Shavuot- Matan Torah and the Question of Location

Based on a shiur given by Rav Moshe Lichtman

We’ve seen already that there is an intrinsic link between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel- it has been this way since אברהם אבינו was commanded to leave his homeland to travel there. Israel is our past, our present, and our future. However, as we prepare to celebrate one of the most formative experiences of the Jewish people in the desert, מעמד הר סיני and קבלת התורה, we must wonder why exactly it took place there. Why would the most awesome (lit.) revelation in Jewish history take place outside of the Holy Land?

The Mabit (Rav Moshe ben Yosef Tirani) in his work בית אלקים answers our question with an inspiring lesson. He first quotes the famous מדרש that everyone learns in first grade, which writes of G-d offering the תורה to all of the nations, who all turned it down except for עם ישראל. Mabit asks; what would’ve happened if one of the nations actually accepted? There are a lot of parts of the תורה that only apply to the Jewish People and could not remotely apply to any other nation. How could they receive the תורה if a lot of it wouldn’t apply to them?

Rav Tirani answers that we need to interpret the מדרש a little differently. It’s possible that Hashem didn’t offer the nations the תורה to be its primary guardians- rather, He wanted to give them an opportunity to get closer to our level of קדושה by accepting תרי”ג מצות (beyond the regular obligation for a נכרי to keep only 7). But, even if a nation had accepted these מצות, they still would’ve been subordinate to the Jewish People, as the תורה was created for us, G-d’s chosen people. From this, we learn of the importance of accepting גרים and foreigners into our midst, and teaching them תורה.

After explaining this מדרש, Mabit returns to our original question. He posits that a possible reason that the תורה was given in the מדבר at הר סיני could be because G-d didn’t want us to think of rejecting people from other backgrounds of accepting תורה. We know that the vast majority of the contents of the תורה apply only to the Jewish People- this would make it difficult for the Jews to want to teach their תורה to anyone else. If we also added the fact that the תורה was given in our promised land, that would be enough for many Jews to refuse to teach תורה to outsiders, as they would believe there is no reason for people whose ancestors weren’t at קבלת תורה in ארץ ישראל, the land that wasn’t promised to them,  to learn תורה. However, since the תורה was given in the desert, where even the Jewish people were outsiders, it is an important lesson to us that we should not turn away outsiders from learning תורה and becoming involved in עבודת השם, as we were outsiders at מתן תורה.

As we prepare to celebrate זמן מתן תורתינו, there is a very important lesson that we must internalize from this piece. Even though we are not allowed to teach תורה to non-Jews, we can see that no nation has an exclusive hold on the תורה. So too, within our nation, no individual or sect of Judaism can own תורה. The תורה was given to all of us, and as we’ve seen above, the location of its giving was chosen to avoid giving anyone a feeling of being an ‘insider’ who can exclude others from its אור. The story is told in Gemara Shabbat (31a) of a man who approached שמאי הזקן with a strange request; “גיירני על מנת שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת- I’ve come for you to teach me all of Torah as I stand on one foot.” Shammai, reacting naturally to such a ridiculous request, pushed him away. The man then went to הלל הזקן, and asked him the same question.  Hillel responded “דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד – זו היא כל התורה כולה- Don’t treat your friend as you wouldn’t want to be treated- this is the entire Torah.” Hillel, in his acceptance of this נכרי, showed the exact trait that Rav Tirani teaches us we must have when interacting with those who are less affiliated with Torah- acceptance and love. By accepting and loving our fellow Jews, especially the ones who don’t seem to be worthy, we give them the opportunity to connect to G-d, and through this, they will iy”h become worthy. All people were created in צלם אלקים, and we have no right to decide who does and who doesn’t have the right to learn תורה, a  very important lesson as we prepare for זמן מתן תורה.

In the זכות of our continued לימוד תורה and שמירת מצות, as well as our extra effort in קירוב, we will hopefully see the coming of the גאולה very soon, so that next שבועות (if not this one), we will all celebrate זמן מתן תורתינו in ירושלים עיר הקודש together, united in our עבודת השם. Chag Sameach.