From Pesach to Shavuos

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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The Sefer HaChinuch describes the significance of Pesach as follows:

 

מצות הפסח הוא אות חזק וברור לכל רואי השמש בחידוש העולם, כי אז בעת ההיא עשה עמנו האל ברוך הוא נסים ונפלאות גדולות ושינה טבע העולם לעיני עמים רבים, וראו כל עמי הארץ כי השגחתו ויכלתו בתחתונים, ואז בעת ההיא האמינו הכל, ויאמינו כל הבאים אחריהם לעולם באמת, שהוא ברוך הוא ברא העולם יש מאין בעת שרצה, והוא העת הידוע, ואף על פי שבריאת היש מן האין הוא דבר נמנע מדרך הטבע, כי כמו כן נמנע לבקוע מצולות ים עד עבור בתוכו עם כבד ביבשה וישובו למקומן, ולהחיות עם גדול ורב ארבעים שנה מלחם היורד מן השמים יום יום, ויתר האותות והמופתים שעשה לנו בעת ההיא שכולן נתחדשו בהפך הטבעים.

 וענין חידוש העולם הוא העמוד החזק באמונתנו ובתורתנו, כי למאמיני הקדמות אין תורה וחלק לעולם הבא עם ישראל.

 

Pesach serves as a clear and indisputable sign to all those with the sight to see the sun that the world was created (by a purposeful Creator).  During Yetzias Mitzrayim, Hashem performed miracles and great wonders on our behalf, overturning the nature of the world in plain view of the nations.  The nations of the world saw Hashem's providence and mastery over the world.

Then, all who saw it believed and passed on this belief forever that Hashem created the world from nothing as and when He willed.  Although no natural force can create something from nothing, neither can any natural force split the depths of the sea, allow a great nation to pass through on dry land, and then return the waters to their place.  Neither can any natural power support a great nation for forty years, with bread that falls from the sky each day. Nor can any natural power perform the signs and wonders that Hashem made for us, which were all created in utter opposition to nature.

The belief in the creation of the world is the central pillar of our belief and our Torah, since those who believe that the world has always existed deny the Torah and the place of Bnei Yisrael in the World to Come.[1]

The Ramban places the remembrance of Yetzias Mitzrayim at the very center of Jewish belief:

 

  והחמיר מאד בענין הזה כמו שחייב כרת באכילת חמץ ובעזיבת הפסח, והצריך שנכתוב כל מה שנראה אלינו באותות ובמופתים על ידינו ועל בין עינינו, ולכתוב אותו עוד על פתחי הבתים במזוזות, ושנזכיר זה בפינו בבקר ובערב, כמו שאמרו  אמת ויציב דאורייתא, ממה שכתוב  למען תזכור את יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך, ושנעשה סכה בכל שנה.

וכן כל כיוצא בהן מצות רבות זכר ליציאת מצרים. והכל להיות לנו בכל הדורות עדות במופתים שלא ישתכחו, ולא יהיה פתחון פה לכופר להכחיש אמונת האלהים. כי הקונה מזוזה בזוז אחד וקבעה בפתחו ונתכוון בענינה כבר הודה בחדוש העולם ובידיעת הבורא והשגחתו, וגם בנבואה, והאמין בכל פנות התורה, מלבד שהודה שחסד הבורא גדול מאד על עושי רצונו, שהוציאנו מאותו עבדות לחירות וכבוד גדול לזכות אבותיהם החפצים ביראת שמו...

ומן הנסים הגדולים המפורסמים אדם מודה בנסים הנסתרים שהם יסוד התורה כלה, שאין לאדם חלק בתורת משה רבינו עד שנאמין בכל דברינו ומקרינו שכלם נסים אין בהם טבע ומנהגו של עולם, בין ברבים בין ביחיד, אלא אם יעשה המצות יצליחנו שכרו, ואם יעבור עליהם יכריתנו ענשו, הכל בגזרת עליון.

 

The Torah is unusually strict in the mitzvos of Pesach, making the eating of chametz or the failure to offer Korban Pesach punishable by kareis.  The Torah also requires us to record the signs and wonders we saw [in the Exodus], bind them upon our arms and between our eyes, affix them to the doors of our homes, and recall them aloud every morning and night.  The Gemara[2] states that the beracha of Emes V'Yatzis, which recalls the miracles of the Exodus, is a Torah obligation based on the verse, "In order that you may remember the day that you left the land of Egypt all the days of your life."[3]  We must also construct a Sukkah each year (to remember how Hashem surrounded us with clouds of glory as we left Egypt).

These mitzvos and many others serve as remembrances of the Exodus, as a testimony for all generations to come, so that the miracles we witnessed might never be forgotten and there will never again be any opportunity for anyone to deny the belief in Hashem.  A person who buys a mezuzah for one zuz and attaches it to his door, bearing in mind the meaning behind it, has already testified to the creation of the world, the wisdom and providence of the Creator and the truth of the Prophets.  He has declared his belief in every aspect of the Torah, and testified to the great kindness that the Creator bestows upon those who obey Him, as He liberated us from slavery to freedom and to great honor, in the merit of our forefathers who longed for the reverence of His Name…

By giving testimony to these great and obvious miracles, we also acknowledge the hidden miracles that constantly surround us.  A person has no portion in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu unless he believes that all the events of our lives, both as individuals and as a nation, are miraculous.  We are not subject to the rules of nature or the patterns of the world.  Rather, when we obey the mitzvos we are rewarded with success, and when we transgress them we are struck by punishment.  Everything is dictated by the decree of the Almighty.[4]

 

Yet despite the monumental importance of Pesach, as the cornerstone of our belief in Hashem's providence, there is another holiday whose significance is even greater.  This is the holiday of Shavuos, in which we commemorate Kabbalas HaTorah on Har Sinai.  In a sense, the main importance of Pesach is its place as a preparation for Shavuos, as the Sefer HaChinuch writes:

 

משרשי המצוה על צד הפשט, לפי שכל עיקרן של ישראל אינו אלא התורה, ומפני התורה נבראו שמים וארץ וישראל, וכמו שכתוב  "אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה וגו'." והיא העיקר והסיבה שנגאלו ויצאו ממצרים כדי שיקבלו התורה בסיני ויקיימוה, וכמו שאמר השם למשה "וזה לך האות כי אנכי שלחתיך בהוציאך את העם ממצרים תעבדון את האלהים על ההר הזה." ופירוש הפסוק כלומר, הוציאך אותם ממצרים יהיה לך אות שתעבדון את האלהים על ההר הזה, כלומר שתקבלו התורה שהיא העיקר הגדול שבשביל זה הם נגאלים והיא תכלית הטובה שלהם. וענין גדול הוא להם, יותר מן החירות מעבדות, ולכן יעשה השם למשה אות צאתם מעבדות לקבלת התורה, כי התפל עושין אות לעולם אל העיקר.

ומפני כן, כי היא כל עיקרן של ישראל ובעבורה נגאלו ועלו לכל הגדולה שעלו אליה, נצטוינו למנות ממחרת יום טוב של פסח עד יום נתינת התורה, להראות בנפשנו החפץ הגדול אל היום הנכבד הנכסף ללבנו, כעבד ישאף צל, וימנה תמיד מתי יבוא העת הנכסף אליו שיצא לחירות, כי המנין מראה לאדם כי כל ישעו וכל חפצו להגיע אל הזמן ההוא.

 

The Torah is the purpose of Bnei Yisrael and the very reason for which the Heavens, the Earth and Bnei Yisrael were created, as it is written, "If not for My Covenant by day and by night, I would not have established the statutes of Heaven and Earth."[5]

Furthermore, the main reason that we were redeemed from Egypt was in order to receive the Torah on Har Sinai and from thenceforth fulfill it, as Hashem said to Moshe, "This shall be the sign that I sent you: for when you take the nation out of Egypt, they shall serve G‑d on this mountain."[6]  This means to say that the Exodus from Egypt will be the sign and the proof that we will merit to serve G‑d on Har Sinai by receiving the Torah.  Kabbalas HaTorah is the very purpose for which we were redeemed, and the greatest benefit of our redemption, even greater than our liberation from slavery.  Since the Exodus was secondary in importance, it served as a sign and a proof to that which was of primary importance: Kabbalas HaTorah.

Since the Torah is the main purpose of Bnei Yisrael, the reason for which we were redeemed and the means by which we achieved all our greatness, we were commanded to count the days from Pesach to Shavuos.  Thereby, we display from the depths of our souls our longing for the great and precious day, like slaves who long for freedom and count the days until their liberation.[7]

 

Here too we see that the greatest significance of Pesach is its role as a preparation for Shavuos, the Festival of Kabbalas HaTorah.

 

 

The Holiday that Includes all Others

The commentaries note that whereas every other holiday has some physical mitzvah associated with it (matza and maror on Pesach; lulav and sukkah on Sukkos, etc.), there is no physical mitzvah associated with Shavuos, other than kiddush, havdalah and the prohibition against labor.

On this great and holy day, when our forefathers declared "na'aseh v'nishmah", we celebrate the all-encompassing holiness of the Torah which is not limited to any particular mitzvah.  Instead, we rejoice with the mitzvah of Torah study, which is equivalent to all other mitzvos combined.[8]  "Great is Torah study, in that it brings to good deeds."[9]  Thus, all the physical mitzvos and good deeds are included in the holiday of Shavuos.

Just as our forefathers said na'aseh v'nishmah on this day, lovingly accepting upon themselves the yoke of servitude to Hashem, so too are we called upon to renew their commitment each year on Shavuos.  We must picture ourselves standing beneath the canopy of Har Sinai.  To the degree that we renew the dedication of our forefathers, and commit ourselves to their declaration of na'aseh v'nishmah, we too can merit to hear Hashem's own voice calling out to us with the first two commandments, "I am Hashem your G‑d who took you out of Egypt," and "You shall have no other gods," just as our forefathers heard these two commandments from Hashem Himself.[10]

A support for this can be found in the Gemara, which forbids blood-letting on erev Shavuos.  The Gemara explains that when Bnei Yisrael stood at the feet of Har Sinai, a spirit named Tavo'ach (Slaughter) went forth threatening to slaughter them if they would not accept the Torah.  Since this spirit of destruction prevails in the world on erev Shavuos, it is dangerous to let blood.[11]

If the dangers of Kabbalas HaTorah are renewed each year on Shavuos, then clearly the wondrous benefits of Kabbalas HaTorah are also renewed.  The opportunity is presented to us each and every year to renew our commitment to Torah, to proclaim "na'aseh v'nishmah" as our forefathers did, and like them to merit the great spiritual and material treasures that go hand in hand with the holy Torah: "Length of days in its right hand, and wealth and honor in its left."[12]

The Talmud Yerushalmi[13] notes that whereas the goat-offerings associated with the other festivals are called chatas (sin-offering), the goat-offering associated with Shavuos is not.  The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that Hashem said to Bnei Yisrael, "Since you accepted upon yourselves the yoke of Torah, I consider it as if you have never sinned in your lives."

This opportunity for atonement is extended again each year on Shavuos.  We too can cleanse our souls, as if we have never sinned at all, by making a firm and honest commitment to study and observe the Torah to the best of our ability.[14]

 


[1] Sefer HaChinuch 380

[2] Berachos 21a

[3] Devarim 16:3

[4] Ramban, Shemos 13:16

[5] Yermiyahu 33:25

[6] Shemos 3:12

[7] Sefer HaChinuch, 306

[8] Peiah 1:1

[9] Kiddushin 40b

[10] Kedushas Levi, Parshas Yisro

[11] Shabbos 129b

[12] Mishlei 3:16

[13] Rosh Hashana 4:8

[14] Pnei Moshe and Korban Eidah commentaries on the Talmud Yerushalmi