MAY 25-26, 2001 4 SIVAN 5761
Day 48 of the Omer
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"The holiday of Shabuot... the time our Torah was given" (Holiday Amidah)
As all of us are completing the counting of the Omer, we are rapidly approaching the holiday of Shabuot. On this great day, the Torah was given to the Jewish people. The entire creation of the universe was depending on this occasion. If this didn't take place, Hashem would not have allowed the world to continue to exist. All of this was contingent on the Jewish people saying yes to Hashem's proposal of accepting the Torah. Our positive response justified the continued existence of the world. Our Sages all ask an obvious question: If the giving of the Torah occurred on this day, why isn't the holiday called the holiday of Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah? In our prayers, it is mentioned that it is Matan Torah, but in the Torah itself, it is called Shabuot. Why isn't the holiday named after the main event?
Rabbi Nisan Alpert explains that there is an important idea hidden in this question. We know that the Torah is written in a scroll. This is referred to as the Written Torah. There is another part of the Torah called the Oral Torah. This part was transmitted orally from Hashem to Moshe Rabenu to pass on to future generations. The Oral Torah contains all the explanations of the Written Torah and all of the halachah, Jewish law, essential to the fulfillment of the Torah. The fact that the Torah was given on Shabuot is not written anywhere in the written Torah. In order to find out what happened on this day, one must refer to the Oral Torah. Only in the Oral Torah is it told to us when the Torah was given. Hashem wanted to teach us how important the Oral Torah is. He kept the name of the holiday ambiguous in order to force us to refer to the Oral Torah. This teaches us that the Oral Torah is more important than the Torah written in the scroll. Our Talmud and our Shulhan Aruch, which are part of the Oral Torah, are the most important parts of our Torah.
The name Shabuot should be our constant reminder of the supremacy of the Oral Torah. The Orthodox Jews accept the Oral Torah; the Conservative and Reform reject it. How fortunate we are to have received the entire Torah. Shabbat Shalom. Happy Holiday.
An intellectual was once crossing a river on a small ferryboat. During the passage, he struck up a conversation with the ferryman.
"Tell me, my good man. Do you appreciate classical music?" "No, not really."
"I'm sorry for you," said the intellectual, "for a quarter of your life is lost."
A while later he asked the ferryman, "Do you have any knowledge of math and science?"
"No, I have no need for it."
"Too bad, for a second quarter of your life is lost."
After a short pause, he asked the ferryman whether he ever had time to enjoy a good game of chess or to view a soccer match.
"In my spare time I'd rather sleep."
"I really feel sorry for you, for a third quarter of your life is lost." Just then, the boat struck a rock in the water. "Can you swim?" asked the ferryman.
"No, I can't!"
"Well, I'm very sorry for you, for your whole life is lost, as the boat is sinking."
Just as hobbies and distractions cannot save a person when he needs to swim, so too all other pursuits cannot compare to the Torah, for it allows a person to "swim" through the challenges of life. The only thing which is constant in our ever-changing world is the Torah and its traditional values, which protect us and save us from the "riptides" of society.
On this holiday of Shabuot, let us reaccept the Torah with a commitment to study on a regular basis so that it will guide us on the true "course" of life. Tizku Leshanim Rabot.
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai" (Bemidbar 1:1)
The Midrash states on this verse: "Whoever does not make himself open and free like a wilderness will not be able to acquire wisdom and Torah."
This, comments Matnot Kehunah, refers to having the trait of humility which enables a person to learn from everyone and to teach everyone. A person with arrogance will only be willing to learn from someone if he feels that it is fitting to his honor to do so. If, for example, someone much younger than he has Torah knowledge that he is lacking, he will not ask that person to teach him, for he feels that would lower his status. If there is something he does not understand, he will be very careful before he asks anyone to explain it to him. He has to size up the situation to see if it is fitting for him. Similarly, he will only be willing to teach someone if he feels that he will gain honor from teaching that person.
But the humble person's thoughts are solely on gaining Torah knowledge. He is willing to learn from anyone who knows something that he does not, even though he might have much more overall Torah knowledge than the other person. Similarly, he wants to spread Torah knowledge to anyone he can. He does not focus on his own ego but on gaining and sharing wisdom. (Growth through Torah)
"And they gathered the entire nation on the first of the second month...according to the number of names" (Bemidbar 1:18)
Moshe was enjoined to take a census of B'nei Yisrael by counting the "number of names." Ramban explains that the concept of counting the "number of names" is specifically emphasized in order to preserve the honor and dignity of each individual Jew. It would have been easier for each head of household to provide the number of people in his family. This would have denied the individual, however, his opportunity to pass before Moshe to receive his due honor. The census has a practical purpose, to count a nation's population. The most efficient method is to gather together the data provided by each group leader and calculate it into one cumulative total. For Moshe personally to count each individual is not only impractical, but also extremely laborious.
Hashem chose this latter strenuous method in order to teach us an important lesson concerning interpersonal relationships. We must always be cognizant of the unique value of each individual. No person should ever be viewed merely as a number. Even when we deal with a large group, we should be aware that every group consists of individuals, each with his own emotions and sensitivities. Hazal teach us that Hashem has created the entire world for the sake of each individual person. Consequently, Hashem views each individual to be worthy of His boundless hesed. The notion of Hashem's overwhelming love for each of His children should serve as the prime motivating factor for seeking to emulate this attribute. (Peninim on the Torah)
This Week's Haftarah: Hoshea 2:1-22.
This haftarah begins with the prophet Hoshea saying that the nation of Israel shall be as plentiful as the sand of the sea. This follows the theme of our perashah which enumerates the numbers of each tribe of B'nei Yisrael.
Answer to Pop Quiz: Gershon, Kehat and Merari.
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