Let them be prepared for the third day

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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והיו נכונים ליום השלישי

Preparing for Shevuos

            The days of counting the omer are the preparation for receiving the Torah.  The leaders throughout the generations have commented that the forty-nine days of the omer parallel the forty-eight qualities through which Torah is acquired.

What is the essence of שלשת ימי הגבלה, the three days prior to Shevuos?

            "ויסעו מרפידים ויבאו מדבר סיני ויחנו במדבר ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר"[1], they journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the Wilderness; and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain.  The Ohr HaChaim expounds on this passuk,[2]


This verse is teaching us that there are three main prerequisites to receiving the Torah, through which G-d was willing to entrust the Torah to the Jewish people as an eternal inheritance.


The first prerequisite is to study the Torah diligently and with vigor.  Laziness is like a weed which causes one to forfeit whatever achievements in Torah understanding one has acquired.  Hence you will find in every place where it discusses Torah study it mentions such attributes as חוזק, strength, and אומץ, fortitude and vigor; even to the point where one is willing to kill himself over it as it says “this is the Torah of a man who dies in the tent” on which the Gemara expounds “from here we know that words of Torah are not retained except by one who kills himself over the Torah.”  Thus we find our Sages referring to Torah with such terms as עסק התורה, Torah occupation andהשתדלות התורה , diligence in Torah.  In my work חפץ ה' I expounded on the Gemara in שבת פ"ח ע"ב which brings Rava’s statement: “To those who grasp it [the Torah] with their right hand it is an elixir of life” that the Torah proves an elixir of life only to those who invest all their vigor in studying it.  In our verse the Torah alludes to this by saying ויסעו מרפידים “ They journeyed from Rephidim.”  Had the Torah only wanted us to know from which location they came, it would have stated this before mentioning that they arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai.  By mentioning this only afterwards, the Torah meant to tell us that Bnei Yisrael left their spiritual slacking off in their study of Torah, as we find in the Gemara in בכורות ה' ע"ב an explanation of the verse “Amalek came and battled Yisrael in Rephidim”—the word “Rephidim” indicates that the Jewish people slacked off in their study and observance of the words of the Torah [רפידים from the root ר.פ.ה, meaning “to become weak”].  They now left this [laziness] behind and prepared themselves to become worthy of the Torah they were about to receive.  This is what the Torah meant with the words ויבאו מדבר סיני, “and they arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai.”

The second prerequisite is being modest and humble, for Torah is sustained only in those who humble themselves and make themselves like the wilderness which everybody treads upon.  This is what the Torah meant with the [subsequent] words ויחנו במדבר “and they encamped in the Wilderness,” meaning humility like the wilderness which everybody treads upon.



The third prerequisite is sincere cooperation between Torah scholars and not learning alone.  As it is written [regarding one who learns Torah alone], “A sword upon those who are alone”[3]  Rather they should gather together and sharpen each other and help each other.  This is the reason the Torah describes the encampment of the Bnei Yisrael as ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר “and Yisrael [in the last few words of our passuk] encamped there opposite the mountain” in the singular, instead of the usual ויחנו, they encamped, for they learned to cooperate and become like one man.  And now they were ready to accept the Torah. 


            Thus we have three necessary prerequisites to acquiring Torah: dedicated effort, humility and closeness with colleagues in Torah studies.  These three things are alluded to in the Medrash[4]: "בשלשה דברים התורה ניתנה באש, במים ובמדבר", the Torah was given via three things, fire, water, and the wilderness.  These three elements warrant explanation as to what they represent.

Fire has a tremendous power to destroy and annihilate, but it can also warm and give light.  This parallels the total dedication and effort that Torah study requires; it weakens the body but illuminates the soul.

About water our Sages say[5] "למה נמשלו דברי תורה למים? מה מים מניחים מקום גבוה והולכים למקום נמוך, אף דברי תורה אין מתקיימים אלא במי שדעתו שפלה" the words of Torah are compared to water, just as water leaves a higher level and goes to a lower level, so too, the words of Torah are retained only by one who is humble.

Thus we see that fire and water represent the two necessary ingredients for Torah acquisition as mentioned by the Ohr HaChaim concerning effort and humility.

The Torah was given in the wilderness, and although the Ohr HaChaim explains that the wilderness represents humility, our Sages[6] explain it differently: INSERT HEBREW what is the meaning of that which is written: “and from the wilderness to Mattanah”?  Once a person makes himself like a wilderness, so that he is open to everyone, the Torah is given to him as a gift [Mattanah].  Rashi explains[7] that this is referring to someone who teaches Torah to others free of charge.  Similarly, the Gemara states[8] “If a person makes himself like this wilderness, which everybody treads upon, [i.e. he is humble], then the Torah is given to him as a gift.  These Gemaros indicate that the wilderness is representative of camaraderie in Torah study, sharp discussing with students, and teaching to anyone who is interested in learning.[9]

The Gemara[10] relates

            On that day, R’ Eliezer advanced all the arguments in the world to defend his lenient ruling, but the sages did not accept his arguments.  R’ Eliezer said to them: if the halachah accords with me, let this carob tree prove it, whereupon the carob tree was uprooted from its place and moved one hundred cubits.  And some say it moved four hundred cubits.  Unconvinced, the sages said to him: you cannot bring proof from a carob tree.  He then said to them: if the halachah accords with me, let the water canal prove it, whereupon the water in the water canal flowed backwards.  The sages said to him: you cannot bring a proof from a water canal.  He then said to them: if the halachah accords with me, let the walls of the study hall prove it, whereupon the walls of the study hall leaned and were about to fall.  Immediately R’ Yehoshua rebuked the walls and said to them: if Torah scholars vie with one another in discussions about halachah, what business is it if yours?  The walls did not fall out of respect for R’ Yehoshua but neither did they right themselves out respect for R’ Eliezer.  And they still continued to lean to this day.  R’ Eliezer then said to the sages: if the halachah accords with me, let heaven prove it, whereupon a Heavenly echo went forth and proclaimed: what argument do you have with R’ Eliezer whom the halachah follows in all places!  Upon hearing this R’ Yehoshua stood on his feet and declared- It [the Torah] is not in Heaven.  The Gemara interjects: What is meant by: It is not in Heaven?  R’ Yirmiyah said: it means that we pay no heed to a Heavenly echo in matters of halachah, for the Torah was already given to man at Mount Sinai.  The Gemara relates the rest of R’ Yehoshua’s response to the Heavenly echo: we do not pay attention to a Heavenly echo because You[G-d] already wrote in the Torah at Mount Sinai “according to the majority the matter shall be decided.”


            The three proofs which R’ Eliezer HaGadol brought, the carob tree, the water canal, and the walls of the study hall, allude to the three ways of acquiring Torah wisdom.  The carob tree represents subsisting on the bare minimum, as we see with R’ Shimon bar Yochai and his son Elazar who for twelve years in the cave subsisted on nothing but carobs.  And as the Gemara says[11], "חנינא בני די לו בקב חרובין מערב שבת לערב שבת", Chanina My son makes do with a small measure of carobs from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos.  This is a prerequisite to Torah, as our Sages say[12] "כך היא דרכה של תורה פת במלח תאכל ומים במשורה תשתה ועל הארץ תישן וחיי צער תחיה ובתורה אתה עמל" this is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, and drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, and live a life of deprivation—but toil in the Torah!  The water canal alludes to the Torah which is likened to water, which always gathers at the lowest point, i.e., humility, and the walls of the study hall allude to the closeness among colleagues and to the teaching of Torah to the masses.  R’ Eliezer excelled in these three areas.

Thus we see three pillars of Torah which enable a person to merit the crown of Torah: effort, humility, and camaraderie in Torah study.  The three days we have prior to Shevuos parallel these three things.  We must take full advantage of these days leading up to Shevuos, so that we are ready to acquire the Torah and all the joy inherent in it.



[1] שמות י"ט: ב'

[2] Ibid.

[3] ירמיהו נ': ל"ו

[4] במדבר רבה ??? and ילקוט שמעוני תרפ"ד

[5]תענית ז' ע"א

[6] נדרים נ"ה ע"א

[7] Ibid.

[8] עירובין מ"ד ע"א

[9] The ר"ן on the Gemara in נדרים offers an explanation in line with what the Ohr HaChaim says about the wilderness representing humility: Rav Yosef’s intention was to caution Rava to be extremely humble.

[10] בבא מציעא נ"ט ע"ב

[11] ברכות י"ז: ע"ב

[12] פרקי אבות ו': ד'