"
- the special korban of Shavuot.
1) It is the only korban 'mincha' offered by the tzibur
which is baked 'chametz' (all other flour offerings must be
2) It is the only time during the entire year when the
tzibur brings a korban SHLAMIM.
1) CHAMETZ U'MATZAH
As we explained in earlier shiurim, matzah symbolizes the
initial stage of a process, whereas the fully risen 'chametz'
symbolizes its completion. Thus, the mitzvah to bake the shtei
ha'lechem as 'chametz' may indicate that Matan Torah should be
understood as the culmination of the redemption process which
began with Yetziat Mitzrayim. Just as the "shtei ha'lechem'
marks the culmination of the wheat harvest, the staple of our
physical existence - the historical process which began with
the Exodus culminates with Matan Torah, the essence of our
Just as we find in "chag ha'matzot" and "succot", the
agricultural time of year 'sends' an educational message that
can help us understand the significance of the historical
event that we commemorate. [See shiur on Parshat Emor.]
2) KORBAN SHLAMIM
If we compare the korbanot offered on Shavuot to the
various korbanot offered on all the other holidays, we reach a
very interesting conclusion: Shavuot is the ONLY holiday when
the "tzibur" must offer a korban SHLAMIM, i.e. the two kvasim
which are offered with the SHTEI ha'LECHEM.
As usual, to understand the significance of this korban,
we must uncover its Biblical precedent.
The FIRST instance where we find a korban SHLAMIM is at
the end of Parshat Mishpatim (Shmot 24:4-8) when the Torah
describes the special covenantal ceremony that takes place at
Ma'amad Har Sinai. At this ceremony, Bnei Yisrael proclaim
"na'aseh v'nishma" while entering into a covenant to become
God's special nation by accepting the laws of Matan Torah.
That ceremony included the offering of special korbanot:
OLOT and SHLAMIM (see Shmot 24:5). The blood from these
korbanot, sprinkled both on the mizbayach and on the people,
symbolized Bnei Yisrael's entry into the covenant (24:6-8).
[The meat of the shlamim was eaten at the conclusion of the
Thus we find that the very first korban SHLAMIM is
offered as a symbol of Bnei Yisrael's acceptance of MATAN
TORAH. Recall our explanation (see shiur on Parshat Vayikra)
of how a SHLAMIM reflects a joint feast shared by covenental
partners. Therefore, the korban SHLAMIM, which is presented
together with the SHTEI ha'LECHEM on Shavuot, may serve a
symbolic reminder of MATAN TORAH.
In fact, we find two additional instances in Chumash when
Bnei Yisrael offer a special collective SHLAMIM offering - and
once again, both relate to Ma'amad Har Sinai:
1) During the YOM ha'SHMINI ceremony (see Vayikra 9:1-5)
2) On Har Eival, when the generation that enters the land
re-enacts Ma'amad Har Sinai and studies its laws!
[see Devarim 27:1-8]
1) In many ways, "Yom ha'Shmini"- the day of the dedication
ceremony of the Mishkan - can be considered as an extension of
Ma'amad Har Sinai. Considering that God's SHCHINA, which had
left Bnei Yisrael in the aftermath of chet ha'egel, now
returns to the Mishkan, and God begins once again to teach
Bnei Yisrael mitzvot - now from the Ohel Moed instead of from
Har Sinai - we can view this event as parallel to the day of
Furthermore, this day marks the first time that God
appears to Bnei Yisrael (see 9:4-5) since He appeared to them
on the day when they first proclaimed "na'aseh v'nishma" (see
Once again, the korban SHLAMIM offered during this
ceremony may reflect the re-establishment of the covenant of
Har Sinai, which was broken due to chet ha'egel.
2) The purpose of the ceremony which God commands Bnei Yisrael
to perform on Har Eival (to teach Bnei Yisrael the Torah and
offer korbanot OLOT & SHLAMIM) is clearly to re-create the
experience of MATAN TORAH for the new generation (for most of
them were not present at the original event). Here once again,
we find a thematic connection between the korban SHLAMIM and
Therefore, it is only logical to assume that special
korban SHLAMIM that the Torah obligates us to offer with the
SHTEI ha'LECHEM on Shavuot alludes to the deeper thematic
connection between SHAVUOT and MATAN TORAH.
Indeed, Shavuot remains as "ZMAN MATAN TORATEINU".
FOR FURTHER IYUN
1. Based on the above shiur, can you find a deeper meaning to
the popular phrase "im ein kemach - ein Torah" [If there is no
flour then there is no TORAH.]
2. In regard to Devarim 4:9-10. Note how these psukim could be
understood as an introduction to the prohibition to make any
image to represent God, as explained in 4:11-22. Therefore,
this may not be considered as an independent mitzvah to
remember Matan Torah. Only Ramban counts it as a mitzvah - See
his pirush on 4:9 and the Hasagot HaRamban to Sefer HaMitzvot
of the Rambam- Lo Ta'aseh #2. Note, that even if it is counted
as a mitzvah, it does not require any specific action by which
we are to commemorate that event. We are simply commanded
never to forget it.
3. Our assumption that the specific date of the tenth of
Tishrei was chosen for 'Yom Kippur' because it marks the date
when Moshe descended from Har Sinai with the second "luchot"
is based on several thematic parallels.
First and foremost, the very concept of "kappara" was
first introduced when Moshe first petitioned God to f****ve
Bnei Yisrael for their behavior at chet ha'egel - see Shmot
32:30 - "...u'lie ACHAPRA b'ad chatatchem". Furthermore,
during Moshe's forty days and nights on Har Sinai, he did not
eat or drink (see Devarim 9:9). This may relate to our need to
fast on Yom Kippur.
Finally, the specific date of the TENTH of the month
would have no logical reason, other than if it commemorated a
certain event that happened on that day. [A holiday on the
fif****th of the month (Pesach & Succot) would be because of
full moon, or Rosh ha'shana, because it is a new moon. However
a holiday on the tenth would require a reason for that