אף על פי שהתורה לא זכרה עניין מתן תורה בשבועות, לפי שהתורה כשניתנה – ניתנה לעד ולעולמי עולמים; ואין שייך לקבוע יום מיוחד בשביל זה כבכל המועדים שרק ביום זה היה עניין המיוחד לזה, כמו יציאת מצרים בפסח וסוכות ענני כבוד בסוכות שהיתה לזמן קבוע בהליכתם במדבר. אבל התורה הוא לעד ולעולמי עולמים, ולכן תלתה התורה החג הזה בהקרבן של שתי הלחם שהיתה רק ביום זה. מכל מקום בתפילה אנו אומרים "זמן מתן תורתינו", מפני שבאותו היום שחל אצלנו שבועות, דהיינו ששה בסיון – ניתנה תורה לישראל. כדתניא בשבת (פו ב) תנו רבנן: בששה בחודש ניתנה תורה לישראל. רבי יוסי אומר: בשבעה בו והלכה כחכמים:
"Even though the Torah does not mention the subject of giving the Torah [with regards to Shavuous], because when the Torah was given, it was given for all times and it is not relevant to establish a specific day in order for [celebrating] this (the giving of the Torah) like by all other holidays that there is a specific subject designated for that day like [the subject of] the Exodus from Egypt on Pesach and the temporary booths made out of The cloud of Glory [that we celebrate] on Succos because it was a limited time that they were traveling in the desert. However, the Torah [is not for a limited time] it is forever. Therefore, the Torah hung on this holiday [of Shavuous] the Korban (sacrifice) of the two loaves of bread that is only on this day. Nevertheless, during prayer we say "The time of receiving our Torah" because on that day Shavuous occurred, for it was the 6th of Sivan that the Torah was given to Israel. Like we learned in Gemara Shabbos (86b) "Our Rabbis taught us, On the Sixth of the month the Torah was given to Israel. Rebbe Yosei said, on the seventh, and the law is like the Rabbis."
Basically, on Succos G-D saved us from the dangers of the desert by protecting us with the cloud of glory, on Pesach we were freed from bondage, and on Shavuous we received the Torah. However, looking at all these explanations for why we celebrate these holidays, something seems amiss. Every single holiday in the celebratory category has something in common, there was some sort of rescue for the Jewish people, except Shavuous. Yes, we received the Torah, but how can we define that as a rescue of the Jewish nation?It is clear on the other days how G-D performed miracles to either protect the Jews or rescue them from harm, but on Shavuous it is unclear what was the rescue or protection from harm.
In order to understand Shavuous we need to first discuss what happened by the giving of the Torah. For this we must look at the verses in Shemos chapter 20 and explain them. (Shemos 20:1-23)
א וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֵת כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר:
- 1 And G-d spoke all these words, saying:
- ב אָנֹכִי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים:
- 2 I am HaShem thy G-d, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
- ג לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל-פָּנָי:
- 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
- ד לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל-תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ:
- 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
- ה לֹא-תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם כִּי אָנֹכִי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֵל קַנָּא פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים לְשׂנְאָי:
- 5 thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I HaShem thy G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me;
- ו וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לַאֲלָפִים לְאֹהֲבַי וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָי:
- 6 and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.
- ז לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת-שֵׁם-יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא כִּי לֹא יְנַקֶּה יְהֹוָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יִשָּׂא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא:
- 7 Thou shalt not take the name of HaShem thy G-d in vain; for HaShem will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
- ח זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ:
- 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- ט שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל-מְלַאכְתֶּךָ:
- 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work;
- י וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַיהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה כָל-מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ:
- 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath unto HaShem thy G-d, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates;
- יא כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת-יָמִים עָשָׂה יְהֹוָה אֶת-הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת-הָאָרֶץ אֶת-הַיָּם וְאֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-בָּם וַיָּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עַל-כֵּן בֵּרַךְ יְהוָֹה אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ:
- 11 for in six days HaShem made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore HaShem blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
- יב כַּבֵּד אֶת-אָבִיךָ וְאֶת-אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ:
- 12 Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which HaShem thy G-d giveth thee.
- יג לֹא תִרְצַח לֹא תִנְאָף לֹא תִגְנֹב לֹא-תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר:
- 13 Thou shalt not murder.
- 13 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- 13 Thou shalt not steal.
- 13 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
- יד לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ לֹא-תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ:
- 14 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
- טו וְכָל-הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת-הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת-הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת-הָהָר עָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק:
- 15 And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off.
- טז וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-משֶׁה דַּבֶּר-אַתָּה עִמָּנוּ וְנִשְׁמָעָה וְאַל-יְדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ אֱלֹהִים פֶּן-נָמוּת:
- 16 And they said unto Moses: 'Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not G-d speak with us, lest we die.'
- יז וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם אַל-תִּירָאוּ כִּי לְבַעֲבוּר נַסּוֹת אֶתְכֶם בָּא הָאֱלֹהִים וּבַעֲבוּר תִּהְיֶה יִרְאָתוֹ עַל-פְּנֵיכֶם לְבִלְתִּי תֶחֱטָאוּ:
- 17 And Moses said unto the people: 'Fear not; for G-d is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before you, that ye sin not.'
- יח וַיַּעֲמֹד הָעָם מֵרָחֹק וּמשֶׁה נִגַּשׁ אֶל-הָעֲרָפֶל אֲשֶׁר-שָׁם הָאֱלֹהִים:
- 18 And the people stood afar off; but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where G-d was.
- יט וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה אֶל-משֶׁה כֹּה תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם כִּי מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם:
- 19 And HaShem said unto Moses: Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
- כ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן אִתִּי אֱלֹהֵי כֶסֶף וֵאלֹהֵי זָהָב לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם
- 20 Ye shall not make with Me--gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you.
- כא מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי וְזָבַחְתָּ עָלָיו אֶת-עֹלֹתֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלָמֶיךָ אֶת-צֹאנְךָ וְאֶת-בְּקָרֶךָ בְּכָל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ:
- 21 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings, and thy peace-offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come unto thee and bless thee.
- כב וְאִם-מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי לֹא-תִבְנֶה אֶתְהֶן גָּזִית כִּי חַרְבְּךָ הֵנַפְתָּ עָלֶיהָ וַתְּחַלֲלֶהָ:
- 22 And if thou make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast profaned it.
- כג וְלֹא-תַעֲלֶה בְמַעֲלֹת עַל-מִזְבְּחִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתְךָ עָלָיו:
- Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto Mine altar, that thy nakedness be not uncovered thereon.
However, later when Moshe was recounting this event (Devarim 5:19-23) he states a very good reason as to why it seems that only Moshe spoke with G-D:
Getting back to the narrative in Shemos we can somewhat understand what happened. G-D was going to state all ten commandments to the entire congregation of Israel, but the congregation prevented that from happening. Thus, only a limited number of the ten commandments were said by G-D to the whole congregation and the rest were from Moshe to the children of Israel. However, the Torah writes all ten commandments in congruous order, how are we to know which commandments were said by G-D to the Jewish people? The answer, again, lies directly in the verse as can be seen in verse 19, "And HaShem said unto Moses: Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven" and in the very next verse it says, "Ye shall not make with Me--gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you." Now, which commandment said that the Jewish people should not make other gods? That was the second commandment. Why was it being repeated here? That was the last thing that G-D said to the Jewish people directly. Therefore, He says to Moshe to tell all of the congregation of Israel that "Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven." And what was the last thing that G-D said to them? "Ye shall not make with Me--gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you."
So, what happened at Mount Sinai? Not only did G-D give us the Torah, but He spoke to us directly. Every single Jew that was there, at the base of the mountain, knew there was a G-D to the same level of certainty that they knew Moshe existed, Pharoh existed, and that they themselves existed. They saw, heard and felt G-D's presence just like anyone would feel a fellow human being standing right next to them.
This is why Shavuous has the greatest "protection" that is celebrated more so than all other holidays. The events at Mount Sinai, culminating with the giving of the Torah, protected the Jewish people from annihilation and continues to protect us. On Pesach we were rescued from Pharoh's hand and subjugation, Succas G-D protected us from the wild animals and the barrenness of the desert, but Shavuous commemorates the constant protection that we get from G-D each and every day.
This can be seen best by how we celebrate these holidays. Pesach we commemorate the tale of how we left Egypt. How G-D ripped us out of Pharoh's grasp and saved us from slavery. The climax of Pesach is the eating of the Matza which allows us to remember the subjugation we felt, only to relive the freedom we experienced. On Succos we dwell in temporary huts, Succahs, that remind us of the Annanei Hakavod, clouds of glory, that protected us from the desert. G-D allowed us to live in the desert for 40 years without a care in the world because of His protection. However, on Shavuous we learn Torah. What does that remind us of? It reminds us of the constant protection we receive from G-D and the constant perpetuation of the Jewish religion that the Torah provides.
As nice as the freedom from bondage and the protection provided by the clouds of glory were, they were not grand enough to form an idea so strong that it could create a new entity so strong that it could withstand the test of time. Until the events at Sinai everyone was still an individual at heart. True, at this point they were a nation, but a nation was not what G-D wanted to create. That is why Rashi tells us (Shemos 19:2) that the Jewish people were gathered at the base of the mountain,
כאיש אחד בלב אחד
"Like one man with one heart."
This was the formation of a nation, but not just a nation, a religion. If the Jewish people were like one man, that would be a nation and nations can be destroyed just like the nations of the world that have come and gone, the Romans being the best example. The Jewish people were not only like one man, they were like one man with one heart. A religion is something that connects people with more than just a physical location and mutual benefits from working together. A religion is something that binds people together through beliefs and ultimate purpose. Being part of a nation can create purpose, but not ultimate purpose. In the end of the day, people in a nation work together because it benefits the individual. The Jewish people work together specifically because it benefits the nation as a whole and the nations connection to G-D. That is why the focus of every Jew is, ideally, Jerusalem and the Temple and not their personal home. The events that we are celebrating on Shavuous are those that created this religion which, ultimately, is what gives the Jewish religion its everlasting nature.
This idea is best seen in the Kuzari what is known as the "Kuzari Principle." The Kuzari is a book written by Rav Yehuda HaLevi in the middle ages. It discusses many philosophical ideas in the context of a nation that existed from around 700 CE to 900 CE called the Kingdom of the Khazars. The idea that Rav Yehuda HaLevi brings down is, basically, that not only do the Jews base their religion on the events at Mount Sinai, but also the Christians and Muslims base the foundation of their religions on the events at Mount Sinai of G-D speaking to the entire congregation of Israel. It is because of this event that Monotheism became a mainstay idea in the world. As it says in the Kuzari (1:4) that the Christian Scholar claimed,
מאמין אני בכל מה שספר על כל אלה בתורה ובספרי דברי הימים לבני ישראל אותות אשר לא יתכן לכפר באמתתם כי מפרסמים היו והתמידו זמן רב ונגלו בהמונים גדולים
In short [I believe] in all that is written in the Tōrāh and the records of the Children of Israel, which are undisputed, because they are generally known as lasting, and have been revealed before a vast multitude.
and the Muslim Scholar claimed (1:9)
ט) אמר החכם המוסלימי: והלא ספרנו הקדוש מלא ספורים על משה ע"ה ועל בני ישראל ספורים אשר אין להטיל ספק באמתתם כל אשר עשה האלוה בפרעה ואשר קרע את הים והעביר בו בשלום את אשר רצה בהם וטבע את אשר קצף עליהם ואשר הוריד אחרי כן לישראל את המן ואת השלו ארבעים שנה ואשר דבר עם משה בהר סיני ואשר העמיד את השמש ליהושע ועזרו במלחמתו בגבורים וכן כל שארע לפי כן המבול ומהפכת סדום ועמורה האין כל אלה מפרסמים עד בלי השאיר מקום לספק פן יש בזה מעשה תחבולה או תעתוע דמיון:
9)The Doctor: Is not our Book full of the stories of Moses and the Children of Israel? No one can deny what He did to Pharaoh, how He divided the sea, saved those who enjoyed His favour, but drowned those who had aroused His wrath. Then came the manna and the quails during forty years, His speaking to Moses on the mount, making the sun stand still for Joshua, and assisting him against the mighty. [Add to this] what happened previously, viz. the Flood, the destruction of the people of Lot; is this not so well known that no suspicion of deceit and imagination is possible?
It is because of this event that Mark Twain eventually wrote 3000 years after Judaism was created (Harper's Magazine, September 1899),
"All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"
We can see how important the events at Mount Sinai were with regards to rescuing, saving and preserving the Jewish people. Without G-D first revealing Himself to the Jewish people there would have been no creation of a religion. It is only because everyone knew that G-D spoke to Moshe that they were able to create this religion which presented itself as the Torah. Also, the only reason we have an oral tradition that is regarded as being from G-D and not just rabbinic interpretation is because the entire nation KNEW that G-D spoke directly to Moshe. If the Torah was directly from G-D, the explanation was clearly from G-D as well because Moshe spoke directly to G-D as witnessed by the entire nation. Hence, when we learn Torah all night we are commemorating the fact that the Jewish people heard G-D directly and from that moment onward knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that G-D spoke directly to Moshe. There is no other prophet that we can be 100% sure of except for Moshe. The Rambam even says in the Mishna Torah (Yisodei HaTorah Perek 7 Halacha 7):
ואפשר שיעשה אות ומופת ואינו נביא וזה האות יש לו דברים בגו. ואעפ"כ מצוה לשמוע לו הואיל ואדם גדול וחכם וראוי לנבואה [הוא] מעמידים אותו על חזקתו. שבכך נצטוינו כמו שנצטוינו לחתוך את הדין ע"פ שני עדים כשרים ואע"פ שאפשר שהעידו בשקר הואיל וכשרים הם אצלינו מעמידין אותן על כשרותן. ובדברים האלו וכיוצא בהן נאמר הנסתרות לה' אלהינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו. ונאמר כי האדם יראה לעינים וה' יראה ללבב:
It is possible that a person will perform a sign or wonder even though he is not a prophet - rather, the wonder will have [another cause] behind it. It is, nevertheless, a mitzvah to listen to him. Since he is a wise man of stature and fit for prophecy, we accept [his prophecy as true], for so have we been command.
[To give an example of a parallel:] We are commanded to render a [legal] judgment based on the testimony of two witnesses. Even though they may testify falsely, since we know them to be acceptable [as witnesses], we presume that they [are telling the truth].
Considering these matters and the like, [Deuteronomy 29:28] states: "The hidden matters are for God, our Lord, but what is revealed is for us and our children," and [I Samuel 16:7] states: "Man sees what is revealed to the eyes, but God sees into the heart." (Translation found here)
This is with regard to all other prophets, but not Moshe. Moshe is THE reason we accept other prophets. That is because other prophets we are relying on circumstantial evidence, but by Moshe the entire nation saw that he spoke to G-D. This singular observation is why Judaism is able to withstand the test of time. The Jewish people saw Moshe speak with G-D and because of that we accept the Torah with its oral explanation. The Torah and its oral explanation is what keeps the Jewish people together with a common ultimate purpose and this ultimate purpose is what prevents the Jewish people from fading away. That is what we celebrate on Shavuous and that is why it is the most important Jewish holiday.