Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Shavous and Pirkei Avos and also some cheescake

Its Erev Chag, we have counted Sefiras HaOmer for 49 days anticipating and leading up to and culminating in . . .Cheese Cake...um no lets try that again, culminating in . . .sleepless caffeine highs while we try to keep our drooping eyelids open over a sefer and dreaming of bed, no that does not sound right . . .how about snoring through Akdumus? scratches his head....something seems missing?!

Yom Kippur has a fast, Rosh HaShanna has a shofar, Purim has a Megillah, Channukah has candles, Sukkos has a Sukka, A Lulav an Esrog, Pesach has Matzo, Marror and a Seder and Shavous has (drum roll) Cheesecake!

Something does not add up!

Rav :evi Yitzchok of Berditchev suggests that the reason Shavous is called Atzeres is because the only mitzvah it has is the cessation of creative work known as melacha whoch charecterizes it as YOMTOV. I would like to suggest the chiddush that the mitzvah of Shavous is the hearing of Aseres HaDibros and acceptance of the Torah. However even putting my chiddush aside, what is it that Shavous means. We dont even count Sefirah on Shavous we finished that the night before...

I learned an amazing insight from the Chasam Sofer today. It is found at the end of his commentary to parshas VaYikra. There he discusses Pirkei Avos, the chapters of the fathers which we have been studying weekly each Shabbos to prepare for Matan Torah.

He asks why is the tractate or Meseches called Avos - he answers with an amazingly novel concept. All of the Oral Torah, the Shas and the Talmud are Toldos or offspring of the written Torah Shebiksav. That is our sages, Chazal based their Oral laws and traditions expounding upon through the principles of logic and derasha to create the corpus of the Oral Torah. Thus the Shas and Torah SheBaal Peh can be seen as offsrping or Toldos of the written Torah.

However this Mesachta, Pirkei Avos is called Avos because it is the opposite. The sages extrapolated and learned out midos and minhagim tovim, good character traits and posiitive ways of actions from - their own hearts  - this just straight mussar then lead them to use derashos and logic to base them on the verses of the written Torah. This is why the Mesechat begins with Moshe receiving the Torah from Mt Sinai, because even these where Divinely inspired and received from one shepherd. However since the sages are the founders, teachers and innovators of these teachings of mussar, they are the forefathers and these teachings are the fathers, the Avos whereas their foundation in Torah is the Toldos.

That is a radical chiddush. The Chasam Sofer is telling us that the mussar found in Pirkei Avos was innovated by the sages from the character traits and paths of positive actions drawn from their hearts and later based on the writtten Torah. How can this be? I think the answer is this:

The Gemara says "How foolish are those that rise to honor a Torah scroll, but fail to rise before a scholar!" Why because a true Torah Scholar a real Talmid Chacham is a living, breathing walking Sefer Torah. It is no wonder then that our sages who embodied Torah and were walking sifrei Torah were able to innovate and draw out the mussar from their very own hearts!

This is the mitzvah of Shavous, to absorb Torah so that it transforms us.

Now enjoy a slice of cheesecake.

GutYomTov Chag Sameach
Happy Matan Torah


Kol Tuv,
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
Director Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim Publishing
Chassidic Classics in the English Language
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