Once on the night of Shavous Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was sitting
together with his colleague and disciple the Koznitzer Maggid. The
Berditchever turned to the Kozhnitzer and said: "Whoever has refined eyes
will tomorrow be able to actually see the thunder and lightning which were
present during the episode of Matan Torah - when we were given the Torah by
Hashem on Mount Sinai!" "If so," replied the Kozhnitzer, "then we must make
sure to pray and pour out our hearts to Hashem that he heals our eyes so
that we can see this!"
(Kisvei Rav Yoshe #12 p.123)
Why is the festival of Shavous called by the name Atzeres?
I was asked in the country of Lithuania (this may have been when Rav Levi
Yitzchak served as the Rabbi of Pinsk) [the following question:]
Why is the festival of Shavous called by the name Atzeres?1 Since, we do not
find this name used in the Torah except to refer to Shemini Atzeres
I answered this question in three different ways:
The first way [I answered] is based on the simple meaning of the Torah known
as Peshat. We can see that on every festival there are two ways to serve the
Creator, the first is by the specific special mitzvah that is associated
with that festival: on Pesach by eating matzah etc. (On Succos by sitting in
the Succa and shaking the Lulav and four species.) The second way is
abstaining from forbidden forms of work. On Shavous this is not the case.
There is only one mitzvah, to abstain and cease all forms of work. (There is
no special biblical mitzvah associated with Shavous). Therefore this
festival is called Azteres - which means cessation or stopping (since we
cease and stop from doing work and that is its only mitzvah).
The second way [I answered this question] is that we can clearly recognize
that all the festivals are named after the occurrence which happened at that
time, and after the mitzvah which we fulfill then during all of these
holidays. (Pesach is named because Hashem passed over the Jewish houses, and
Sukkos because of the clouds of glory and huts and booths that Bnei Yisroel
sat in.) However this is not the case regarding Shavous (which means
literally weeks), it is not named after what occurred on that day, rather it
is named after the mitzvah of Sefirah (the mitzvah to count seven weeks).
We must try to understand why would this festival be named from a mitzvah
that preceded it? The answer is because it is like the [celebration of a]
siyum or end of a mitzvah. As our sages said (Shabbos 118b) Abbaye said when
I see a young Torah scholar who has completed a Talmudic tractate I make a
holiday festival for all the rabbis.
And just like at the festive siyum when a Talmudic tractate is completed
there is great happiness and rejoicing and we make great festive meals (Shir
haShirim Rabbah 1:9; Koheles Rabbah 1:1) and we see this occur by great men
and Torah scholars.
We should really ask why are they rejoicing? The mitzvah has already ended
and passed, however the truth is that this a correct custom as Rashi
explained (VaYikra 23:36) regarding Shemini Atzeres that we say to Hashem
"Your departure is difficult for me," to what can this be compared? To a
dignitary who invited the king and all his ministers for a grand festive
meal, after the meal ended when the king prepared to depart and leave to
journey home the dignitary turned to the king and said, your departure is
difficult for me," please stop and halt your journey and remain here with me
so that we need not take leave of each other. This is similar to what we are
doing here, this is why the festival is known as Shemini "Atzeres" since
each day of the festival they sacrifices several bullocks and rams and we
make the festival of Shemini Atzeres in order to hold back another day and
make an additional simcha - an additional day for rejoicing. This is the
same reason for why we rejoice at the conclusion of finishing a Talmudic
tractate. This is the same reason for Shavous we celebrate on this festival
the siyum, the completion of the counting of the mitzvah of Sefiras
[HaOmer], with which the blessed Creator blessed us and therefore it is
known as Atzeres.
The third way [I answered this question], is based on the Ramban's (Sefer
HaEmunah VeHabitachon Chapter 19) explanation and commentary on the verse
(Shir HaShirim 8:4) "To awaken the love till it is desired - Ad SheTachpotz"
and he explained that when a person receives an awakening of fear, awe and
love for the blessed Creator then he must see to it to immediately create a
vessel to hold and contain those feelings. That is he should do a mitzvah
such as giving charity or to sit and learn and do similar things. For it is
known that when an awakening comes to a person suddenly this is a great
light sent as shefa on him from above. It has an aspect of the soul which
[is naked and] must be robed and clothed in a body in order to strengthen
her and establish her which is known to those who understand these things.
This is the meaning of the verse "awakening the love till it is desired - Ad
Shetechpatz," this refers to an awakening of love from on high which a
person receives, he needs immediately to place it in some vessel, read this
as until it is placed into a vessel - Ad Shetechpatz - like Chefetz a
vessel. This is the Ramban's explanation in my own words.
At the time of the giving of the Torah surely the Jewish people experienced
a great awakening however as of yet they had no mitzvos to use as a vessel
with which to hold and capture this feeling. I am therefore forced to say
that the one mitzvah they had to use as such a vessel was the commandment of
Hagbalah - where Moshe warned them to refrain from drawing near nor touching
the mountain (Shemos 19:12). They stopped themselves and halted from
touching the mountain and using this mitzvah they created a vessel to hold
and contain that feeling of awakening. Since they held themselves back and
stopped this festival is called Atzeres [which means to stop or refrain].
Shavous is called Atzeres by Chazal in many places such as Mishna Sheviis
1:1; Bikkurim 1:3, 1:6; and in the Talmud tractates Rosh HaShannah 16a,
Chagigah 17a. Other answers to this question that the Kedushas Levi was
asked may be found in Birkei Yosef (O.C. Siman 494) and in Pesach Eynaim (by
the same author in section Sheviis) in the name of the Midrash Pesikta
Zutrasa that the Targum of Onkelos translates "your Shavous" as "Be'atzrosaychon"
(Bamidbar 28:26). The Chizkuni there in Bamidbar and Tosfos on the verse
23:27 in VaYikra also claim that the Targum's rendition is Chazal's source
for calling Shavous by the name Atzeres. Tosfos there adds another possible
explanation that since they separated from their wives it is called Atzeres.
The Sforno VaYikra 23:36 explains that Shavous is called Atzeres because on
that day they all stopped everything else to serve Hashem and receive the
See also Ramban's commentary to VaYikra 23:36 where he explains that based
on Kabbalah Pesach and the intermediary forty nine days of Sefirah till the
festival of Shavous correspond to Succos and it's intermediary days which
culminate in Shemini Atzeres. So that Pesach corresponds to Succos, the
intermediary days known as Chol HaMoed correspond to the forty nine days of
Sefirah which the Ramban says are like Chol HaMoed and Shemini Atzeres
corresponds to Shavous, which is why, says the Ramban our rabbis called
Shavous by the name Atzeres.
Matan Torah vs. Kabalas HaTorah
The Berditchever once explained that, "Z'man Matan Toarseinu - the time of
the giving of the Torah was a historical past event that occurred when G-d
gave the Jewish people the Torah at Mount Sinai."
"However Kabalas HaTorah - that is the acceptance of the Torah is a
contemporary phenomenon. It is a timeless event which can take place within
the heart of any Jew at any time."
The Berditchever also said that while during Matan Torah the entire Torah
was given all at once, each person's personal Kabbalas Ha'Torah is a
personal process tailored based on each Jew's individual intellectual
capacity and at their own pace.
(Fun Unzer Geistiger Charifis II p103; Fun Torah Otzar p149)
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
Director Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim
Chassidic Classics in the English Language
Author Page https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003VH9D48