Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Erev Shavuos – Z’man Matan Toraseinu (49th day of the Omer)
5 Sivan 5777/ May 30, 2017

Last week, as my chavrusa, R’ Yossi Weimer, and I were finishing our morning learning session, I overheard someone on the next table excitedly and passionately exclaim, “Do you understand this sevara (logical argument in the Gemara)? It's even better than cheese cake!”
Just a day earlier, Yossi and I came across the following story in the gemara we were learning, (Shekalim 8b):
“A certain noblewoman noticed that Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai was particularly radiant one day. She said to him: “Old man, either you’re drunk, or you are usurer, or you a pig breeder.” [She concluded that the only way he could be so exuberant was if he was under the influence, or involved in a very lucrative business.] Rabbi Yehuda replied emphatically that, in fact, none of the three were true. Rather, his face was shining because of the fact that Torah was accessible to him, as the pasuk states, “A man’s wisdom brightens his face.”
It reminded me of another occasion during my high school years, when one of my rabbeim was delivering an intense shiur. After relating an intricate explanation, he jumped up and began dancing in his place.
The Medrash[1] questions why the first set of luchos, which were written by G-d, as it were, were destroyed, while the second set of luchos, which were written by Moshe, stood the test of time?
The Medrash explains that because the first luchos were given amidst an incredible revelation, pomp, and circumstance, the corrosive effects of an ayin hara (evil eye) was able to affect them. The second luchos however, were given in a quieter and more modest manner, and therefore were not vulnerable to the influence of ayin hara.
The obvious question is that Hashem knows the future., and obviously knew that giving the luchos during the revelation which included thunder, lightning, and the attention of the entire cosmos, would result in their need to be broken. So why did Hashem give them then?
Sefas Emes[2] explains that, despite the fact that giving the luchos with such fanfare would have such catastrophic results, it had to be given in such a manner. The impression that the revelation made upon the hearts and souls of the nation, endured far beyond the physical existence of the luchos. If the luchos had been given in a more modest fashion, it wouldn’t have had nearly the same effect upon the nation.
Shavuos is not a celebration of what we received as much as it is a celebration of what we became. Truthfully, what we received on Shavuos did not endure, but the impression created by the revelation continues to inspire us today.
The Gemara in pesachim (68b) makes a startling observation – although during other holidays it is questionable whether one must have physical enjoyment, on Shavuos there is no doubt that there must be physical enjoyment, in order to celebrate the giving of the Torah. We have an obligation to demonstrate that the Torah is not merely a spiritual collection of laws, but also serves as the ultimate guide, in regard to our physical pursuits and pleasures as well. Therefore, the celebration of Shavuos must encompass our physical bodies as well.
At a recent Halacha shiur, my rebbe, Rav Chaim Schabes, noted that the general consensus of contemporary poskim is that anyone who was not raised in a religious home has the status of tinok shenishba[3]. Someone then asked about the status of one who was raised in a religious home, but then ceased observing shabbos, r"l. Rabi Schabes replied that such a person also has the status of tinok shenishba. His explanation was succinct and yet beautiful: “If anyone was raised in a home where Shabbos was observed properly, who wouldn’t want to keep Shabbos?!” 
When he mentioned ‘keeping Shabbos properly’, Rabbi Schabes wasn’t referring to merely keeping the laws properly. Rather he meant with the proper spirit of Shabbos - with joy, serenity, and physical, as well as spiritual, enjoyment. When Shabbos, like religion generally, is forced upon a person, or when it’s observed without meaning, reverence, happiness, or love, it isn’t surprising, although tragic, when one no longer wishes to keep such a depressing and constricting day. But when one is exposed to proper Torah observance – genuine, meaningful, emotional, and uplifting, despite it also being challenging, who wouldn’t want to declare ‘na’ase v’nishma’!
Torah observance isn't about self-abnegation, anxiety, and guilt. Torah grants us direction, meaning, growth, and inner fulfillment. That is why there must be a component of physical celebration on Shavuos, in order to demonstrate that Torah it is the foundation of spiritual and physical life.
Perhaps more than any other holiday, Shavuos must be a day of celebration and joy. We have to exude happiness that living by Torah values, although challenging, is the most meaningful and elevating experience possible.
The luchos may be broken, but the experience of awe and joy that was present at Sinai must forever be etched within us. That is the celebration of Shavuos, and that is far better than cheesecake.

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,
             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

[1] Quoted by Rashi, Shemos 34:3
[2] Ki Sisa 5639
[3] literally ‘a child who was captured’ as in captured and raised among non-Jews, and therefore has limited culpability for not observing Torah and mitzvos. See Shabbos 68b; Shavuos 5a.