Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have done a search and am shocked to have found that the holiday of Shavuot is not mentioned in the Torah! How could something as important as Shavuot being the day the Jews received the Torah at Sinai not be mentioned in connection to that holiday?
The Torah states, “and you should count … from the day after the Shabbos (i.e., the 1st day of Pesach) … seven complete weeks… you should count 50 days and offer a new mincha offering to Hashem.” (Levitcus 23: 15-16) All the Torah mentions at the end of the counting of 49 days, which culminates in the holiday of Shavuot, is to bring a “new mincha” (bread offering). What about the fact that it’s Shavuot, the day we received the Torah?! That’s not even mentioned, as you pointed out. Furthermore, why is the bread offering called a “new mincha”? What is more “new” about that offering than any other?
The classical commentator Keli Yakar (Rabbi S. E. Luntschitz, early 17th-century Prague), comments that the “new mincha” is a hint to the holiday of Shavuot, the day of receiving the Torah. This is because the Torah needs to always be “new” for each person. Every day he or she should feel like it was given to them that very day from Sinai!
This is why the Torah did not explicitly single out a specific day as the day of receiving the Torah from Sinai. Although historically it was given on the day of Shavuot, to write explicitly that Shavuot is the day of receiving the Torah would minimize the Sinai experience to only that day, whereas the Torah wants us to feel that every day it is being given anew to those who toil in its study. Every moment that we delve deeply into Torah we bring out new subtle nuances and understandings that are hidden within its infinite wisdom and waiting to be discovered.
With this recognition, the study of Torah never “gets old,” one never gets bored from its toil. On the contrary, it’s always exciting and new! That’s why it’s hinted to by the bringing of a mincha chadasha, a “new” mincha. Every offering brought is technically new, but here the Torah actually calls it such, to stress that everything about this day is fresh and new.
The Keli Yakar proceeds to reveal a profound point. Nearly all the wheat offerings were brought from matzah, as the Torah doesn’t allow offerings of chametz (leavening). The two breads which are the special mincha offering for Shavuot must be brought from breads which are chametz. Generally, chametz is forbidden in the Temple because it represents the “evil inclination” (yetzer hara). On Shavuot, however, the day of the giving of Torah, where there is Torah the yetzer hara has no power to control us. This is what we learn from the Talmud, which states, “I created the yetzer hara, and I created the Torah as its antidote.” (Kiddushin 30b)
Furthermore, if not for the yetzer hara needing its antidote, the Torah never would have been brought down from its lofty place in Heaven to rest among mortal men in the physical world. This is the answer utilized by Moses to the angels when he ascended Sinai to receive the Torah. When the angels protested to the Al-mighty for His taking his most precious possession and defiling it by presenting it to mortal men, Moses retorted by asking them, “Do you have a yetzer hara for which you need this Torah?!” (Talmud, Shabbos 88b-89a) The essence of Torah is as an antidote to the yetzer hara; consequently the Torah requires, specifically on Shavuot, to bring an offering of chametz to show the yetzer hara is powerless against the Torah.
Although Keli Yakar does not explain how the Torah is the antidote to the yetzer hara, I think the answer is implicit in his words. Chametz comes about in merely 18 minutes by the wet dough sitting idle. If, however, you are constantly kneading and working it, it doesn’t become chametz in even 18 hours! Newness ceases the chametz process!
The toil of Torah in a way which makes one renew himself constantly doesn’t allow the “chametz process” to take hold of himself. That is truly the antidote to the yetzer hara, and is precisely why Shavuot is not explicitly written in the Torah as the day of receiving the Torah. Every day we make the Torah as new, as we find in the opening lines of Shema where we recite that “these words should be ‘today’ upon your heart,” to which Rashi comments, “Every day they should be fresh and new as if they were given that day.”
On this Shavuot let us all re-accept the Torah with all its vigor, in a way that we will continue to keep it fresh and new throughout the year. Best wishes for a joyous Shavuot to all the readers!
Dear Rabbi Fried,