Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

The Existence of the World Depends on Matan Torah

Our Sages said that from the time of creation, the earth was filled with trepidation until the sixth of Sivan, for “God made a condition with the works of creation, saying: ‘If the Jews accept the Torah, you will endure; if not, I will return you to primordial chaos’” (Shabbat 88a). In order to understand the significance of the matter, one needs to examine the moral revolution that the People of Israel brought about in the world. At the time of the Giving of the Torah, a significant proportion of people in the world were slaves, some due to defeat in wars, and others, because of interest-bearing loans they were unable to repay. They had absolutely no rights – their masters could abuse them as they pleased. In merit of the Torah given to Israel, who were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and went out to freedom by the word of God, and thanks to the Torah which commanded to treat a slave as a human being created in the image of God and to maintain his right to believe in God and keep His commandments, in a gradual process, slavery was abolished.

At the time of Matan Torah, the institution of marriage, which expresses a covenant of love, was insecure. Phenomena of incest within the family were widespread, to the point where it was necessary for halakha to instruct that a brother and sister, a father and daughter, or a mother and son who were married and converted, were obligated to separate. In a gradual process, the idea of the sanctity of marriage spread throughout the world. In those times, kings established the law and could bend it as they pleased; in court, judges favored the powerful and rich. In a gradual process, the commandment that a court must deal fairly for all, and that the poor and impoverished should not be discriminated, was accepted. Even the king himself is subject to the law, and for that reason, must write a Sefer Torah which accompanied him for his entire life.

The Crisis in Modern Times

After the Torah had already greatly influenced the world, through the religions that accepted some of its values (Christianity and Islam), and through the various thinkers who developed the doctrine of the state, and the doctrine of morality in light of the Torah, it seemed to many Jews that the nation of Israel had completed its role. There was no longer any need to adhere to Jewish identity and preserve the consciousness of the exile, because since these great values had been internalized by the enlightened nations, one could join them, and in their path, continue improving the world in light of the morals of the Torah and Prophets. On the other hand, Jews who adhered to the Shulchan Aruch were seen as living in the past. Thus began a serious and dangerous process of secularization, and assimilation.

Our Present Role

Despite the great moral progress of mankind in the light of the Torah, we are still very far from the great vision of the Torah. Indeed today, humanity in general revolts against great injustices, and a vast number of people in the world merit living within a law system that affords them rights and dignity. Yet, precisely nowadays, when man is free, he is at odds about how to fulfill his deepest aspirations. Thus, we find many people who fail to maintain a faithful marital relationship, with love and joy. Numerous people are frustrated with their work, and find no value in it. Accepted values such as justice and equality, the needs of the individual and society, ethnic groups and the nation – conflict irreparably. Our Holy Torah possesses guidance and direction for the solution of all these deep questions, and if we do not find them in the Torah, the inadequacy is our own – guardians of the learning halls of Torah, who do not study the Torah properly. We overemphasize the insignificant questions, and neglect the deep ones – often dealing with monetary laws of two thousand years ago, while neglecting monetary laws of today.

May we merit in the coming Shavuot holiday, to rejoice in the Torah, and greatly strengthen ourselves in a deep and straightforward study of Torah, till the time we merit seeing how from every mitzvah and halakha, a great light emanates that rectifies the entire world, ‘and the land be filled with devotion to God, as water covers the sea’.

The Complete Joy we had on Shavu’ot

There is a unique virtue to the joy of Shavu’ot over the other holidays, that even according to those poskim who are of the opinion that a person may devote the main part of a holiday to Torah study and minimize eating and drinking, on Shavu’ot, alongside Torah study, one is obligated to hold very important festive meals, because it is “the day on which the Torah was given” (Pesachim 68b).

From this halakha we learn an important foundation – the Torah is meant to add blessing and joy in all areas of life. The special virtue of the Torah is that it instructs the path of unifying faith, the purpose of which is to draw blessing and life, both spiritually and physically. To guide family life so that it expresses both truth and holiness, as well as joy and blessing. Also in work and trade, namely, they ensue in honesty, and blessing be drawn from them. Similarly in all areas of life, all of which the Torah deals with, and in all of which we have mitzvot that guide and elevate us to reveal the sacred value, and the resulting blessing in real life. Therefore, it is essential that the joy of Shavu’ot be expressed both in Torah study, and in eating and drinking.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.