- The great significance of the number three which is associated repeatedly with the giving of the Torah.
- That although Hashem offered the Torah to the nations first, it was always His intention to give it to Klal Yisrael.
- How Yisrael were absolutely entitled to take the Eretz Yisrael away from the kings of Canaan.
- How the merit of our three forefathers is the main reason why we merited to receive the Torah.
- Why we always read parshas Bamidbar before Shavuos.
The gemora in Shabbos 88a writes that a certain Galilean lectured in the presence of Rav Chisda: Blessed is the Merciful One, who gave the threefold Torah (Torah, Prophets and Writings), to the threefold people (Kohanim, Levi’im and Yisraelim), through the hand of a third born (Moshe Rabbeinu, who was born after Aaron and Miriam), on the third day (after separation from their wives), in the third month (Sivan).
We need to understand in what way this is a blessing, and also to understand the significance of these things being threefold, and not some other number.
But first we need to explain the gemora in Pesachim 68b: Rav Yosef said to his household on Shavuos: Make for me a third born calf. If not for this day (whereby I learned Torah, and I was thereby elevated), there are many people in the marketplace who are named Yosef (and what would have been the difference between them and me?). Many have wondered at Rav Yosef - since he was a very humble person how could he say something which seems so arrogant?
Before this, we need to explain the posukim in Devarim 33:2 “Hashem came from Sinai, and shone forth from Seir to them; He appeared from Mount Paran and came with some of the holy myriads; from His right hand was a fiery law for them. Indeed, You showed love for the nations; all His holy ones are in Your hand, for they suffered to follow You, bearing Your utterances”.
We can explain these posukim by understanding that which Hashem said in parshas Yisro as a preface to His offering the Torah to Yisrael: “You have seen that which I did to Egypt, how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me” (Shemos 19:4).
At first glance this preface seems to be completely unnecessary. Granted if someone wishes to ask his friend to do him a favor and he is afraid that his friend might not acquiesce to his request, in that situation he might precede his request by reminding him of something that he had done for him in order to compel him to return the favor. But if he wants to give to his friend a present, is it logical that he would say to him: Remember that I did you a favor, therefore please accept from me this present? A person would certainly accept the present without such a preamble. If so, since Hashem is promising Klal Yisrael “And now, if you will obey me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all the peoples…and you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation”, why did He need to introduce this by reminding them what He had done to Egypt, and how He had carried them on eagles’ wings. Also, the language of the posuk “And now, if you will obey me…” is problematic - the words ’and now’ are seemingly extra, and it could have said simply “If you will obey me…”.
But it is well known that which our Rabbis have taught us, that Hashem first offered the Torah to all the nations but none of them were willing to accept it, and only afterwards did He give it to Yisrael. Accordingly, one might make a mistake and think that only because there was no choice did He give it to Yisrael, but if the nations had accepted it first then He would not have given it to us. If this was the truth, then we would not consider the Torah to be very important. It would be like something that someone is trying to sell and nobody wants, and so he forces somebody to accept it - certainly that thing would not be very important to him.
But the truth is that it never occurred to Hashem to give the Torah to anyone else but Klal Yisrael. The reason why He first offered it to all the nations, as I explained in the opening piece of my book Sefer HaChaim, was in order to benefit Klal Yisrael, so that they would thereby gain ownership of the whole world. Because since at that time the nation of Canaan owned the Land of Yisrael, how could Klal Yisrael take it? Rashi, it’s true, explained at the beginning of parshas Bereishis, that the entire earth belongs to Hashem because He created it. So when He wanted, He gave the Land of Yisrael to Canaan, and when He wanted, He took it away and gave it to us. But this answer is insufficient - is it reasonable that a person would give his friend a present and then later take it back!! All the more so is it unreasonable that Hashem should do so.
But since if no one had accepted the Torah the world would have reverted to nothingness - as it is written in Yirmeyohu 33:25 “If not for my covenant (the Torah, which is learned) day and night, the statutes of the heavens and the earth I would not have placed” - therefore, when Yisrael accepted the Torah the existence of the world was established, and so now the whole world belonged to them. This is the same as the halachah concerning an item which is ownerless, or has been declared ownerless because the owner is unable to save it, for example, something which was taken by a marauding army. Somebody who saves it from it’s ownerless state becomes the incontestable owner.
However, if Hashem had not first offered it to the nations of the world, they could have claimed that Yisrael should not be considered as saving the world from being ownerless, since they themselves could have accepted the Torah and saved the world. Therefore, Hashem had to first offer it to all the nations, and since they had all replied that they could not accept it, the way was free for Yisrael to become the indisputable owners, and could not therefore be justifiably accused of being thieves when they took the land of Yisrael. We can illustrate this with the following parable:
A father had two sons, one of which he loved, and for whom he retained a tutor to teach him Torah and other wisdoms until he became a great sage. The other son he did not love, and so he did not retain for him a tutor, and he remained an empty-headed ignoramus. When the time came for the father to leave this world and he wished to apportion his property, he wanted to take away the inheritance of his unlearned son, and to give everything to his wise son. But his son started to challenge him: Why are you doing this to your son - am I not your offspring as well? His father answered him: Because you are devoid of any wisdom, whereas he is a great sage. Then the son began to shout: On the contrary, this is my very complaint! If you had retained for me a tutor also but I had not wanted to learn, then I would have only myself to blame, and you would be justified in depriving me of my inheritance. But you are the one who caused my current predicament by not hiring for me a teacher, and so, on the contrary, it's not enough that you have done me wrong by not teaching me wisdom, but in addition you now want to take away my inheritance?!
The analogy is that Hashem wanted to give the Torah only to Klal Yisrael, because the merit of their forefathers, the Avos, made them fitting for this, as I will explain further on. But since He had created the World to Come and Gan Eden in order to give a wonderful inheritance to those whom He had created, and He now wished to remove this inheritance from the nations and give it all to Klal Yisrael, if He immediately gave the Torah to Yisrael without first offering it to the nations, then in the World to Come, when Hashem wanted to give all of it to Yisrael, the nations of the world would be able to claim: Why is Hashem differentiating between Yisrael and the nations? Why should they take our portion in the World to Come?
Perhaps one might answer that it is because Yisrael keeps the Torah. But on the contrary, it is not appropriate that Hashem should give any reward for keeping the Torah, because He Himself does not need the observance of the Torah - its purpose is for our benefit. In fact, if we were able, we should be obligated to pay limitless amounts to Hashem for giving us the Torah. But because we are not able - due both to the greatness of the One who is giving, who does not need any repayment, and to the meager ability of the recipient, who cannot repay a fitting amount - it is at the very least unreasonable to ask for a reward for this beneficence that we have received.
So perhaps one might answer that because they are wise and received the Torah, therefore they deserve this wonderful inheritance, the World to Come. But reason demands the opposite - the nations will say: It’s not enough that you didn’t give the Torah to us, but rather gave it to Yisrael and held back this good thing from us, but you also want to take from us our inheritance!!
Therefore Hashem had to first offer the Torah to the nations, even though he already knew that they would not accept it, so that when He afterwards gave it to Yisrael it would be possible to give them all of the World to Come, having a irrefutable claim that since the nations had not wanted to accept the Torah, it was fitting to remove the inheritance from them. So we see, Hashem did all this for Yisrael’s good.
Furthermore, one cannot possibly think that Hashem had not wanted originally to give the Torah to Yisrael, because we see from what He did for them in Egypt how great was Hashem’s love for Yisrael - is it plausible that this great love should be overturned in an instance that He would now wish to give the Torah instead to the nations?
This is what the Torah is saying in parshas Yisro: “You have seen that which I did to Egypt” - for your sake, “that I carried you on eagles’ wings”. If so, how after all this great love and after all this ‘effort’, would it be reasonable that I would hold back from you the Torah by giving it to the nations. Therefore, it was certainly My intention always to give it to you, and the reason why I first offered it around was for your benefit. “And now”, that is, now that I have gone round all the nations, and none of them wanted to accept the Torah, therefore “if you obey me and keep my covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all the peoples, for the entire earth is Mine”, and nevertheless I have chosen you, “you will be to Me a kingdom of princes”, and not them, and you will receive much reward because of the Torah. None of this would be possible if I had not first tried to give it to them.
We now have the basis for understanding the posukim which we brought earlier from parshas Vzos Haberachah. But first we need to add that there is another reason why Yisrael deserved to be given the Torah, and that is the merit of their absolute trust in Hashem with which they went after Him into the wilderness, and which Hashem himself considered to be a kindness, as it is written in Yirmeyohu 2:2 “I remember to you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me into the desert, into a land not sown”. Thus, also because of this merit they deserved to be given the Torah.
This is what Moshe Rabbeinu wrote: “Hashem came from Sinai, and shone forth from Seir to them” - He went from Sinai to Seir, to the nation of Edom, as if He was abandoning Yisrael and wanted to give the Torah to Edom, “He appeared from Mount Paran”, to offer the Torah to the nation of Yishmael, and so on. But although “He even showed love for the nations”, as if He was choosing them to give the Torah to, in fact it was not so, bur rather “all His holy ones are in Your hands”, all of his actions were for the good of Yisrael and His holy ones, the Avos, in order to give them the Torah, and not because He wanted to give it to the nations. And the reason is because “they suffered to follow You” - they ‘broke their feet’ to follow You, wherever the Shechinah (Divine Presence) went. Therefore they were worthy to “bear Your utterances” - that they should receive Your Torah.
But the main reason why Yisrael was chosen for all this rather than the nations, was because of the merit of their forefathers. As it is brought in the Yalkut in the beginning of parshas Bamidbar, the nations of the world said: Why were Yisrael brought close to You more than everybody else? Hashem replied: Bring before Me your book of genealogy, like My children brought before Me, for they are the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya’akov. The commentaries explain that they were asking about the giving of the Torah, when Hashem ‘overturned over Yisrael the mountain like a barrel’, that is, Hashem forced them to accept the Torah. The nations asked why Hashem had not forced them to accept the Torah. Hashem answered that Yishmael has the merit only of his father Avrohom, and Eisav has the additional merit of his father Yitzchok, but Yisrael has the merit of all three, adding the merit of Ya’akov.
We can now understand the posuk in Devarim 33:4 which says “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is an inheritance for the congregation of Ya’akov”. I’ve already explained elsewhere that the reason why Hashem divided the Torah into two parts and gave Yisrael an Oral Torah and a Written Torah was in order that Yisrael should have a distinguishing sign, so that the nations should not come and say that they kept the Torah since they do not know the Oral Torah for they do not believe in it. According to what we said above, the reason that we merited this was due specifically to the merit of Ya’akov, since the merits of Avrohom and Yitzchok are shared also by Yishmael and Eisav.
Now, Hashem was concerned that even though at that time the nations did not want to accept the Torah, that was because they did not know all of its aspects - they were only told only those things which were difficult for them (for example: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery). But when the Torah would be revealed and they would understand all of its wonderful aspects, perhaps they would change their mind and start keeping the Torah. Therefore He hid from them the Oral Torah, the Torah which Moshe commanded us orally. This is proof that Hashem never wanted to give the Torah to the nations, because if He had wanted to give it to them He would not have hidden from them the Oral Torah. On the contrary, He would have explained everything clearly in the Written Torah, and then perhaps they would have comprehended it at that time and accepted it. But by hiding it and revealing it to us through Moshe Rabbeinu, it is clear that Hashem desired to give it only to us, and this was due to the merit of Ya’akov. This is the meaning of the posuk “Moshe commanded us the Torah”, the oral Torah - it did not come from the mouth of Hashem, "it is the inheritance of the congregation of Ya’akov” - those who have the merit of Ya’akov, and none of the nations have this merit.
With this we can understand the reason for the halachah, brought in Shulchan Aruch, Siman 428, that the Rabbis formulated the calendar so that parshas Bamidbar is always read before Shavuos, and that is because of the statement of the Yalkut that we brought above, on the posuk in Bamidbar 1:18 “and they declared their pedigrees according to their families”. So that when they come to Shavuos, the time of the giving of the Torah, Klal Yisrael should not make a mistake and think that they had been given the Torah because there had been no alternative, and had the nations wished they could have accepted it, and consequently its importance would be diminished in our eyes. But on the contrary, because only we had the merit of the three Avos was it given to us, and it is a wonderful gift.
Therefore, it is fitting to read about the genealogies of Yisrael in parshas Bamidbar before the festival of the giving of the Torah, so that we will know that it was only given to us due to our relation to, and the merit of, the three Avos, and if not for this we would not have merited the Torah. And from this it is clear that the Torah is a very great thing and how important is the day of the giving of the Torah, since it was necessary to seek the merit of the Avos for this, and the nations who did not have this merit were never fitting to receive the Torah.
With this we can understand the apparently strange order of events written in parshas Yisro: “In the third month of the children of Yisrael’s departure from Egypt, on this day they came to the desert of Sinai. They journeyed from Rephidim, and they came to the desert of Sinai…” - it should have been written in the opposite order, “they journeyed from Rephidim and they came to the desert of Sinai in the third month”. However, this would have implied that the timing was just random, when in fact the timing was intentional. The Torah was given specifically in the third month, which hints at the merit of the three Avos, in whose merit the Torah was given to us.
And there is no room for error to think otherwise, because it is brought in the Yalkut Reuveni, that Ya’akov chose the months of Nisan, Iyar and Sivan, and Eisav chose Tammuz and Av, and we can say that these three months that Ya’akov chose correspond to the three Avos. Nisan corresponds to Avrohom, who characterizes the attribute of Kindness, and therefore Nisan’s mazal - it’s constellation - is the lamb, just like Avrohom bound his son like a lamb on the altar. Also, all the miracles of Avrohom were at Pesach. Iyar corresponds to Yitzchok, who characterizes the attribute of Justice, and therefore it’s mazal is the bow which alludes to power of justice, like the bow punishes those who transgress Hashem’s will. Therefore, when the generation deserves to be destroyed, G-d forbid, a rainbow appears in the sky, hinting at the power of justice. And Sivan’s mazal is the twins, which alludes to Ya’akov who was a twin. Therefore, in this month the Torah was given, because Ya’akov characterizes the attribute of Truth, and the Truth is what is written in the Torah.
Therefore, Hashem conducted the timing of their traveling very specifically. Because if they had traveled every day a little bit until they arrived at Sinai in the third month, Yisrael would have thought that it was just by chance, and not something specifically intended. Instead, Hashem had them encamp for many days without any traveling, and then, when the beginning of the third month arrived, they immediately walked the great distance from Rephidim to Sinai. By doing this, Yisrael would certainly have sensed the irregularity - that until now they had been encamped completely, and now, in one day, they had suddenly traveled a long distance, much more than normal, and they would have understood that it was purposeful, to hint that this day had something special to do with the giving of the Torah. That is, since the third month had now begun, they had become fitting to receive the Torah, but not until now. And that is because this month alludes to the merit of Ya’akov, who completed the triple merit of the Avos.
This is why it says “in the third month…on this day”, specifically, “they came to the desert of Sinai”. Specifically because of this day the Torah was given. And therefore, “they traveled from Rephidim and they came to the desert of Sinai” - they traveled a great journey in one day without interruption, to hint to them that since the time which was fitting for the giving of the Torah had arrived, Hashem hastened things along.
And now we can understand the statement of Rav Yosef above. Really he was not boasting about himself, but rather he was emphasizing the significance of the day, so that we should not think that the Torah was given to Yisrael only because the nations did not want it, and so we have little reason to rejoice over it, or to rejoice about the day of its giving. He wished to show the opposite, that it would not have been possible to receive the Torah except for the merit of the three Avos. Therefore it was given in the third month to allude to fact that they were our three Avos, and because of this we received it and not the nations.
Therefore he commanded his household to make a third born calf to demonstrate the significance of the number three, that not by chance but rather with Divine intention did they arrive on the third day, which hints at the three Avos and therefore we merited to receive the Torah. He stated the reason for his request for the calf metaphorically, as if he was saying this for Klal Yisrael, that if not for that day, through which was aroused the merit of the three Avos, including the merit of Ya’akov our forefather, how many Yosefs there are in the marketplace. He mentioned the analogy about himself, but really he was saying how many nations there are in the marketplace, people no different to us, with eyes and mouths, and nevertheless the Torah was not given to them but to us, and that is because of the merit of our Avos. And the day itself, being the third day after separation from their wives, also aroused the merit of the Avos and caused our receiving the Torah, and therefore we must ascribe good to this day and rejoice over it. Therefore, to hint to all this, make for me a third born calf.
And this is the purpose of the statement of that Galilean, to emphasize that Hashem intentionally made everything triple - the Torah is triple, given through Moshe who was triple, etc. Because if only one thing was triple it would have been possible to say that it was just by chance. But by repeating it many times, it shows that there is some intention behind this, some allusion. If Hashem had not done this, we would not have realized the superiority of the Torah and that it was given to us only because of a our great merit, but rather we would have thought that only because there was no alternative since the nations did not want it, and so we would not have honored the Torah as is fitting. But blessed is Hashem, who gave us the triple Torah etc. Everything is triple, and therefore we realize that it was not because Hashem had no choice that He gave us the Torah, but rather because only we have sufficient merit, the triple merit of the Avos. And therefore we realize that the Torah is very superior, because for something inferior the merit of the Avos would not be needed, and thus we honor it as is fitting. So we see the great benefit and blessing that all these things that are associated with the giving of the Torah are triple.