The Festival of Shavuot is "The Time of the Giving of our Torah." The Revelation at Mount Sinai was a formative event where the Torah was given, with all of its 613 mitzvot, to all of Am Israel, as one entity and not as individuals. "'And Israel camped' (in the singular) – as one man with one heart." (Rashi on Shemot 19:2)
The rejoicing over the giving of the Torah is not only for the past but also for the present and the future. The daily Torah study is a continuation of the revelation. "And Rabbi Yehuda opened with (regard to) the honor of Torah and said: 'Take heed and listen Israel! Today you have become a nation…' (Devarim 27:9) But was the Torah given to Israel on that day (that this was said)? Wasn't that day at the end of the fortieth year? This comes to tell us that the Torah is as beloved by those who learn it every day as it was on the day it was given on Mount Sinai." (Brachot 63b) The Torah scholar considers himself as if he received the Torah at Sinai: "And it renews perpetually, and it never ceases from Israel… That a man must see himself as if he is receiving Torah at Mount Sinai (Pesikta Zutra, VaEtchanan) "As all of this glory renews itself for Israel every day, and every moment." (Da'at Tevunot p.7, 153)
Learning Torah is a central mitzvah: "This commands us to teach the wisdom of the Torah and to learn it" (in Rav Kapach's translation: "to teach Torah and to learn it") and this is called "Talmud Torah…" And the enthusiasm and diligence for this mitzvah has become widespread…" (Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, positive command 11) The value of "learning Torah "lishmah" (for its own sake) is one of the fundamental values of the Torah and Jewish existence over all the generations. Torah learning "lishmah" as an end to itself, and not as a means to a different end, is unique to the study of Torah and doesn't exist in any other field of learning!
The rejoicing of Matan Torah is the joy of all of Am Israel, since "Every man of Israel is obligated to learn Torah!... whether he is a young man or very old and his strength has weakened… he must appoint himself time to study Torah at day and at night, as it says: 'and you will study it diligently day and night.'" (Rambam, Talmud Torah ch.1, halacha 1)
Sefer HaKuzari describes the Jewish pyramid of values: Torat Israel, Am Israel and Eretz Israel. The Torah is at the top of the pyramid! The Torah is above everything and is the foundation for everything and is weighed as much as all of the mitzvot of the Torah: "There is not one mitzvah which is weighed as much as Talmud Torah, but Talmud Torah is weighed as much as all the mitzvot together." (Rambam, Talmud Torah, ch.3 halacha 3) And this determines our ethical, personal and national order of priorities!
The mitzvah of Talmud Torah transformed Am Israel into a "learning nation" which was exceptional on the landscape of ancient nations, where most of the people were illiterate. Even then Am Israel considered learning a strategic goal, made a point of teaching the boys and established the first schools, and also formulated statutes for mandatory education. (Babba Bathra 21b) (There are those who attribute the disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes received by Jews to this.)
The rejoicing of Shavuot is over the renewal of the luminescence of Matan Torah: "And the root of all of them is the order which the lofty wisdom has prescribed, whereas every enhancement that was added and (every) great light that was lit at any certain time – when that period of time will return, it will radiate light similar to the original light, and the outgrowth of that enhancement will be renewed in him who has received it. And according to this, we were commanded on the holiday everything which we were commanded… and in this way, (on) the Festival of Shavuot to Matan Torah." (Derech Hashem part 4, ch.7,6)
Nevertheless, in what way is Shavuot different from all other days?
On Shavuot the rejoicing is over Matan Torah as a nation - as one unit and not as individuals, similar to the Revelation at Sinai which was to Klal Israel. And over the generations, the Torah study of Klal Israel retains a special level, "Talmud Torah of the masses" – the transmission of the Torah to the next generation, which is at a higher level than the Torah study of individuals, and more grave than the service of the sacrifices (Megillah 3b), and is worth endangering oneself for: "However one must sacrifice himself for Talmud Torah of the masses and endanger himself for this." (Meshech Chochmah, Shemot 27:11)
Like Rabbi Akiva, who in spite of the decrees against teaching Torah, he endangered himself, "gathered masses in public" and was captured and died for this on Kiddush HaShem. (Brachot 61b)
The main purpose of the Beit Midrash and the yeshiva world is to be the place for the ideal learning, "Torah Lishmah" around the clock, and to be the center for the Klal-Israeli learning, where the Torah is transmitted to the next generations, as it was in the Revelation at Sinai. For this reason, the Beit Midrash has the highest level of moral and spiritual value. (Rambam, Tefillah 11:14)
Of course, the Torah study of every Yeshiva student is a serious personal challenge as well as a great mitzvah. Nevertheless the students are emissaries of the nation and are supposed to learn "Torah Lishmah" – for the sake of Knesset Israel. (Rav Kook, Orot HaTorah 2)
The Emunah-Based Strategy For Coping With Crises And With Denial
Parshat Bechukotai - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
Parshat Bechukotai concludes the book of Vayikra. The parsha opens with the covenant between Am Israel and G-d, and describes the blessing that will result from keeping the covenant, and the "curse"- the calamity that, G-d forbid, will come in the wake of violating it.The blessing and the curse are not presented in a symmetrical way. The blessing comes completely and all at once, while the curse comes "incrementally", each stage being a "warning sign" calling for soul-searching, change and improvement in order to prevent descent to a lower and more severe level of disaster. (See Messilat Yesharim Ch. 4) The Torah repeats four times the expression "sevenfold for your sins." Rashi (on Vayikra 26:18) explains: "Seven punishments for the seven sins mentioned above." Maybe this alludes to seven levels of punishment, each more severe than the previous one. (See Rabbenu Bechayeii on Vayikra 26:16)The divine model of the covenant, the blessing and the curse, reveals to us the way G-d runs the world, and by taking the example we can "mirror" the strategy for conduct at a time of crisis or catastrophe. In times of distress, the human inclination is to focus on the practical dimensions, to cope with the pain, to investigate and analyze the technical factors that caused the crisis, and to adopt a course of action that will prevent a recurrence.The Torah directs us to relate to a calamity's broader, spiritual dimension, to see it as "the hand of providence" and to try to understand its spiritual circumstances; to recognize it as a divine "call" for introspection regarding the past as well as for amending the future.We learn the strategy for dealing with crises in the laws of Ta'anit (fasting) from tractate Ta'anit. The Rambam says that it is a positive commandment from the Torah "to cry out and to blow trumpets over any distress that befalls the community…and this is one of the ways of repentance: that when a crisis comes, to cry out and blow trumpets, and to know that because of their evil deeds, misfortune has befallen them…and this (realization) will save them from misfortune. And the Rabbis added the obligation to fast any time that trouble befalls the community, until the heavens are merciful upon us. And during these fast days, we cry out in prayers and implore and blow trumpets." (Rambam Ta'anit 1, 1-4)The purpose of the fasting and the crying out is for us to repent over the past and resolve to improve in the future. According to the Rambam, the mitzvah to blow trumpets at a time of distress is to awaken us to search our souls. "A root of the mitzvah is: Man is a physical being and requires awakening, and without this, it's as if he is asleep. And it is known that nothing awakens like the playing of music, especially the sound of trumpets." (Sefer Hachinuch 384)In this way we can understand the increasing levels of severity and intensity of fasts at a time of drought, a very serious crisis. (Mishnah Ta'anit 1, 4-7) If a "light" fast is not answered, then a more severe one is decreed.Our parsha relates to the human tendency of "denial" and ignoring the "warning signs" and seeing trouble as a random event. "And if you will act toward Me in the manner of Keri (ignoring Me) and refuse to obey Me, then I will increase the chastisement for your sins sevenfold." (Vayikra 26:21) The parsha's key word, Keri, appears in the parsha seven times! (From the direction of man, and from the direction of G-d). Chazal, the Even Ezra and the Rashbam explain Keri in the sense of Mikreh (chance), meaning that "after I (G-d) smite you twice, you should understand that this isn't happening by chance! …as if the world is behaving naturally." (Malbim)Denial is an absurd psychological phenomenon; nevertheless it is an inseparable part of human nature. When a man finds himself in a demanding situation that requires him to change or to give up something, he tends to illogically enlist all of his intellectual powers in order to ignore the situation, or to give it an alternative explanation – one that will not require him to "pay a price." And what will be the result of this denial? Having to pay a much higher price in the end!The Rambam also refers to the denial syndrome in Hilchot Ta'anit: "But if they don't cry out and don't blow trumpets, but rather say that this misfortune is a natural occurrence, then this a cruel path which causes them to cling to their evil ways, and more catastrophes will follow, and this is what the Torah says: "You will act toward me in the manner of Keri, and I will act towards you in the wrath of Keri!" Meaning: when I bring trouble upon you in order that you should repent, if you instead say that this is a chance occurrence, I will heap upon you anger for that Keri (calling it chance).