Shavuos and The Ten Commandments
Submitted by Rabbi Shlomo Price, Yeshiva Neveh Zion, for Shovuous 5772
We know that on Shavuos the Jews heard the Ten Commandments.
I heard a short but penetrating point about the Ten Commandments that had a great impact on me.
It all started a couple years ago. I was in USA and Canada for a nephew’s wedding and Sheva Berachos.
At one of the Sheva Berachos, my cousin, Jonathan Siegel, said over this point in the name of Rav Binyomin Levine, grandson of the famous “Tzadik In Our Times,” Rav Aryeh Levine. When I asked him for the source, my cousin promptly sent me this link.
It was a beautiful inspiring sicha about how to relate to another human being, which also included this point.
I would suggest that you all listen to it. Anyways, I will summarize part of what he said including, of course, the point on the Ten Commandments.
Rav Binyoin Levine explained that his father and his family lived in the USA. He would spend summer in Eretz Yisroel with his famous grandfather, Rav Aryeh Levine ztl. He went intending to take notes on all the special things that this tzaddik would do. He did not see anything special except in how he related to other people.
On Friday night he was looking forward to spending the Shabbos meal with his Grandfather. He thought it would be so spiritual he wouldn’t forget it. It would be full of Limud Torah and Zmiros an experience he wouldn’t forget.
The meal was by Rav Aryeh’s daughter, as his wife had already passed away. Rav Binyomin was disappointed with how short the Shabbos meal was. It had a few Zemros and Torah but it went very quickly.
When his Grandfather saw his disappointment he asked him why. When he heard why, he said that his daughter has a very big family. It’s very hard for her the entire week but let’s go in to my room and we’ll have a cup of tea and I will tell you a story.
Rav Aryeh said over a famous story about Rav Yisroel Salanter[I heard it differently, but the lesson is the same]
Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l was once invited by one of his talmidim (disciples) to the Friday night Shabbos seuda (meal). He told his talmid that he doesn’t eat out without first knowing how the meal is going to be run. His talmid proudly told him that everything in his home is done strictly according to halacha (Jewish law). “The meat is glatt kosher and is bought from this particular butcher. The woman who works in our kitchen, the widow of a scholar, is very trustworthy. Even so, my wife is always in and out of the kitchen, making sure that everything is being done properly. Between every course, words of Torah are discussed and Shabbos z’miros (songs) are sung. We also have a class on halacha taught during the meal. The seuda, being very beautiful and meaningful, continues until late in the evening.”
After hearing all of these details, Rav Yisroel agreed to come.
However when he came he rushed the meal and it was shortened by many hours. One course was brought quickly after the other, and before an hour had passed, they were ready to bentsch (say the grace after meals).
The talmid, unable to contain himself, turned to his Rebbe and asked what had been wrong with his normal way of conducting the meal. Instead of answering directly, Rav Yisroel summoned the widow who had done the cooking and serving. He turned to her and said, “Please forgive me for rushing you so much this evening. I know you are accustomed to having a nice, long break between each course.”
The widow said, “I wish you would come every Shabbos!”
“Because I get up at 5 in the morning for all the preparations. By the evening I’m falling off my feet. I can’t take it anymore. I wait so long to finish what I have to do and go to sleep. Now you came, Rebbe, and finished in such a short time. Now for the very first time in a long time I can finish what I have to do and I can go to sleep like a mensch.”
Rav Yisroel turned to his talmid and explained that his normal seuda schedule was very beautiful, but you should not be a very fine person on someone elses cheshbon-expense.
Rav Binyoin Levine concludes, “My Grandfather taught me, that this is the essence of what the Torah is all about.
You can learn Torah for years and be an odom gadol-sage. But it’s not learning the Torah but what the Torah has taught you. What the Torah has made you. And if as a result of learning, you lose your sensitivity to other people around, and you don’t have a feeling for a widow who is standing on her feet for a whole day because you’re sitting and learning, then there is something wrong with the way that you are learning. Because the Torah has to teach you how to relate to other people.
I always say that first word of the Aseres HaDibros-Ten Commandments is “Anochi-I” and the last word is LeReecho-Your Friend.” The entire Aseres HaDibros is sandwiched in between the words Anochi –Lreecho-how do I relate to another human being.
My first lesson that Rav Aryeh taught me was how do you relate to another person. My daughter works hard and I’m going to spend a few hours when she’s falling off her feet and she worked hard all week!? That was the sensitivity he had for other people.” [Till here from Rabbi Levine].
I will conclude with a question about Shavuos that many people ask:
Why Isn’t Shavuos Called Simchas Torah? This is from Torah.Org http://www.torah.org/learning/ravfrand/5772/emor.html
Why Isn’t Shavuos Called Simchas Torah?
Parshas Emor contains the Jewish holidays. One of the holidays is the Festival of Shavuos, which is not too far off at this point. Even though the Torah does not mention it explicitly, we all know that Shavuos is the time of our being given the Gift of Torah (z’man Matan Toraseinu) and it is the Yom Tov upon which we celebrate this fact.
The obvious question is the following: If we had to pick a good name for the holiday of Shavuos, it would seem like there is a much better name for the holiday: Simchas Torah! We received the Torah on Shavuos. We celebrate that event — Simchas Torah! What could be a more logical name for this holiday?
The question then is why is Simchas Torah not on Shavuos? And do not tell me because that we celebrate “Simchas Torah” in the fall because that is when we finish reading the Torah cycle. They could have set up the system such that we read Parshas Bereshis on the first Shabbos after Shavuos and we finish the cycle the following year on the holiday of “Simchas Torah” — seven weeks after Pessach.
Is it not a redundancy to celebrate both Simchas Torah and Shavuos? Why isn’t Shavuos the day of Simchas Torah? What is the explanation for two different holidays commemorating Torah?
I once saw a beautiful observation from Rav Simcha Zissel Brody, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva. There are two types of gifts in the world. There are gifts that have value because of the value of the gift (such as the gift of a diamond, a car, a beautiful painting — something with intrinsic value) and there are gifts that are valuable by virtue of the fact of who gives it to you.
Lyndon Johnson was a very effective president when it came to passing legislation. He knew how to get bills through Congress! He used to have elaborate bill signings in the White House. In front of him would be a whole bunch of pens and he would sign his name slowly using a different pen for every curve of every letter in the name Lyndon Baines Johnson. Any person who was invited into the ceremony received one of the pens used by the president for signing the legislation into law as a gift. The pen itself might cost only a couple of dollars but it was a very important gift because it came from the President of the United States. Likewise, anyone who flies in Air Force One is given cufflinks with the insignia of the President of the United States. Again, the cufflinks are worth at most $50. However, the fact that it came from the President makes it an extremely valuable present. These are the two types of presents — intrinsically valuable and valuable by virtue of the person who gave it.
What happens when we have the confluence of both aspects — something that is the most valuable gift in the world and something that was given by the Greatest Being in the universe? That is Matan Torah. The gift of Torah is the most valuable gift in the world — nothing can compare to Torah in value. And who gave it to us? Not the President of the United States but the King of Kings, Master of the Universe!
How do we celebrate this gift? Rav Simcha Zissel says such a celebration requires two separate days — one day to contemplate the gift and one day to contemplate the Giver. Shavuos is the Yom Tov of the Torah. It is the holiday when we must come to the realization that “If not for the Torah that was given on this day, I would just be another Joe in the market place!” What would our lives look like without the Torah? What would our families be like without the Torah? [We need go no further than our front doors to peek outside and see the problems in society to know the answer to that question.] Imagine a week without a Shabbos. Imagine a year without our cycle of spiritually uplifting holidays! What would our children look like if we did not have the Torah to guide them in their development? Where would we be?
The Torah is so valuable that it requires us to have a day to sit and appreciate “Thank G-d, who separated us from those who err and who gave us the Torah of Truth and implanted in our midst eternal life.” This is Shavuos.
But on that same day, we cannot try to fully understand who the Giver is. That requires a second day, which is Simchas Torah. As we all know, the Yom Tov of Succos is the most universal of all Jewish holidays. It is the holiday when we offer sacrifices on behalf of the 70 nations of the world. It is a universal Yom Tov. Shmini Atzeres (and in Chutz L’Aretz the two days of Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah) is a time when G-d says, as it were, “Everyone has left. The party is over. I just want you to stay with me one extra day.” There are no special mitzvos — no lulav, no esrog, no Succah, no 70 nations — just the Almighty and His Nation getting together for a time of intimate connection. This is the day when we concentrate on the Master of the Universe. This is the day dedicated to the Giver of the gift of Torah.
Shvauos allows us to celebrate the “cheftza” of Torah (the item itself) and Shmini Atzeres / Simchas Torah allows us to contemplate the greatness of the Giver of the Torah.
May Hashem help us never to be discouraged in accepting the Torah, always be sensitive to others, and to celebrate the Cheftza of Torah by thanking the One who Gave it to us.