Why Isn’t Simchas Torah on Shavuos?

Ad mi’macharas haShabbos hasheviis tisperu chamishim yom v’hikravtem minchah chadashah l’Hashem (Vayikra 23:16)

Although the Torah does not explicitly link the Yom Tov of Shavuos and the giving of the Torah, the Gemara (Shabbos 86b) makes clear that Shavuos is, in fact, the day on which Hashem gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, and for this reason we refer to Shavuos in our prayers as z’man mattan Toraseinu — the time of the giving of our Torah. However, it is difficult to understand why we have two Yamim Tovim which both seem to be dedicated to celebrating the gift of the Torah: Shavuos and Simchas Torah. Although it is true that Simchas Torah is observed when we conclude the annual cycle of public Torah readings in the fall, this is quite arbitrary, as our Sages could just as easily have set up a system in which we complete the reading of the Torah on Shavuos, such that Simchas Torah and Shavuos would be celebrated at the same time. Why do we specifically need two distinct festivals which both ostensibly serve the same purpose?

Harav Simchah Zissel Broide, the head of the Chevron yeshivah, explains that there are two different types of gifts. Some presents possess inherent worth, such as an exotic car or precious jewels, while others are not intrinsically valuable, yet become cherished due to the prominence of the person who gave them. Harav Yissocher Frand cites the example of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, as part of his legislative strategy, frequently arranged elaborate bill signings in the White House. A large number of pens were placed in front of him, and he used a different pen for every curve in each of the letters of his name, which he then gifted to the people who had been invited to the ceremony due to their involvement and assistance in passing the bill. Even though each of the pens was not particularly expensive, they became prized due to the fact that they were received from the president after he used them to sign an important piece of legislation into law.

The giving of the Torah represents a confluence of both components of valuable presents, as we received a gift which is inherently the most valuable gift in the world, and additionally, it was given not by the president of the United States, but by the King of kings, from Whom any present automatically becomes elevated and cherished.

Harav Simchah Zissel explains that our celebration of the gift of the Torah therefore requires two separate days: one day to focus on the gift itself, and another day to appreciate the Giver. Shavuos is the Yom Tov of the Torah, the time when we commemorate the fact that if not for the Torah, we would be indistinguishable from the myriad other people in the marketplace (Pesachim 68b). A quick glance at the society around us shows us what our lives and our families would look like without the Torah to guide us — a truly terrifying prospect. The Torah, with all of its mitzvos and life lessons, is so valuable that we set aside one day for the purpose of treasuring it and expressing our gratitude for this innately valuable gift.

However, in addition to celebrating and appreciating the Torah itself, we must also have a second day on which we focus on the greatness of the Giver of this gift, which is Simchas Torah. After we go through the month of Elul, a time of “Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li – I am to my Beloved, and my Beloved is to me,” we crown Hashem as King on Rosh Hashanah and spend the next 10 days repenting our errant ways and returning to Him, climaxing on Yom Kippur. After the more universal Yom Tov of Sukkos, on which we offer 70 sacrifices on behalf of all of the 70 nations of the world, Hashem tells us to remain behind with Him for one extra day, Shemini Atzeres. On that day, there is no lulav and esrog, no sukkah, and no other nations of the world, only an intimate bond between Hashem and His chosen nation, and therefore this is the appropriate time to focus on appreciating the King of kings for the gift that He chose to give us.

Q: Rashi writes (Bamidbar 2:2) that the tribes encamped 2,000 cubits away from the Mishkan so that they would still be permitted to travel there on Shabbos. As the prohibition against traveling outside of the techum is only Rabbinical in nature, why were they required to encamp within 2,000 cubits of the Mishkan?

Q: Rashi explains (3:1) that the Torah refers to the sons of Aharon as Moshe’s progeny because whoever teaches Torah to others is considered as if he gave birth to them. As Moshe taught the entire Torah to every single Jew, in what way are Aharon’s children considered his offspring more than the rest of the Jewish people?

A: Harav Aharon Leib Steinman suggests that perhaps the Rabbinical decree not to travel more than 2,000 cubits beyond the techum on Shabbos had already been enacted by Moshe at this time. He cites Shu”t Harav Akiva Eiger (2:128), who writes that there were Rabbinical decrees and stringencies that were already enacted in the times of Yehoshua and the early prophets. The Pnei Yehoshua writes (Rosh Hashanah 29b) that there were also decrees which were already made in the times of Moshe, in which case it is possible that this was one of them. However, he notes that the Mabit writes in Beis Elokim (Shaar HaYesodos 38) that Moshe and Yehoshua did not make any Rabbinical enactments, in which case the only potential answer to this question would be in accordance with the opinion of Rabi Akiva (Sotah 27b), who maintains that the prohibition to travel outside of the techum is Biblical in nature.

A: The Sifsei Chachamim and Ahavas Eisan answer that Moshe was commanded by Hashem to teach the whole Torah to the entire nation. Because he had an explicit command to teach them, he couldn’t be considered as giving birth to them for doing so. On the other hand, he specifically singled out Aharon’s sons to teach them the Torah individually, and for this reason, they were considered to be his children. The Netziv maintains that the concept that one is considered to have given birth to somebody to whom one teaches Torah applies only to the study of the Oral Law, which is the study that truly makes and creates a person. Moshe didn’t begin to teach the Oral Law to the nation as a whole until much later (Devarim 1:5), so at this time they weren’t yet considered his children. Because he had already begun teaching it privately to Aharon’s sons, he was already considered to have given birth to them.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.