Thinking Shavuot, Torah and the Jewish people – The Jewish Star

Posted By on June 1, 2020

By Rabbi David Etengoff

HaRav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik zatzal was one of the 19th centurys greatest European Torah scholars. He is known as the Beit HaLevi after the title of his grand exposition of the Pentateuch that is universally recognized as a jewel within the Lithuanian Torah tradition. In his comments on Sefer Shemot 19:5, he discusses why Hashem gave us the Torah and, in so doing, helps us understand its role in our lives.

The Beit HaLevi explains that the Torah was given to the Jewish people so that we would analyze it in accordance with the accepted rules of Biblical exegesis as delineated by our sages, who have been tasked as the protectors of Hashems Torah in this world.

He notes that the conclusions that are reached according to these guidelines thereby constitute that which is undeniably true. In addition, he asserts that since the Torah is lo bshamayim he (no longer in Heaven) (Talmud Bavli, Baba Metziah 59b), its authentic interpretation can only be apprehended via the intense study and analysis of the earthly beit din. After all, lo nitnah Torah lmalachei hashareit (the Torah was not given to the Ministering Angels) (Talmud Bavli, Yoma 30a), but rather to us.

After presenting these ideas, the Beit HaLevi focuses on why our Sages call Shavuot zeman matan Toratainu (the time of the Giving of our Torah), instead of zeman matan Torah (the time of the Giving of the Torah).

His answer is mesmerizing: The reason Shavuot is called zeman matan Toratainu and not zeman matan Torah is because Toratainu means that the Torah became our own. [How did it become our own? This happened] as a result of Torah She-beal Peh (the Oral Law) and the explanations of the [Torah] that are the product of our people.

For the Beit HaLevi, although the Torah She-biktav (the Written Law) is the Almightys greatest gift to the world besides life itself, it is through the never-ending dynamic process of Torah She-beal Peh (the study and explanation of His holy Torah) that humankind encounters Him.

In many ways, the Beit HaLevi infuses profound meaning into the phrase we recite each morning in our tefilah, Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu umah nayim goraleinu (We are fortunate, how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, and how beautiful our heritage).

Chelkeinu, our portion, is two-fold in nature. It includes the outright gift of the Torah She-biktav and the ever-developing Torah She-beal Peh, through which we analyze, interpret and apply that bequest to the challenges and realities of our lives. Truly then, Ashreinu!

May we be zocheh to witness the fulfillment of the passage we proclaim every day in the Birchot HaTorah (Ibid., p. 17): Please, Hashem, our G-d, sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth and in the mouths of your people, the family of Israel. May we and our offspring and the offspring of Your people, the House of Israel all of us, know Your Name and study Your Torah for its own sake. Vchane yihi ratzon.

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach, and may Hashem in His great mercy remove the magafah from klal Yisrael and the entire world.


Thinking Shavuot, Torah and the Jewish people - The Jewish Star

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