הרב מרדכי גרינברג
The AR"I z"l writes that Shavuot is the greatest of the holidays. What is so special about this holiday? Although we received the Torah, this is not even mentioned in the Torah. All that is mentioned is that on Shavuot we bring a "mincha chadasha," a new meal-offering to Hashem. The Chasidic masters say, based on this, that Shavuot is a time to renew ourselves. Where does this idea of self-renewal on Shavuot come from?
When Yisrael accepted the Torah, they said, "na'aseh v'nishma." Chazal praise Yisrael for the fact that they accepted upon themselves everything that Hashem would command them, even before hearing it. The Beit Halevi notes that, halachically, one is not able to accept upon himself responsibilities if one does not know what work is entailed. If so, how did Yisrael say "na'aseh v'nishma?"
The Beit Halevi explains that although a person cannot say, "I will do anything you tell me," before knowing what he will be commanded, nevertheless, a person is allowed to sell himself into slavery, even though he will not know what tasks will be required of him as a slave. If a person sells himself into slavery, then, as a result of the sale, he will have to do anything that he is told. Essentially, Yisrael sold themselves as slaves to Hashem by saying "na'aseh v'nishma".
There is an interesting dichotomy regarding honor. Chazal write that honor and lust remove man from this world. Similarly, if man chases honor, honor will run from him. On the other hand, Hashem is called Melech Hakavod, the King of Honor. We are required to emulate Hashem as it says, "v'halachta bidrachav," and therefore we must also strive for honor. The Torah writes, as well, that we were all created "b'tzelem Elokim," in the image of G-d. The Ramban explains that this refers to the fact that we were created with honor. How can we resolve these contradictions? Is honor something which man should strive for, or is it a negative ideal which man must avoid?
Rav Soloveitchik (in "Yemai Zikaron") explains based on a Gemara in Nida (30b) which says that an unborn fetus learns all of the Torah when in the womb. Before leaving the womb he is made to swear, "Be righteous and do not be wicked. Know that Hashem is pure and his servants are pure and the soul that I gave you is pure. If you keep your soul pure, that is good, if not, I will take your soul from you."
Man is made a agent of Hashem in this world. The Hebrew word for agent is "malach," which also refers to angels, whose purpose is to perform missions for Hashem. Humans can also serve as agents, as we see that Moshe was made a agent of Hashem to take Yisrael out of Mitzrayim. The Torah says in Bereishit, "asher bara Elokim la'asot - which Hashem created to make." Why does the pasuk add the word "la'asot?" Hashem created, and man was appointed as an agent to complete the world. A person who is sent as an agent is also called a malach. Moshe sent human "malachim" to the king of Edom, and Moshe himself is also called a "malach" for taking Yisrael out of Egypt (Bamidbar 20:16). Regarding Lot the Torah says, "three malachim came," but when the same three agents came to Avraham they are called "people"?! Chazal pose this question and answer that Avraham was accustomed to angels, so they are called "people" in the house of Avraham, whereas Lot was not accustomed to angels, so they are called "angels."
This Chazal can be understood as follows. Avraham in his essence was a malach, a agent of Hashem, so he is not startled when other agents of Hashem, the malachim, come to visit him. But in Sodom, the city of Lot, people lived only for themselves and they never encountered people performing missions for Hashem. Avraham saw a malach every time he looked in the mirror, so he was not alarmed when malachim came to visit. Lot, on the other hand was not accustomed to seeing malachim.
Hashem creates every man differently because every man has his own specific mission and purpose in life. Hashem never demands man to perform a mission that he is not equipped perform. Every test is fit for the one who receives it. Chazal say in Brachot 17a:
The Rabbis of Yavneh used to say: I am a creation of Hashem, and my fellow is a creation of Hashem. I work in the city, and he works in the field. I wake up to do work and he wakes to do work. You may say that I do more and he does less, but we have learned, "Whether one does more or less [it is not significant], so long as man intends to serve Hashem.'"
The Rabbis of Yavneh meant that although they learn Torah in the city and others work out in the field, the Rabbis should not feel that they are serving Hashem better than those who work in the field. Even though the Rabbis spent their entire lives learning Torah and others did not, they are not necessarily greater than others. Man's importance is not according to the greatness of his accomplishments, but rather according to how much effort he puts in to fulfill his own mission. One person may learn many pages of Gemara every day, while another who can only learn one Tosfot in a day, but puts all of his effort into it, may be greater.
The Chafetz makes an important comment on the phrase which we say during a siyum, "We toil and they toil. We toil and receive reward, whereas they toil and do not receive reward." He asks, even those who do not learn Torah do not toil for free; they also receive reward as a result of their toil? He answers that there is a difference between those who learn Torah and those involved in other pursuits. If one orders a custom-made suit from a tailor and the tailor makes a suit which does not fit the customer, the tailor cannot demand payment for his work. On the other hand, a person who toils and puts effort into learning Torah, even if he does not come out with the true result he is still rewarded. The main importance of learning Torah is for the effort invested.
Man cannot know that he is truly greater than his fellow because he cannot possibly know what his purpose is in comparison to his fellow's purpose. Man feels honored when he is treated as if he is greater than his peers. Based on this we can understand why Chazal speak negatively about honor. If man judges his friend and thinks that he is greater based on his greater ability or greater achievements, this is invalid honor. There is also valid honor. The word for honor, "kavod," comes from the word "koved," which means weight, gravity, or seriousness. The valid type of honor is attained when man takes his mission in the world seriously and is loyal to it. He is thereby imitating Hashem, who is the Master of kavod, the Master of purpose and missions in the world. When man recognizes and attempts to fulfill his purpose, he imitates Hashem and thereby achieves honor.
The Gemara discusses a difference between a "shvua" (oath) and a "neder" (vow). What is the difference? When someone takes a shvua it is an issur on the person ("gavra"), but a neder is an issur on the object ("cheftza"). In truth, every man can also be an object. If a person climbs a mountain, slowly advances, and thinks about every step and every move, he is being a "gavra." If for one second the person stops thinking and puts his leg in an unsafe hold, he becomes an "cheftza," because outside forces will affect him and he will lose control. Hashem said to Moshe, come up to me to receive the Torah. Moshe came up to receive it, then was sent down because Bnei Yisrael were worshiping the golden calf. On his way down he dropped the Luchot. Why did he drop them? The Midrash says that Moshe looked at the Luchot and saw that the letters were flying away; the Luchot became heavy and they fell and broke. If Moshe was weak, though, how did he climb the mountain in the first place? How did the Luchot suddenly become too heavy?
The answer is that Moshe was a "person" when climbing the mountain; he had a purpose and a mission. He was bringing the Torah to Yisrael. On his way down, though, Yisrael were worshiping idols and Moshe, the representative of Klal Yisrael, no longer had a purpose. He became an "object" and the force of gravity pulled the Luchot out of his hands.
This is what man must swear before leaving the womb. Man takes upon himself to become a person with a mission. The unborn child is told, "Do not let others influence you and make you feel that you are not important. You can be in the image of Hashem. You can follow Hashem."
Shavuot, according to the Ohr Hachaim, is named after seven "weeks," but is also named after two "oaths." One is Hashem's oath to Yisrael, and the other is Yisrael's oath to Hashem. We swear that we will be a kingdom of priests and servants of Hashem, and Hashem promises that we will be forever His chosen nation.
The pasuk in Shir Hashirim (3:11) says, "On the day of His marriage." Chazal say that this refers to Matan Torah. Why is the giving of the Torah like a marriage? When Yisrael received the Torah, they forged a covenant with Hashem. The Ran writes in Kiddushin that when a woman accepts kiddushin from a man, she agrees to be under the control of her husband and transfers herself to him. All her obligations to him flow from this submission. This is what happened at Matan Torah. Man actively became a servant of Hashem, and transferred himself to the ownership of Hashem.
The pasuk says, "I ("anochi") was standing between Hashem and you." (Devarim 5:5) On a simple level, Moshe was telling Yisrael that he served as the intermediary between Hashem and them. The Baal Shem Tov offers a different explanation. The "anochi" (self-centeredness) is what separates one from speaking directly to Hashem. Man's selfishness and ego prevents Hashem from talking to him. Moshe tells Yisrael that they have the possibility of talking directly to Hashem, but their egos get in the way. There is a need for man to swear and to accept upon himself a mission and realize that he must exist for a purpose and not only for himself. This is the idea of Shavuot.
The Gemara (Nedarim 9b) relates the story of Shimon Hatzaddik and the nazir from the south. This story underscores the importance of accepting an oath to strengthen one's commitment to serve Hashem, and not to be misled by false images of honor. If a person accepts upon himself a Nezirut like this, then it is positive.
Similarly, Megilat Ruth, when Boaz finds Ruth next to him in the middle of the night he says, "I will redeem you, I swear, lie until the morning." On a simple level, the oath was to assure Ruth that he would settle the issue in the morning. The Midrash explains, however, that he swore because his yetzer hara was enticing him to have relations with Ruth. The yetzer hara was saying, "What's the problem? You're single, and she is single, she immersed in the mikva, and you are the goel." When he saw that his yetzer hara was enticing him, he swore to himself that he would not touch her until he married her. Some say that this is a reason for reading Ruth on Shavuot, to show the need to recommit ourselves through swearing to Hashem.
Chazal say that when Bnei Yisrael said "na'aseh v'nishma" Hashem asked, "Who revealed to My children this secret which the angels know?" Why is it a secret which angels know? The malachim are servants of Hashem who always do His will. By saying "na'aseh v'nishma," Yisrael expressed their desire to become Hashem's servant.
The offering brought on Shavuot is called, "mincha chadasha." Shavuot is a time of renewal. Just as the unborn fetus swears, so too we swear. The pasuk says, "mincha chadasha b'shavuotechem," through your promises you will renew your commitment to Hashem.
One who lives only for himself is destroying his tzelem elokim. Man can only attain true honor if he diligently works at accomplishing his mission. Man is honorless if he does not put in any effort. Chazal emphasize the importance of this type of honor. In fact, one who does not uphold his honor, e.g. he eats in the marketplace, is not permitted to testify!
We call Shavuot, "zman matan Torateynu - the time of the giving of the Torah to us," in the present tense. Every year we must renew our missions, and we cannot let this holiday pass without accepting upon ourselves a renewed commitment to Hashem and to fulfilling our goal!
קוד השיעור: 3974
R. Avi Chermon based on a Sicha