Shavuot is the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People, zman matan Torah.
The Torah describes two distinctly different aspects in which Children of Israel approached matan Torah, the giving of the Torah. When we read the description given, it can seem – at first glance – that we were quite eager to accept the Torah, as the verse says, “All that Hashem commands us, we will do,” a statement that is repeated three times! On the other hand, we find that when we went to receive the Torah we stood “under” the mountain. The simple explanation of this is that we were very close to the foot of the mountain, as close as we were allowed to go. The Talmud, however, takes this verse quite literally, and explains that Hashem actually held the mountain over our heads and proclaimed, “If you accept the Torah, wonderful. If not, this will become your burial place!” From this, it seems that there was a bit of coercion involved in the giving of the Torah, a matter which contradicts the earlier verses.
The Midrash Tanchuma asks this very question, and presents the following explanation: As we know, the Torah is given in two parts, the Written and the Oral. We were quite all right with the Written Torah, which is finite, and not overly complicated, and therefore easier to accept. The Oral Torah, however, is quite complex, with many intricacies that involve real mental effort to fully understand: even after great effort, individuals still may lack clarity. That is what required a bit of coercion.
If one looks at the places in the Torah that a covenant is mentioned, interestingly, it almost invariably says, “According to these (spoken) words I have made my covenant with you.” This teaches us that the primary covenant and connection between us and Hashem is through the words, the speaking, the discussion, the oral transmission.
If it is really so hard to understand the Oral Torah then it does seem to be a bit unfair! Can it really be that our connection to HaShem is dependent on a discipline that is so difficult? The truth is, many of the best things in life take hard work, and when a person puts in the effort, that area becomes the most enjoyable. Learning the Oral Torah is extremely enjoyable, but requires time and effort. And it is exactly this time and effort that gives us a true, deep connection with Hashem.
This is an idea we can take from Shavuot, the day the Torah was given: on these days, we can reconnect to Hashem and to His Torah. So come and join us in learning His precious Torah at KBR this Sunday after services. And every day!
Chag Sameach! Gut Yuntif!