Sunday, June 1, 2014

Shavuos; The Recurrence of Mattan Torah

Two parts;  Part I discusses our minhag to avoid elective medical procedures Erev Shavuos, and explains that it is based on the fact that Shavu'os is not just a commemoration or a celebration of Mattan Torah, it is a recurrence of Mattan Torah, a re-experience that includes all the ruchniusdikeh events that surrounded the first Mattan Torah.  This pshat inspires a new answer to the Magen Avraham's question about the nusach of tefilla on Shavuos.  Part II addresses the question of lighting Yahrtzeit candles on Yomtov, which is particularly relevant when Yomtov falls on Motzei Shabbos.

I

In Hilchos Pesach, the Rama at the end of OC 468:9 brings from the Kol Bo/Rabbeinu Yerucham a minhag to not have a blood-letting procedure done the day before any yomtov.  The Magen Avraham explains that the Gemara (Shabbos 129b:  מעלי יומא טבא חולשא מעלי יומא דעצרתא סכנתא וגזרו רבנן אכולהו מעלי יומא טבא משום יומא טבא דעצרת דנפיק ביה זיקא ושמיה טבוח דאי לא קבלו ישראל תורה הוה טבח להו לבשרייהו ולדמייהו ) says that this is a "gzeira" of Chazal because when we were about to receive the Torah, a demon named Tavo'ach came forth, and if Klal Yisrael had not accepted the Torah, he would have slaughtered them all, he would have spilled their blood.  Since this threat took place Erev Shavuos, we avoid blood letting at that time.  In order to ensure compliance with the minhag of Erev Shavous, Chazal extended the issur to include all Arvei Yamim Tovim.

The Mishna Berura brings from the Chayei Adam and Pri Megadim that this only applies when it is an optional health maintenance procedure.  If, however, you're doing it because of any sort of real need, then it is muttar because Dashu bo Rabbim, which means that nobody paid attention to the danger and it became just like any normal life activity that we do despite some attendant risk.  'שומר פתאים ה.

Rav Waldenberg, in his Tzitz Eliezer (12:46) is much more strict on this matter,and prohibits all medical procedures that involve bleeding unless there is an exigent need:

למדנו מהאמור כי בערבי ימים טובים ובמיוחד בערב חג השבועות יש למנוע כל פעולה בגוף שגורמת לפתיחת ורידי הדם  או  לעקירת ונזילת דם ממקום  למקום והתפרצותם  חוצח או כל שינוי שהוא במהלכו הטבעי של הדם בגוף, כי יש חשש סכנה  לכך, כי באשר שיום זה איתרע מזלייהו  של ישראל וניתן  בו רשות  בזמנו — ולו על תנאי —לפגוע לרעה בבשר גופם ודמם לכן מיועד יום זה כאילו לתמיד לתת יד חפשי לשטן המשחית לפגוע בגוף האדם הישראלי

He says that Sefardim don't have to be machmir, but Ashkenazim must follow the lead of the Rama and take this minhag/halacha very seriously.

This halacha, I think, is, "a custom More honour'd in the breach than the observance", like the issur to go to work on Purim or erev Shabbos after zman mincha.  But Harav Shimon Kalman Goldstein pointed out something much more important than the actual Minhag in and of itself.  We are told that Yamim Tovim are not only a commemoration, but an actual re-experience.  The character and potential of a day recur annually, and just as the beginning of Chodesh Av is a time of sadness and danger, and Adar a time of happiness and opportunity, and Nissan a time of Geula, so too all the Yamim Tovim present to us the same awesome opportunities as occurred at the original event.  Shavuos is a day that is mesugal for Kabalas Hatorah and spiritual awakening.  But Shavuos is even more so than other Yamim Tovim, as the Netziv says in his Haamek Davar in Devarim 16:12, 
באשר אז זמן מתן תורתנו ומסוגל בזה היום שניתן בו בתחילה לדורות להתבונן בהם ולקבלם עליו להגות בהם כמש"כ הרשב"א בשו"ת ס' תי"ג דכל יום מימי הבריאה פועל יותר בדבר שנתחדש בו יותר משאר ימים.  
The events of other days were manifestations of ideas that existed prior to that day.  The Mattan Torah that took place on that day was a singular and unprecedented event, and so Mattan Torah was the דבר שנתחדש בו just like Shvisa was nischadeish on Shabbos and every Shabbos there is a chalos of Shvisa and kedusha and the Neshama Yeseira.  From the moment of Mattan Torah, the day was recast forever.  Shavuos is a re-experience of Kabalas Hatorah to the extent that even the events that surrounded that day, even the dialogue with the malachim about not eating Basar B'Chalav (see Toras Chaim in Bava Metzia 86 DH D'Kama and brought in the נוהג כצאן יוסף), even the threat by the demon Tavo'ach, all of it happens every year on Shavu'os.  It's not a tableau vivant like the Seder, it's a new Kabbalas HaTorah, including אמר רב אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא: מלמד שכפה הקדוש ברוך הוא עליהם את ההר כגיגית, ואמר להם: אם אתם מקבלים התורה - מוטב, ואם לאו - שם תהא קבורתכם  (Shabbos 88a.)


This is the lashon of the Toras Chaim:
איתא במדרש דמלאכי השרת אכלו בשר בחלב, והכי איתא בתהלים רבה (מדרש תהלים ח, ב) בשלשה מקומות נתווכחו המלאכים עם הקדוש ברוך הוא וכו' בשעה שבא לברא את האדם לפניו אמרו לו מה אנוש כי תזכרנו וכו', ובשעה שבא ליתן תורה לישראל אמרו לפניו וכו' ,(ובשעה שבא הקדש ברוך הוא להשרות שכינתו במשכן אמרו לפניו וכו' ), ובשעה שעשו את העגל שמחו מלאכי השרת אמרו עכשיו תחזור התורה אלינו, אמרו לפניו וכו', אמר להן הקדוש ברוך הוא כולהו זימנין קטיגורתין עליהון ואתון בשעת דאתיתו לגבי דאברהם מי לא קאכליתו בשר וחלב דכתיב (בראשית יח, ח) ויקח חמאה וחלב ובן הבקר אשר עשה וכו', ואילו תינוק שלהן כשהוא בא מבית רבו, ואמו נותנת לו פת ובשר וגבינה לאכול, והוא אומר לה היום למדני רבי לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו (שומת לד, כו), מיד הלכו בפחי נפש. ואפשר דמהאי טעמא נוהגין לאכול מאכלי חלב ביום מתן תורה ואחר כך אוכלין בשר, כדי שיראו המלאכים מה שאנחנו נזהרין יפה במצות בשר בחלב, לאכול חלב תחילה ואחר כך בשר על ידי קינוח והדחה ושאר אזהרות, ועל ידי כן אין להן מקום לקטרג עלינו ביום מתן תורה, דחיישינן שמא יקטרגו עתה, כמו שעשו בשעת מתן תורה, דמהאי טעמא אין מקיזין דם במעלי יומא סבא משום מעלי יומא טבא דעצרת (שבת קכט:) דחיישינן דלמא אכתי נפק ההוא זיקא דשמיה טבוח. הכי נמי חיישינן דאכתי יקטרגו עלינו, וכשרואין שאנחנו נזהרין במצוה זו שעברו עליה חוששין לקטרג, פן ישיב להן הקדוש ברוך הוא כבראשונה אתם אכלתם בשר בחלב והרי תינוק שלהם נזהר יותר מכם.


- I just saw something very interesting from Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, brought on Yeshiva World News, that dovetails perfectly, as follows:
In one of his shiurim, HaGaon HaRav Yitzchak Zilberstein explained that his father-in-law, Maran HaGaon Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv ZATZAL would on erev Shavuos visit the sick, remembering that we learn that prior to giving Bnei Yisrael the Torah on Shavuos, Hashem healed all the sick, including the blind, deaf and mute – all were healed.
Rav Elyashiv explained to a sick man that every year, on Shavuos, this power is renewed. This is a time when one may call upon Hashem and asked to be healed; even for such illnesses that we generally feel there is no cure.
It was asked at what time on yomtov may one ask for a refuah. Rav Elyashiv pondered for a moment and stated the time is when we read the Aseres HaDibros in the torah reading.
I'm not sure what he means by "the time we read the Aseres HaDibros."  He probably means immediately before.  But most importantly, as we have just seen, the concept is an extrapolation of the idea of the Kol Bo/Rabbeinu Yerusham.  Just as we have a minhag to avoid medical procedures erev yomtov because the malach is being mekatreig again, so, too, the segula of refuah that preceded mattan Torah recurs on this day.

It goes without saying that the way we accept the Torah at the time it is given has a tremendous effect on how we are zocheh to siyata dishmaya in learning.  Shavuos is a recurrence of Mattan Torah; therefore it is a recurrence of Kabalas HaTorah; it is therefore a time when we can be zocheh to a resurgence of siyata dishmaya in limud haTorah.

Another interesting idea; the Magen Avraham asks that according to how we pasken in Yoreh Dei'ah, Mattan Torah was actually on the seventh of Sivan, while we celebrate it on the sixth, so why do we say zman mattan toraseinu.  There are many, many answers to this question, such as the Chasam Sofer that says that the fifth was Na'aseh v'Nishma, the sixth was when it could have happened had Moshe Rabbeinu not added an additional day of preparation, and the seventh when it actually occurred.  But how about this for a teretz- since Shavuos is not simply a commemoration, it is a recurrence, it recurs when we are kovei'a the Yomtov, just like Moshe Rabbeinu was kovei'a the first time.  It's zman mattan Toraseinu not because it's an anniversary of an ancient event, it is zman mattan Toraseinu because we are kovei'a the date of the new Mattan Torah.

II

Yahrtzeit candles, or, נר נשמה.

The minhag is that those that say Yizkor light a yahrtzeit candle that burns over yomtov.  There are those that hold that in that we derive no personal benefit from this lighting,  it cannot fall under the rubric of Tzorech Hayom, and so it is assur to light such a candle on Yomtov itself.  Several people asked me whether this means that this year they would have to have a three day candle burning, since Yizkor is the second day of Yomtov and Yomtov follows Shabbos.  Coincidentally, I saw that the Tzitz Eliezer (6:10) is mattir lighting a yahrtzeit candle / נר נשמה at home on Yomtov, despite his correspondent's vigorous objections.
When I alluded to this problem in my shiur, they asked me what I say the halacha is.  I said that I refuse to discuss it.  They were upset, until Dr. David Grinblatt said that he remembers that Rav Yosef Ber, asked the same question in Boston, said that he refuses to discuss it.  The idea was that the people that are noheg to do it do it; it's less an issue of mutav yihyu then one of rational analysis saying one thing but the minhag Yisrael saying another.  It's hard to know when to take a stand and say the minhag is wrong and when to say that you must be missing something.
I have since learned that Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst of Chicago also assers lighting the yahrtzeit candle on Yomtov.
If you are noheig to light your cigarettes from a yahrtzeit candle, a habit with fascinating multiple-tiered symbolic resonance, then for sure it's muttar.  Or, less morbidly, the yomtov candles.

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