Shavuot 2022: why we celebrate on the 50th day.
Over the last nearly 50 days we've been counting the Omer. It’s a countdown from Pesach – Yetziat Mitzrayim (leaving Egypt) – until Shavuot. Fifty days: seven weeks, plus one.
But the Chachamim ask a question, and it's a very good question. What happens on the 50th day? Shavuot is on the 50th day. We’re celebrating that we got the Torah, right?
But we didn't get the Torah on the 50th day. We got the Torah on the 51st day.
Preparing for the Torah
The Maharsha alav ha-shalom gives an extraordinary answer. He says that in order for us to get the Torah we had to go from the 49th level of impurity to the 49th level of purity. From tamei (impure) to tahor (pure). Meaning, that in order to receive the Torah we have to prepare. You can't just receive something pure and treat it like you're supposed to without being prepared.
In order to receive anything of any value you have to prepare yourself. If you plan on keeping it.
Fixing Character Traits: The Prerequisite for Torah
The sages tell us that we had to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah. We had to remove all of the idolatry that we had from Mitzrayim. Whether it was the idols themselves in those days…or avodah zara that comes from wigs today. Whether it was believing in the Nile River, or Pharaoh, or the goat being a god…or believing that your dollar is God. Same thing, nothing's changed.
You have to prepare, and HaShem is giving us the Torah each year all over again. He didn't just give us the Torah back then, he's giving it to us each year.
But why are we celebrating the 50th day if we got the Torah on the 51st? The reason why is because in order for us to get to that point, in order for us to get to that point of actually receiving the Torah, we had to work on our middot – our character traits. We had to clean up all of the disgusting tumah (impurity) that became part of us. We’re talking about all of the sleepy people that think that they're tzaddikim when in reality they're as far from it as can be. And this includes: all of the people that are religious in their own eyes, all of the people that are generous in their own eyes, and all of the women that are modest in their own eyes…but in reality they're not.
So this is why we had to prepare for 50 days. And after we prepared, we got the Torah.
Mussar – How We Fix Middot.
The sages continue adding to what the Maharsha said and the Magen Avraham asked about the Pesach haggadah; there's a section where we say dayenu. Remember that section, dayenu?
“…If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!...
…If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!...
…If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!...”
The sages have a question about that: what do you mean it would have been enough taking us to Mount Sinai and nothing else? Don't give us the Torah? What are we going to do at Mount Sinai without Torah?
This is a good question. What am I going to do at Mount Sinai if I'm not going to get the Torah? Why did I go there? We learn from the Maharsha who explained why we went to Mount Sinai. It was to clean ourselves up, to learn some mussar, to clean our middot, and to fix ourselves. That would have already been enough. That would have been enough chesed from HaShem to let us do teshuva. This teaches us that it's even more important to fix our bad middot than to learn Torah. That's why it was done first.
Now of course you have the two go together, both go hand-in-hand because you can’t fix your middot without Torah. But nonetheless, if a person wants to have a chance when Moshiach (the Messiah) comes, or Gan Eden, or Olam Haba, he or she has to realize that working on middot is much more critical than memorizing every single halacha that was ever said by every chacham in the last thousand years. It's all important, but fixing your middot is more important. The Gemara specifically says: a Talmid Chacham with bad character traits, a dead animal in the middle of the street is better than him. He was supposed to fix himself as a result of the Torah. If he learned Torah and still didn't fix himself...there's no hope for this person. A dead animal is better than him.
Shavuot Proves Why We Need to Learn Mussar
This is one of the major proofs that we learn from this holiday, Shavuot, for how critical it is to learn mussar. It's the only tool we have in order to fix ourselves. It's hard. iIt's different. It's in your face. It makes you check yourself over and over again. But it's the only thing that will fix us.