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Torah: The Most Precious Gift

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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The question has been asked time and again: what exactly is the significance of the Sinai Event? Our Patriarchs studied and taught Torah centuries before the Torah was “given” to the Israelites on the holiday of Shavuot, and -- according to Talmudic tradition – our forefathers observed all the mitzvahs as well.1 Yet, the “giving of the Torah” at Mount Sinai is considered perhaps the most decisive moment in the history of our nation, a nation whose storied history contains many seminal events.

Actually, the key word is the giving of the Torah. Before that fateful 6th of Sivan, we were privy to the wisdom of the Torah, but it did not belong to us. We can compare the Torah to a magnificent palace: before the Sinai Event we were given unlimited access to tour its room and enjoy its beautiful architecture and artwork; at Sinai we were handed the deed and keys to the property.

The Talmud2 relates a fascinating episode which powerfully illustrates this point. Rabbi Eliezer the Great disagreed with Rabbi Joshua and the other sages of the generation regarding the susceptibility to impurity of a certain type of stove. Rabbi Eliezer vigorously defended his position, but to no avail—the rabbis refused to accept his position. At one point, a Heavenly Voice reverberated in the study hall: “Why do you argue with Rabbi Eliezer? The Halachah always follows his opinion!” Rabbi Joshua then arose and exclaimed, “The Torah is not in Heaven!” The Torah was given to us at Sinai, and therein it is clearly stated that “the majority prevails.” Since the majority of the earthly sages concurred with Rabbi Joshua’s opinion, the opinion of supernal beings – indeed the opinion of the A-mighty Himself! – is immaterial. Amazingly, the halachah was established according to the majority opinion—and Rabbi Eliezer the Great was excommunicated for refusing to accept the ruling!

On the occasion of His marriage, the Groom, Who was (and remains) madly in love with His bride, could find no greater dowry to give than the Torah, His most precious possession, His crown jewel, His joy and pride
This, however, does not completely explain the significance of Shavuot. Does this holiday boil down to bragging rights? Does it really matter who “owns” the title to Torah? As long as we are permitted to study Torah, would it be such a great cause of consternation if G-d actually had a say in determining the halachah?!

King Solomon likens the Sinai Event to our wedding day-the day G-d chose us from amongst the nations and wedded us. On the occasion of His marriage, the Groom, Who was (and remains) madly in love with His bride, could find no greater dowry to give than the Torah, His most precious possession, His crown jewel, His joy and pride. Furthermore, He didn’t suffice with making this treasure available for our use; He lovingly gave this gift completely and unconditionally.

This is why Shavuot is so special. It commemorates the day when G-d gave us the most precious jewel in his treasure house. “Fortunate are the people whose lot is thus!”

G-d’s love for us drove Him to give us his most precious possession. Now what should we give back to Him?

We have the two days of Shavuot to contemplate the response to this question…

Footnotes

  • 1. Talmud tractate Yoma 28b
  • 2. Talmud tractate Baba Metzia 59b

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Holidays » Shavuot
History » Desert Sojourn

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Joshua
1. Assumed the leadership of the Jewish people after Moses died in 1267 BCE. He split the Jordan River and led the Jewish people in their conquest of the Promised Land. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, which chronicles Joshua's leadership.
Shavuot
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
Sivan
The third month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to May-June. This month features the holiday of Shavuot.
Solomon
Son of King David, and succeeded him on the throne of Israel in the year 836 BCE. he was the wisest man to ever live. He built the first Holy Temple and authored several books of the Bible.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.