Shavuos Potpourri!


ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר -שמות 19:2
כאיש אחד בלב אחד -רש”י

Rashi notes that when the Jewish people arrived at Mount Sinai, they encamped כאיש אחד בלב אחד – like one person with one heart in a beautiful demonstration of national achdus (unity). The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh adds that this was a necessary prerequisite for receiving the Torah. However, it is difficult to understand what makes this so unique, as Rashi himself writes (Shemos 14:10) that the Egyptians pursued the Jews to the Red Sea with a similar display of harmony – בלב אחד כאיש אחד.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner explains that there is a fundamental difference between the achdus of the Jews and that of other nations, which is subtly hinted to by Rashi. The Jewish people are intrinsically connected as part of one large entity, whereas the members of other nations are fundamentally disassociated and out for their own personal interests. Only when their individual desires coincide do they team up in pursuit of a common goal, but not because of any deep bond. As soon as their goals inevitably diverge, they will go their separate ways.

A close reading of Rashi reveals that while he used the same expression to describe the Jews at Mount Sinai and the Egyptians at the Red Sea, he carefully reversed the order to make this very point. The Egyptians didn’t have any true unity. For a brief moment, they were united with one heart (בלב אחד) in a common desire to recapture their fleeing slaves, and they therefore pursued them as one (כאיש אחד). The Jewish people, on the other hand, are intrinsically bound together as one person (כאיש אחד), and one person automatically has only one heart (בלב אחד).

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה -ויקרא 23:15

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein relates that a weak and sickly centenarian once approached him shortly before Pesach with an interesting legal question. The law is that a person who forgets or for any reason is unable to count even one night of Sefiras HaOmer is unable to continue counting on successive nights with a blessing, as the nightly counting during the seven weeks is considered one extended mitzvah.

According to many opinions, the blessings which he recited until then are retroactively considered to have been in vain. The man’s doctors told him that based on his poor medical condition he would surely die before Shavuos, seven weeks later. He wanted to know whether he was permitted to recite the nightly blessing when beginning to count Sefiras HaOmer, as the laws of nature indicated that he would be prevented from successfully completing the mitzvah, thereby invalidating his blessings.

Rav Zilberstein responded that when a clever child has a craving for a sweet which his mother refuses to give him, he will shrewdly recite its appropriate blessing שהכל נהיה בדברו, essentially forcing his mother to give him a bite so that his blessing shouldn’t be in vain. Similarly, Rav Zilberstein advised the man that by beginning to count with a blessing, he could in effect “force” the Heavenly Court to allow him to remain alive until after Shavuos in order to complete the mitzvah. It shouldn’t be surprising that, contrary to the doctor’s prognosis, the man passed away the week after Shavuos!

לך אמר להם שובו לכם לאהליכם -דברים 5:27

There is a Talmudic maxim (Yevamos 97b) that גר שנתגייר כקטן שנולד דמי – a non-Jew who converts to Judaism is considered for legal purposes to have been newly reborn and is no longer Biblically considered the person he was with the relatives he used to have. In his commentary on Avodah Zara (63b), the Chasam Sofer writes that he has been troubled his entire life at his inability to locate a source for this ruling which the Gemora seems in many places to take for granted.

The Meshech Chochmah suggests that this rule may be derived from our verse. Moshe’s father Amram was one of the greatest men of his generation and was married to Yocheved, his aunt, a marriage which is forbidden to Jews but permitted to non-Jews. If one of the leaders was married to such a close relative, it is reasonable to assume that a number of other Jews did likewise and married the various family members which aren’t forbidden to non-Jews.

After the giving of the Torah, Hashem instructed Moshe to tell the people to return to their tents. The Gemora in Moed Katan (7b) understands this as a reference to their wives. Although they were required to abstain from marital relations for 3 days prior to the giving of the Torah in order to receive it in a state of spiritual purity, they were now permitted to resume normal family life.

However, after the Torah was given, those Jews who were married to relatives to whom they were now forbidden by the Torah shouldn’t have been allowed to return to their wives, but rather should have been required to divorce them. If Hashem nevertheless told Moshe to permit all of the Jews to return to their wives, it must be that their conversion made them as if they were reborn and no longer related to their wives, thus permitting them to remain married, and from here we may derive the source for the law which the Chasam Sofer sought!

Shavuos Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)Many commentators maintain that the mitzvah of counting the Omer (Vayikra 23:15-16) is presently only a Rabbinical obligation since the Omer may not be brought in the Temple. According to this opinion, how can the festival of Shavuos presently be Biblical when the Torah doesn’t fix a date for it but rather commands that it be celebrated after counting the 7-week period of the Omer, a mitzvah which they maintain doesn’t currently apply? (MiTzion Michlal Yofee)
2)The Tosefta in Pesachim (10) rules that a person is obligated to discuss the laws of Pesach and the Exodus from Egypt for the entire night of 15 Nissan. Why is there a universal custom to stay up on the night of Shavuos, which is merely a custom with no legal obligation, while most people aren’t particular to fulfill the legal requirement to stay up on the night of the Seder?
3)The Gemora in Pesachim (68b) quotes a dispute regarding the proper way to spend the time on Yom Tov, whether the day may be spent completely engrossed in spiritual matters such as prayer and Torah study, or whether these activities should also be combined with earthly pleasures such as eating and drinking. The Gemora adds that everybody agrees that on Shavuos we must also enjoy physical pleasures, since that was the day on which the Torah was given. How is this to be understood, as the giving of the Torah would seem to be a reason to mandate additional spiritual pursuits, not earthly ones? (Beis HaLevi, Chiddushei HaRim, Lev Eliyahu, Taima D’Kra)
4)Why is the Yom Tov called Shavuos (Weeks) which refers to the 7 weeks of the Omer which precede it instead of a name which connotes the significance of the actual day? (Lev Eliyahu)
5)The Medrash (Rus Rabbah 2:14) teaches that Megillas Rus contains no laws and has no legal ramifications of any kind, but was written solely to teach the reward for those who perform acts of kindness. How is this Medrash to be understood when the Gemora derives numerous laws from verses and episodes in Megillas Rus, such as the requirement to say the blessings over marriage in the presence of a quorum of ten men (Kesuvos 7a), the laws of conversion (Yevamos 47b), and the laws of acquiring an item through a process known as קנין חליפין (Bava Metzia 47a)?
6)The Medrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni Rus 604) that if Boaz had known that Hashem would publicly record (2:14) the fact that he gave parched grain to Rus to eat until she was satisfied, he would have given her fattened calves to eat instead. Shouldn’t Boaz’s actions have been purely motivated based on his assessment of what was proper and appropriate in the situation and not based on the publicity he would receive or how other people would judge him?
7)Why do we celebrate Shavuos as the festival of the giving of the Torah when the Tablets we received on Shavuos were destroyed by Moshe, and the Torah we have today is that which was given to Moshe on Yom Kippur? (Alshich HaKadosh, Matnas Chaim Vol. 1)
8. On 2 Sivan, the Jewish people told Moshe (19:8) that everything that Hashem has spoken, נעשה – we will do. It was only later on 5 Sivan that they enthusiastically gave their famous response that whatever Hashem has said, נעשה ונשמע – we will do and we will listen (24:7). Why didn’t they immediately respond with this demonstration of faith when originally asked? (Shu”t Tashbatz 3:310, Shem MiShmuel, Emunas Yirmiyahu)
9)At the Pesach Seder we say אילו קרבנו לפני הר סיני ולא נתן לנו את התורה דיינו – if Hashem had brought us before Mount Sinai, but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us. What would have been the benefit of coming to Mount Sinai if Hashem didn’t give us the Torah? (HaSeder HaAruch pg. 414-415, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Mishmeres Ariel)
10)The Gemora in Avodah Zara (2b) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first offered it to the other nations of the world, all of whom refused. How can we make a blessing every morning thanking Hashem for choosing us from all of the nations and giving us His Torah (אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו) when it was only presented to us after every other nation declined the offer? (Mishmeres Ariel)
11)The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) teaches that when the Jewish people were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they won’t accept the Torah, שם תהא קבורתכם – there will be your burial place. If Hashem’s intention was to intimidate them so that they would accept the Torah, why did He transform the mountain into a barrel, which isn’t particularly frightening, instead of leaving it looming over their heads like the scary mountain that it was? (V’HaIsh Moshe)
12)The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) teaches that when the Jewish people were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they won’t accept the Torah, שם תהא קבורתכם – there will be your burial place. As the Shulchan Aruch rules (Choshen Mishpat 205:12) that if the seller forces a prospective buyer to purchase something by threatening and intimidating him the sale has no effect or validity, why are the Jewish people obligated to perform the mitzvos which they accepted under duress at Mount Sinai? (Lehoros Nosson Al HaTorah,  M’rafsin Igri)
13)The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) relates that when the Jewish people answered in unison (24:7) נעשה ונשמע – we will do and we will listen – proclaiming with pure faith in Hashem their willingness to do and observe the commandments even before hearing them, 600,000 Heavenly angels immediately descended to present each Jew with two crowns, one for נעשה and one for נשמע. As 600,000 was the number of men at that time, why didn’t the women also receive crowns for their answer?
14)The Mishnah Berurah writes (61:2) that all of the 10 Commandments are alluded to in the three paragraphs of the Shema, and a person should think of them as he says the words which correspond to them. How many of the 10 Commandments can you find hinted to throughout Krias Shema? (Mishnah Berurah 61:2)
15)The Rema writes (Orach Chaim 494:2) that many people have the custom of eating dairy dishes on the first day of Shavuos. The Mishnah Berurah explains (494:12) that this practice commemorates the fact that after receiving the Torah, the Jewish people were only able to eat dairy foods initially because the ritual slaughter and preparation of meat requires a substantial amount of time. Why was it necessary to give this reason when the Gemora in Shabbos (86b) teaches that the Torah was given on Shabbos, thereby rendering it forbidden to slaughter and prepare the meat even if they had the time and desire to do so? (M’rafsin Igri)