Tuesday, May 30, 2017



The following are my notes from lectures given by Rabbi Berel Wein, (then) Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, Monsey, NY, to the students of the yeshiva, on Erev Shavuos 5756 & Erev Shavuos 5757. I have largely tried to preserve the Rosh Yeshiva’s vernacular:

Of the three main holidays of the Jewish year, Shavuos is unique. Firstly, Shavuos has no calendar date; it is the fiftieth day of the sefirah. It is essentially the conclusion of the holiday of Pesach, and Sefiras Ha’omer serves as the connection between them.
In fact, the Chasam Sofer points out that the first Shavuos ever celebrated was fifty-one days after the exodus from Egypt, not fifty days. This is clear because it is known that the Nation left Egypt on a Thursday, and the Torah was given on a Shabbos. Therefore, the second day of the holiday of Shavuos, which is celebrated exclusively in the Diaspora (Yom Tov sheni shel gulios), has a different halachic status then the other “Yom Tov sheni shel golus” of Succos and Pesach. The Yom Tov Sheni of Succos and Pesach have no historical antecedent for celebrating the second day. [They are observed because of sefaika d’yoma – a doubt what date the holiday should actually begin.] Shavuos however, has a historical antecedent, because the first Shavuos actually was celebrated on the second day of the holiday. Therefore, the Chasam Sofer rules, many of the leniencies that exist on the second day of Yom Tov of Succos and Pesach, don’t apply to the second day of Shavuos.
Also, there are no specific mitzvos attached to Shavuos. There’s no matza, seder, lulav, or succah. In that sense, Shavuos is a strange Yom Tov.
The reason for the lack of added mitzvos is because Shavuos is the anniversary of “Z’man Mattan Torasainu”. An anniversary implies that on other days the event lacks the same value and meaning. On one’s birthday he expects gifts and parties; it’s a special day of celebration. Married couples celebrate anniversaries and it is a special day. But if every day was an anniversary then every day would be just as special, and the actual anniversary would lose its uniqueness.
That is essentially the message of Shavuos: Every day is Kabbolas HaTorah, and Torah must be the one constant in our lives. It’s not like the other holidays because the same mitzvah of learning Torah which exists on Shavuos, exists before and after Shavuos too. The Torah wanted to emphasize the continuity of Torah, and therefore did not attach any mitzvos to the holiday, in order to demonstrate that it is an ever-present force of good within our lives.
 There is no day in a Jew’s life that he does not learn Torah. Even on Tisha B’av we study passages that are permitted to be learned. There is no moment during one’s life that a Jew should exist without the consciousness of Torah, and that his life is guided by Torah, and what it stands for. One is always limited by the boundaries that the Torah dictates.
Shavuos is the conclusion of Pesach. When Moshe first undertook the role of leadership G-d informed him, “b’hotzaysee es ha’am miMitzraim ta’avdun es haElokim al hahar hazeh – When you take the nation out of Egypt they will serve G-d on this mountain.” The purpose of the exodus was to reach Sinai. Pesach without being followed by Torah has no purpose; Succos without Torah also has no purpose. All the great events in a person’s life - birth, coming of age, maturity, education, marriage, parenting, grandparenting, and even the final moment of life - have purpose only because of Torah. Without the balance of Torah being present, everything happens in a vacuum, and it leaves us confused and devoid of meaning.
Many nations have achieved freedom. But very few nations have been able to do much with their freedom. Numerous nations have exalted ideas of what should be accomplished, but few have realized the fruition of their ideas, because those ideas are always conceptualized in a vacuum.
The fourth of July in this country is a tire sale and Memorial Day is a barbecue. A memorial for whom? For what? Today, no one appreciates the dead of the Civil War for which the day was created. It became meaningless. We see in our own time that sadly Yom Ha’atzmaut means little in Israel and outside of Israel. It’s only forty-eight years since the country achieved independence, but “all the air is out of the tire”, because it lacks the continuity necessary to carry it through.
The reason there is a Pesach is because there is a Shavuos. The reason that z’man cheiruseinu (the time of our freedom) has meaning is because it’s followed by z’man mattan Torasaynu (the time of the giving of our Torah).
Everything in life has purpose. We often confuse means with ends. We think that if we obtain the means then we have achieved the end. We think if we have money we have it made. But the question is what are you going to do with that money? People recover from illnesses, but the question becomes, what do you do with your newfound health? People want to marry - what do you accomplish with your marriage? People get a degree and become a career person - what will you do with it?
Those are the questions of life, and these are the questions that Shavuos addresses. Shavuos emphasizes the constancy of Torah in our minds and that everything must have a purpose. Shavuos reminds us that unless one has this solid view of life, then the greatest events of life turn out to be meaningless and disappointing.
We have counted the days of sefirah in order to arrive at this great holiday. That is a general concept of life. Dovid Hamelech beseeches of G-d, “Limnos yamaynu kayn hoda v’navee l’vav chachma”- give us the knowledge to know how to count our days and that will bring us a heart of wisdom.” G-d wants us to count our days!  In order to be able to do something with our days, not just to exist, but to accomplish major, holy, and eternal things, we need to appreciate the incredible value of time.
Shavuos should be viewed, not as commemoration of ancient events, but as the continuity of Torah and its influence on our lives, and how it illustrates everything that happens to us. “Ki haym chaynaynu v’orech yamaynu- For it is our life and the length of our days.” It’s not merely an ancillary concept; it’s the central component in our lives.
Yom Tov should pass with study, holiness, good food, good company, and a spirit of Yom Tov. But, most importantly, at the end of Yom Tov we must take this sense of continuity with us.  

When one studies the Jewish calendar, the unique quality of the Yom Tov Shavuos is noticeable. The other two major holidays share a common feature. Pesach which marks the commemoration of our exodus from Egypt, and Succos which marks the protection of G-d in the midbar, are both weighed down heavily with symbolism. In general, a historical event on its own, will not stand the test of time. Commemoration of an event must bear symbolism. Therefore, in commemorating the miracles of Pesach, we have the four cups of wine, with matza and maror etc. Succos enjoys the four species, as well as the succos we build for ourselves.
The Holocaust which is only about 50 years old is in much greater danger of being forgotten than Tisha B’av which commemorates events of 2,000 years ago. That is because Tisha B’av has a category in the Shulchan Aruch dedicated to it, while the Holocaust does not. With time, the greatest and most significant of miracles and events can fade away. The only way to preserve it is through symbolism.
It is therefore interesting to note the greatness of Shavuos. The holiday commemorates the greatest event in world history - the giving of the Torah on Sinai, and yet there is no mitzva to assist in its commemoration. It is therefore incrediblle that it has survived.
However, out of the three holidays that mark the Jewish calendar, Shavuos is the most neglected. Outside of Orthodoxy, it is non-existent. Last week an irreligious man called me up complaining that two of his Orthodox workers claimed they couldn’t work because of a holiday he never heard of. The man wanted to know if Shavuos existed.
Shavuos must stand alone without a section in the Shulchan Aruch because it represents the Torah itself and that will always stand the test of time on its own.
There are two great lessons to be taken from the holiday of Shavuos:
The first lesson is that Torah in itself will always remain. All our decorations and flowers are merely exteriors and customary. The Torah doesn’t need any human representation because the Torah itself is the representation of all life.
The second lesson is that we must always value our time. As Dovid Hamelech writes in Tehilim: "limnos yomaynu kayn hoda – To count our days, may you help us to know". Society today has no respect for time, but time is the most precious gift we have. There are no pockets in the shrouds! What we don’t accomplish today, we may not have that second chance later on. Therefore, one must appreciate his time, which includes being at the right place in the right time and using our time wisely.
The holiday of Shavuos, can only come after a careful counting of fifty days, in order to demonstrate how important our every moment is. The acceptance of Torah entails that one learns how to value, and take advantage, of his time.

 “To count our days, may you help us to know”
“For it is our life and the length of our days”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


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