The Midrash tells us that when the Jewish people were preparing to leave Egypt, they asked Moshe Rabeinu when the Torah would be given. Moshe did not provide a calendar date; instead, he answered “In a matter of 50 days.” The Talmud states “Count the days and sanctify Atzeret (another name for Shavuot)”. The true date of Shavuot is subject to a Machloket (argument) in the Talmud that remains unresolved. This means that Shavuot occurs as the culmination of counting 50 days and not as a specific, separate calendar event. How can it be that the most important day in the history of the Jewish people has no clear date?
We celebrate Shavuot on the day Moshe Rabeinu ascended to the top of Har Sinai in order to receive the Torah and the first set of Luchot (tablets). These original Luchot where broken by Moshe Rabeinu when the Jewish people sinned with the golden calf. Moshe returned with a refashioned, second set of tablets on Yom Kippur.
Wouldn’t it be logical to celebrate Yom Kippur as the real Shavuot, since that is when the Jews received the Torah in the form of an enduring set of Luchot? Why do we commemorate the day corresponding to the first Luchot, which were broken? This is analogous to a husband and wife who married, divorced, reconciled and remarried. This couple would celebrate their anniversary on the date of the second marriage, since that is the marriage that endured. They would not commemorate the first marriage which was marred by strife.
How is it possible for a single Jew to fulfill all Mitzvot of the Torah? It appears impossible, since some Mitzvot pertain only to a king, or only to a cohen or levi, etc. The answer is that when we love our fellow Jews, we bind ourselves to the entire Jewish nation, and we thereby achieve a share in the Mitzvot of all Jews. We can keep the entire Torah only if we are connected to all Jews in a spirit of unity.
The sage Hillel was approached by a man seeking to convert to Judaism. The potential convert asked Hillel to tell him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel’s famously replied “What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary.” Hillel’s words are interpreted to mean that you should love your fellow Jew as you love yourself. When we love our fellow Jews, we attach ourselves to the entire Jewish nation.
When the Jewish people approached Mount Sinai and were ready to receive the Torah, the Torah states that “he” (the Jewish people) made camp next to the mountain. The Torah speaks of the Jewish people using the singular form “he” as opposed to the plural form “they”. Rashi states: “Like one man with one heart.” Since the Jewish people had achieved unity, they were now worthy of receiving the Torah.
This is the reason that we celebrate Shavuot on the day the Jews were unified and described “as one man with one heart” and not on the day on which Moshe brought down the second, enduring set of Luchot. Shavuot is a celebration of Jewish unity.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy Shavuot!