by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El
Dedicated to the memory of Amram son of Sultana
A TIME AND PLACE
There is a time and place for everything under the heavens." (Kohelet 3:1) According to the Midrash, "there was a time for Adam to enter the Garden of Eden, as it says, 'He [God] placed [Adam] in the Garden of Eden.' (Bereishit 2:15) There was also a time for him to leave there, as it says: 'And He chased him out of the Garden..' (Verse 23) There was a time in which Noah had to enter the ark, as it says (Bereishit 7:1) 'Come into the ark' - and there was a time for him to leave, as it says '[Now] you should leave....' (8: 16) There was a time for Avraham our forefather to be circumcised.... Rabbi Berchiya said: 'There was also a time for the Torah, originating in Heaven, to be given to Israel - as it says, 'And God spoke all of these words to Moshe saying..' (Shmot 20:1)"
Each and every event occurs at the time appropriate for it to happen. This is true even more for an event as central as the Giving of the Torah, since it had universal significance. When was it given? "In the third month after the Children of Israel left Egypt..." (Shmot 19:1) On the timing of Matan Torah , Midrash Tanchumah (Parshat Yitro) observes: "The giving of the Torah occurred in the third month. Why did it take place then, and not in the second or fourth months? Rav Hoshiyah said: The great Rabbi Chiyyah taught me that a woman who converts to Judaism - or a female slave that has been released - must not get married until three months after having undergone conversion or release, respectively. The Jewish people are called 'converts' (' Gerim '). In Shmot 22, we are referred to as " Gerim in the Land of Egypt..."(Shmot 22:20) The Book of Isaiah even terms us "captives." After our Egyptian enslavement, we were freed, as it says 'I am the Lord your God who took you out of the Land of Egypt from your predicament of slavery.' (Vayikra 26:13) Said the Holy One, Blessed be He: 'I'll wait three months for them, and only thereafter will I give them the Torah"'.
The convert, maidservant and freed slave must wait three months before marriage, in order to verify whether any subsequent pregnancy began when she was a non-Jew, servant, etc - or whether she became pregnant only once she became a full-fledged Jew. A Jewish woman who gets divorced must also wait three months before she remarries. The reason: if she gives birth after nine months, we will be able to determine whether the baby was fathered by the first or the second husband.
According to the midrash, then, the Children of Israel required, after being subject for so long to Egyptian slavery, a period of three months before they would be ready to nestle themselves under the wings of the Shechina (Divine Presence). It was simply impossible to quickly transform ourselves from a slave lifestyle to a people ready to unconditionally accept the yoke of Heaven. As a nation, we had to undergo an internal revolution, a distancing of ourselves from the yoke of non-Jews. Although it is true that three complete months did not elapse between Pesach and Shavuot, the Maharal of Prague explains that a portion of the first month, a full second month, and a portion of a third month were sufficient to facilitate this transition. The seven weeks of the Omer was preparation enough for Matan Torah .
Each year, time returns once again to the same point it had reached the previous year. Every season of the year has a special quality unto itself. We presently find ourselves in the period of the Counting of the Omer - a time of preparation, during which we Jews are constantly rising from one level to another, waiting for the big day, Shavuot, Chag Matan Torateinu - the Festival of the Giving of the Torah. Our sages teach that Shavuot possesses its own quality of renewal. This is certainly not an overt phenomenon, but it is present. It is a like a birthday of the Torah.
The Siddur (Jewish Prayer book) says that on a person's birthday, it is fitting for him to receive an Aliyah to the Torah. A birthday is a special day. Regarding the mishna, which asks - "Did Moshe's hands actually fight the war [against Amalek]? Rather, when Israel looks heavenwards, they would begin to be victorious" - the Jerusalem Talmud explains that Amalek would send soldiers to war on their birthdays, since, Amalek understood, a person is not that likely to be killed on his birthday. In other words, even Amalek understood that one is blessed with special Siyata Dishemayah - Divine help - on one's birthday; it is a day of success, of good fortune. What did Moshe do by raising his hands? He confused the mazalot (constellations), preventing Amalek from determining just when each Amalekite soldier's birthday fell.
RELIVING MATAN TORAH
In light of the above, it becomes clear that the dynamic of Matan Torah recurs - is relived each year - on Shavuot. Not everyone is sensitive to this reality or aware of it, but it is a reality. The same holds true for Shabbat, as well, regarding which our sages say that a person earns an extra "Neshama" - or extra soul. Not everyone detects this extra soul, but it still exists. There are many things that, although we don't consciously sense them, are still very much present and influential.
Shavuot brings with it special bounty. During the Torah reading recounting the Giving of Torah on Mt. Sinai, we should attempt to tune in to the renewed power of Matan Torah . To prepare ourselves for our encounter with God, we learn all night long. The Zohar explains that the community of Israel may be compared to a bride; the day before the wedding, great efforts are exerted to clothe her with various adornments. The adornments appropriate for Israel are those of Torah and good deeds.
On the verse in the book of Bereishit, "It was evening and it was morning, the Sixth day ," our sages explain that at the climax of creation, God issued a condition to the Heavens and Earth. What was that condition? If Israel agrees to receive the Torah on the sixth day of Sivan, then the process of Creation will have meant something and can the world can justifiably remain intact. If Israel were to choose not to receive the Torah, however, God warned, the universe would be thrown back into Tohu Vavohu , or chaos. The message? The world exists by virtue of the Torah.