Life Is Living It: The Lesson of Mattan Torah

The only Yom Tov that does not a have a specific mitzvah associated with it is Shavuos. It is obvious that the festival that marks the giving of the Torah itself cannot be pinned down to a single mitzvah. Torah is not a particular aspect of our relationship with Hashem but the encompassing vehicle of our connection with Him.

Chazal teach that Hashem created worlds that are purely ruchani, of complete spiritual character. In those worlds, the presence of Hashem is obvious. The world that we live in, the olam hamaaseh — the physical world — seems to be the most distanced from Hashem.  In it, He seems to hide from us and we need to identify Him.

For this, we must focus on our belief and acceptance of hashgachah pratis — Divine providence. The Baal Shem Tov taught that our connection with Hashem is manifested by our comprehension that every single action that occurs in this world — even the falling of a leaf from its tree — occurs through Hashem’s direct involvement.

Living with consciousness of ­hashgachah pratis allows man to comprehend that Hashem is everywhere. Coming to the realization that, really, nothing hides Him is therefore the spiritual meaning and value of our physical world. To observe life from such a perspective is to discover Hashem not only in the spiritual realm but in the physical as well. This is the greatness of our world. It proves that there is no existence distant from the Creator. Only through man’s involvement in physical life and action can this comprehension can be achieved.

Klal Yisrael’s declaration at Har Sinai of naaseh v’nishma encapsulates this concept. In the simplest sense, this declaration means that we accept to do Hashem’s commandments, and only afterward come to understand them. In truth, it was much more than a declaration of faith. It meant Klal Yisrael’s commitment to a full recognition of Hashem’s reality.

This commitment makes our understanding of Hashem’s existence similar to the way we view our own existence. Since we are fully aware of our existence, we do not question its reality. Our whole being feels its own existence; understanding it on a complex level is superfluous. If we similarly realize Hashem’s existence, we do not need to understand Him, either. Our acceptance of Hashem’s will is not because we understand Him, but because we realize He is the essence of all existence.  In this context naaseh, performance, not only precedes nishma, understanding; it includes it.

On Shavuos, when we experience the event of Mattan Torah, we want to behave like Yidden, without focusing on a specific mitzvah. For the observance of the whole of Torah — living it in all aspects of our lives — is what allows us to internalize the meaning of what occurred at Har Sinai.

That is why on Shavuos, all opinions in the Gemara require physical celebration, as opposed to other Yamim Tovim, when this obligation is a subject of debate. This emphasis on the corporal represents the concept of actions leading to real comprehension, the physical as a gateway to the spiritual.

Chazal say that every halachah that ­talmidei chachamim will conceive throughout the generations was revealed to Moshe at Har Sinai. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh explains that this understanding was on a conceptual level. However, the details of these ­chiddushim are for each talmid chacham to conceive on his own.

This explanation reveals two distinct levels of understanding. The first is that of intellectually grasping the knowledge itself. The second, however, is the method of bringing that knowledge into action. The execution, bringing the knowledge into existence in the reality of this world, is itself a dimension of wisdom.

Chazal attribute a superior level to the chacham in their statement “Chacham adif mi’navi — one who has acquired Torah by his wisdom is superior to one who has prophecy.” It is true that the navi’s connection to Divine knowledge and the depth of this understanding is unfathomable to the chacham. But the navi’s relationship to his prophecy is such that it overwhelms his free will and attaches him only to the good contained within the knowledge. The chacham does not have this intense spiritual experience, but that is what allows him to see a unique aspect of wisdom as he comes to comprehend Hashem’s presence from all of sides of existence, good and evil together. As such, the breadth of his understanding is greater.

Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest of all neviim. Chazal say that there will never be another navi like him, whose relationship with Hashem resulted in a nearly complete surrender of free will.

However, when it came to the eventful day of Mattan Torah, Moshe did not use his qualities as a navi to simply pass on Hashem’s will and give Torah on the fifth of Sivan, when it was first received. He used his qualities as a chacham to add an additional day based on his own understanding of the situation. Hence, we celebrate Shavuos on the sixth of Sivan.

Moshe wanted to attach Klal Yisrael to the Torah not as neviim, who are distant from physical life, but with the advantage of the chacham — to serve Hashem with our free will and with the challenges that this entails.

The only way to rise above the challenges of life is living with an awareness of hashgachah pratis. Chazal tell us that the brightest light is that which has been contrasted with darkness. The darkness that one may suffer in life can lead to an even brighter light than previously experienced. This achievement depends on whether and how one found Hashem within the darkness.

We live in challenging times. There are so many distractions in the way of realizing the true nature of our physical existence. Shavuos is an opportunity for us to become more aware of the genuine value of our physical life.