Shabbat 86

Today’s daf (Shabbat 86b, as well as the first few lines of Shabbat 87a) records a debate between the Sages and Rabbi Yossi concerning the date when the Jewish people received the Torah on Mount Sinai.

As Rava points out, both the Sages and Rabbi Yossi agree that the people arrived at Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Furthermore, both the Sages and Rabbi Yossi agree that the Torah was given on Shabbat. However, their point of disagreement concerns whether the people abstained from marital relations for two days (Sages), or whether Moshe added a further day of abstinence (Rabbi Yossi).

On this basis, the Sages are of the view that the people arrived at Sinai on a Monday (Rosh Chodesh Sivan) and the Torah was given on the 6th of Sivan, whereas Rabbi Yossi asserts that the people arrived at Sinai on a Sunday (Rosh Chodesh Sivan) and therefore the Torah was given on the 7th of Sivan.

Now for those living outside of Israel who observe two days of Shavuot (6-7th Sivan), this debate may not be necessarily be a source of agitation because whether the view is in accordance with the Sages or Rabbi Yossi, both days are commemorated as Shavuot. However, Jews in Israel celebrate Shavuot on just the 6th of Sivan which, according to Rabbi Yossi, is the day before the Torah was given! So how do those in Israel who agree with the rationale of Rabbi Yossi find meaning in the celebration of Shavuot which we proclaim to be ‘Zman Matan Torateinu’ – the time of the giving of the Torah?

This question is addressed by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Mesorat Moshe Vol. 2 p. 491) who first points out how both the Sages and Rabbi Yossi principally agree that God was prepared to give the Torah on the 6th of Sivan but that, according to Rabbi Yossi, Moshe added a further day of abstinence and thereby delayed the receiving of the Torah by one day because he felt that this would be spiritually beneficial for the people. On this basis Rabbi Feinstein explains that:

‘even though in practice the Torah might well have been given on the 7th of Sivan, nevertheless since God was already prepared to give it to us on the 6th of Sivan then this date is already considered the day of the giving of the Torah.’

What this means is that though, according to Rabbi Yossi, the 7th of Sivan was actually the date of the ‘receiving’ of the Torah by the people, the 6th of Sivan was still the date when God was prepared to ‘give’ the Torah to the people. Thus Rabbi Yossi interprets Shavuot as the celebration of God’s preparedness to give us the Torah, while the Sages understand Shavuot as the celebration of both the giving and receiving of the Torah.

Rabbi Feinstein then concludes with one further observation which I believe goes far beyond this debate and speaks to all people in all places and at all times:

‘the lesson for us today is that God is always prepared to give to us; it is our task to ready ourselves so that we are able to receive.’