The “Super-Spiritual” Physical Torah by Avi Shteingart (’03) & Eli Shteingart (’07)


The Ramchal writes in his Hakdamah to “Derech Hashem,” that for one to truly fulfill his Chiyuv as a Jew and the Mitzvot to the fullest extent, he must understand the foundations, principles, extensions, and requirements of his obligations.  He must understand what he is doing, and not simply act out of blind faith.  Only through a deeper comprehension of his obligations can he truly appreciate the responsibilities that dictate his life.

After stating this, I would like to pose the following questions: What is Shavuot and what is our Chiyuv for the day?  What is the emanating basis and deeper meaning for this holiday, which is one of the Shalosh Regalim?  Additionally, why is Shavuot the only holiday that is void of symbolism (i.e. Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, Lulav & Succah on Succot, Wine on Purim…)?  The Torah does not help clarify this obscure holiday; it only mentions Shavuot in relation to the harvest season or the Korbanot offered on the day.  The Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah (464) devote only one Siman to the holiday, outlining the Kriah and various Minhagim of the day.  Having exhausted the fundamental references, one could suggest an explanation based on their own intuition and the Tefilah of the Chag: “Zman Matan Torateinu.”  On Shavuot we celebrate our acceptance of the Torah, which represents an immense holiness.  We, Bnei Yisrael, witnessed Hashem himself, in all his might, glory and splendor.  As a result, Matan Torah we did not need any physical symbolism as we were on the greatest spiritual high ever.  The Bnei Yissachar (Shavuot Maamar Hashem) seems to support this idea by offering a novel insight into why Shavuot is only one (or in our case two) day.  All the other Regalim are seven (eight) days so that they can encompass the entire week.  Therefore, no matter what day of the week the Chag originally fell out on, that day will be part of the Chag.  However, on Shavuot it does not matter what day the Chag originally occurred because Matan Torah and our celebration of it are Lemaalah Mizman, they supersede the realm of time as we are in a much higher “spiritual realm.”

However, this understanding of Shavuot being a “super-spiritual” celebration that is void of physical content, cannot be the sole and principle foundation of Shavuot.  The Gemara (Shabbat 88) testifies of R’ Yosi’s celebration on Shavuot: “Ivdi Lee Eglah Tlata,” “Prepare for me a third-born calf (the tastiest calf).”  R’ Yosi did not choose to devote himself to “super-spiritual” Limud Torah; rather, he indulged in the physical pleasures of this world.

How can we explain this seemingly contradictory story in light of the understanding that Shavuot is a celebration of the reception of the “super-spiritual” Torah?

I believe that to answer this question and consequently to understand the deeper meaning of Shavuot, we must analyze its parallel, Purim.  The Sfat Emet writes, “Chanukah Hearah Michag Succot, Purim Michag Shavuot, Umichag Pesach Mekayem Anu Lichyot Od,” “Chanukah corresponds to Succot, Shavuot to Purim, and Pesach to the future redemption” (641).  He continues, “Purim Hayah Gamar Tikin Haasiyah,” “Purim concluded what Matan Torah Matan Torah began” (Purim 644).  Obviously, Shavuot lacked something that Purim came to improve – that is, Purim completed Bnei Yisrael’s acceptance of the Torah. 

The Gemara in Shabbat states that “Hadar Kibluhah Biymey Achashverosh,” Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah willingly, with Ahavah, during the days of Achashverosh, as opposed to at Matan Torah, where they were forced to accept the Torah: “Kafah Aleyhem Har Kechagigit.”  Chazal present another connection between Purim and Shavuot, stating that on Shavuot we received the Torah Shebichtav, while on Purim we accepted the Torah Shebe’al Peh.  What we see emerging from these various connections is that Purim added a physicality and more humanistic approach towards the Torah.  We, as normal human beings, in a natural manner, accepted the Torah, as opposed to having accepted it in a state of fear and awe, or in a “super-spiritual” elevated state.  Purim also enjoined Torah Shebaal Peh into our Torah experience; it supplied the more practical applications and explanations of the Torah for our day-to-day use.  Basically, Purim brought the Torah down from the sky to fulfill the phrase Lo Bashamayim He.

This explains the Gemara’s account (Shabbat 88) of Moshe’s debate with the Malachim when he went to Shamayim during Matan Torah.  The Gemara there testifies that when Moshe was in Shamayim receiving the Torah, the Malachim refused to give him the Torah.  They did not believe that it was fitting for mere mortals to posses the Torah.  Moshe retorted back to the Malachim, “Do you have parents to honor?  Do you have a Yetzer Hara that you may succumb to?”  In the end, the Malachim agreed to allow Moshe to take the Torah down to man.  I believe this story clearly highlights the Chiyuv of Shavuot.  It is more then just a holiday of receiving the Torah; it is a celebration of the Torah being given to man!  The Malachim believed that they could fulfill the Torah flawlessly.  However, what was their Hava Amina? Did they not know the fundamental commandments of the Torah?  As my Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Yechezkel Yekvasun, Shlita, explained, there are 70 Minim (facets) to the Torah, and the Malachim thought they could fulfill 69 facets of the Torah.  However, Moshe pointed out that man can fulfill a 70th additional facet, the basic level, because the Torah was meant for man.

This is why everyone (in the same Gemara) agrees that the proper celebration of Shavuot requires Lachem, physical festivities, as opposed to complete devotion to Hashem.  Only because of our physicality did we merit to receive the Torah.

What does this mean practically?  Our Chiyuv, which is highlighted on Shavuot, is to integrate the Torah into our every vein; every physical action and activity, no matter how mundane, should reverberate with Torah.  As the Kotzker Rebbe says on the Pasuk in Mishpatim, “Anshei Kodesh Tichyun Lee” (Mishpatim), we, as humans, are to be men and then instill Kedusha into our being.  This is a very hard level to reach and many of us do not even realize that we are missing this fundamental piece.  Rav E. E. Dessler, in Michtav Eliyahu, writes, “The Torah must be accepted primarily not just by the intellect but by the heart.  However, the heart will only accept Torah if it is purged of personal bias.”  We understand the Torah and fulfill its commandments, but still lack a connection between the intellect (i.e. doing the Mitzvot) and the heart (Ahava - desiring and having intense feelings to fulfill the commandments).  As Rav Dessler concludes, “If we become completely attached to the Torah with deep concentration and mental toil, that is, make it part of our physical, humanistic being, we shall inevitably begin to savor its sweetness.”  May we be Zocheh to attain this status, and to do so in an environment conducive of such, and in this manner we will be truly fulfilling the Chiyuv of Shavuot.   “The deep holy spirit of Judaism, that practically seeks to equate the material life with the elevated, is the soul force behind the laws and their particulars” (Orot HaTorah, Chapter 8, HaRav A. I. Kook).

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