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Shavuot 5780 — 29 and 30 May, 2020

Shavuot 5780

In honor of Dr. Daniel Rabinoff’s successful defense of his dissertation.

This year Shavuot falls on Friday and Shabbat. This is the first time in 11 years that this has happened. (It happened several times in the 11 years before that.) Shavuot itself cannot fall on Shabbat, because it always falls one day after the first day of Passover and one day before Rosh haShanah, and Rosh haShanah cannot fall on Sunday for a somewhat arcane reason. However, Shavuot can come on Friday, which means in the Diaspora the second day of the holiday is on Shabbat. In Israel, where the holidays are celebrated for only one day (except Rosh haShanah, which is always two days, as the reason for the extra day has nothing to do with messengers going to the far-flung Jewish communities), Shavuot can never come on Shabbat. This year, then, in the Land of Israel this coming Shabbat is a regular Shabbat (Parashat Naso). Israel and the Diaspora will be one week “out of sync” (as far as the weekly Torah readings go) until Shabbat July 4, when the Diaspora will read the combined portion Chukat-Balak while in Israel Chukat will be read the week before and July 4 will be Shabbat Balak. As it happens, eleven years ago it was also on July 4 that we got synced back up. On July 11th everyone will read parashat Pinchas.

Although it is not made explicit in the Written Torah, Shavuot is known in the liturgy and in the Rabbinical literature as z’man matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of our Torah. There is a controversy in the Talmud as to what, exactly, Moshe Rabbeinu received at Mt. Sinai, and what he received during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, in the Mishkan. It is clear that not everything that Moshe received is in the Written Torah, because the Written Torah itself references material that Gd gave Moshe, but is not recorded in the Written Torah. For example, if we wish to eat meat, we must slaughter a kosher animal in accordance with certain rules. The Written Torah just tells us to slaughter “as I have commanded you” (Deut 12:21), but the myriad of rules about exactly where the cut must be made, how sharp the knife must be, etc. are not laid out in the Written Torah. There clearly is an Oral Torah that goes along and elucidates the Written Torah.

What then, was Moshe given? One opinion holds that Moshe was given all the details of every law in the Torah, and all the elaborations that Rabbinic scholars throughout the ages would make. The other opinion holds that Moshe was given the basic laws and the rules by which the details can be worked out from the basic laws. That is, Moshe was given all the details, but only in potential, not in fully worked-out form. As I mentioned on Pesach, Or haChaim does not comment on the holidays (in his commentary on the Torah at least), but he does give an explanation of the last verse of next week’s parashah, Naso, that I think will shed some light on the nature of Torah.

The Zohar tells us that Torah is the blueprint of creation – “Gd looked into Torah and created.” This means that Torah has always existed with Gd. That statement would seem to imply that on Gd’s level there is some duality, but we shall see that that is not really the case. If we look at the last verse of parashat Naso, it reads:

When Moshe arrived at the Ohel Moed to speak with Him, he heard the Voice speaking to him from atop the Kaporet that was upon the Ark of the Testimony, from between the two Cherubim, and He spoke to him (7:89).

The word translated “speaking” is midaber, with a “short I” after the initial m, instead of a schwa: m’daber, which is the proper Hebrew grammatical form. Rashi comments:

This is like mitdaber, speaking with Himself. It is the honor of the One Above to speak in this way: He communicates to Himself and Moshe would hear on his own.

Mitdaber is a reflexive form of the verb (and Onkelos translates the word (into Aramaic) as mitmalal, also a reflexive form). We know from the opening verses of the Torah that Gd creates with speech. Certainly, at the point Gd created, there was nobody else to speak to, and hence Gd must have been speaking to Himself at that point. But the reality is, Gd transcends space and time, and consequently is always creating, as we say in the liturgy, “He renews in His Goodness every day the work of Creation.” All that we perceive as creation is a virtual process within Gd, as it were, and consequently Gd’s Speech is always Self-Speech. Moshe’s awareness was stationed at such an exalted level that he could “hear” this speech, and record it and pass it on to us.

Or haChaim elaborates on this process:

This can be understood … that an utterance that comes from Hashem would have an angel created from it, and it is [the angel] who would speak to the prophet. … This is what it says: The Voice speaking to him: the Voice of the Holy One, blessed is He, in the form of an angel, spoke to him. …
   Since the Voice was itself the speech it is correct for the verb to be expressed in this manner [i.e. as a reflexive verb].

What Moshe heard then was the fundamental “sounds” or vibrations of the creative process taking place within Gd’s own nature. He heard this within himself, as the still, small voice inside his own purified awareness. From this level he indeed had all knowledge, because his awareness was stationed on the level where all knowledge is structured. The knowledge was him and he was the knowledge. And Moshe projected that knowledge down to the physical plane, from where our challenge is to rise to his level and internalize the Torah – the “real” Torah – just as he did.

More than three thousand years ago our ancestors stood at Mt. Sinai and got a glimpse of Gd speaking to Himself. Our job is to recreate that experience in every minute of our lives – to make Torat Moshe / Moshe’s Torah into Torateinu / our Torah.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Shavuot, Parashat Naso

“Shavuot” means “weeks”: it is seven times seven days, a week of weeks, after Passover. It gets across the idea of Deep Rest, the Rest of Rests; the day after this, the 50th day, sums up the seven weeks and is thus a very appropriate day on which the Children of Israel were ready to hear the 10 Sayings. The Ten Descriptions.

These are commonly called The Ten Commandments but that is not what Torah or rabbinical tradition call them: In Torah, they are called “Aseret Ha D’Varim” and in the rabbinical tradition, they are called “Aseret Ha-Dibrot.”  Both phrases mean “The Ten Sayings” or “The Ten Matters.”

Although we celebrate this Gift on Shavout, Torah does not specify a date for Giving. What Torah prescribes for this date is the Festival of First Fruits; it began with waving a sheaf of barley “at the time the sickle is first put to the grain.”

It is wise humans that intuited, researched, desired and declared that the 50th day after Passover is the day of Giving the Torah.

There were two factions in ancient Israel: those who saw Shavuot the way it is specified in Torah, as a Festival of First Fruits, and those who wanted it to be a celebration of the Giving of Torah so this Gift would be celebrated in every generation and everyone could stand at Sinai and celebrate the completion of the liberation that began with the first day of Pesach, the completion that comes when liberation rises to the experience of hearing Gd’s Voice, meeting Gd face to face, and discovering Gd’s Face in ours and ours in Gd’s.

We can celebrate it both ways: Receiving the 10 Statements is definitely a First Fruit, a first benefit of having good thoughts and planting them in our actions so that everyone can reap the harvest of our virtue. By putting the harvest again and again back into more good actions we learn to enjoy and to come closer and closer to restoration of Full Awareness, Oneness beyond the duality of Gd and us.

Baruch HaShem