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On Which Date was the Torah Given?

At first, glance, which doesn’t seem like such a complicated question. The first day of Shavuot is the 6th of Sivan and thus the day the Torah was given.

At first, glance, which does not seem like such a complicated question, which was on Shavuot. After all, we have counted 49 days of the Omer and now on the 50th day, the day of Shavuot, it is commemorated that over 3,000 years ago on Mount Sinai the people were ready to receive the Torah. The custom is to study Torah and read the 10 commandments aloud in the night from the 5th to the 6th of Sivan (May 25 -26 2023). Since a Jewish day begins in the evening, it is a logical assumption that the Torah was given on the 6th of Sivan, this date is the majority opinion mentioned in the Talmud. But if there is a majority opinion, there is also a minority, which claims that the Torah was given on the 7th of Sivan. The solution is to look at what the Tenach itself mentions as the date. However, unlike Passover itself, which falls on, no date is given for Shavuot. Shavuot is “simply” the 50th day of the Omer.

Passover begins on the evening of the 14th day of the month of Nisan:

וְהָיָ֤ה לָכֶם֙ לְמִשְׁמֶ֔רֶת עַ֣ד אַרְבָּעָ֥ה עָשָׂ֛ר י֖וֹם לַחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֑ה וְשָׁחֲט֣וּ אֹת֗וֹ כֹּ֛ל קְהַ֥ל עֲדַֽת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בֵּ֥ין הָעַרְבָּֽיִם׃

You shall keep watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month (Nisan), and all the assembled congregation of the Israelites shall slaughter it at twilight. (Exodus 12:6) [1]

On the 15th day of the month of Nisan the people have to start the counting.

וּסְפַרְתֶּ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִמׇּחֳרַ֣ת הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת מִיּוֹם֙ הֲבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם אֶת־עֹ֖מֶר הַתְּנוּפָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּת֖וֹת תְּמִימֹ֥ת תִּהְיֶֽינָה׃

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath (which is the first day of Pesach [2])—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete. (Leviticus 23:15) [3]

Nisan has 30 days and Iyar has 30 days, so the 50th day is the 6th of Sivan. End of the discussion, it seems.

But in earlier times, the months did not have fixed days. The new moon was determined by seeing the new moon. That means Shavuot could also be on the 7th of Sivan – which was the minority opinion. One of the sages who taught in the Talmud [4] that the Torah was given on the 7th of Sivan is Rabbi Yossi. Since we do not know how long that first month of Nisan or Iyar lasted, we, therefore, do not know on what date in Sivan the Torah was given.

There is a disagreement among the sages as to whether he told them to prepare for two or three days. G-d wanted to give the Torah on the 6th of Sivan, but Moses asked for an extra day for preparation. [5] Again this makes it possible that the giving of Torah may have taken place on the 6th or the 7th of Sivan. [6]

This is shocking. How is it possible that the correct date of receiving the Torah is not clear? Was it, not Moses himself who pointed out to the people that they should imprint this date well in their hearts so that they would not forget it?

But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children’s children:

The day you stood before your G-d Hashem at Horeb, when יהוה said to me, “Gather the people to Me that I may let them hear My words, in order that they may learn to revere Me as long as they live on earth and may so teach their children.” (Deuteronomy 12:9-10) [7]

We may find the answer to the question of when was the Torah given in a very – though not unexpected – different place. Namely in the “Shema Israel”.

Hear, O Israel! Hashem is our G-d, Hashem alone.

You shall love your G-d Hashem with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. (Deuteronomy 6:4) [8]

There is not one specific day that stands above the others or is more important than the others. Every day we take on the yoke of heaven – the Jews with the 613 and the Noahide with the 7 Mitzvot – to serve Hashem.

Summary

The opinion of the majority was decisive, and the giving of the Torah is commemorated on the 6th of Sivan. For even if in the line of history, the Torah was given on the 7th of Sivan, it was Hashem’s intention on giving the Torah on the 6th of Sivan. [9]

But for us, who want to serve G-d, every day is Matan Torah. May we all walk in the ways He teaches us by His Torah of Life.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources:

[1] Exodus 12:6
[2] The Talmud discusses shows there is no way to see the “day of rest” as referring to the Sabbath. See
Talmud, Menachot 65b.
[3] Leviticus 23:15
[4] Shabbat 87b  
[5] Shabbat 87a
[6] What Happened at Matan Torah?
[7] Deuteronomy 12:9-10 https://www.sefaria.org/Deuteronomy.4.9-10?lang=en&aliyot=0
[8] Deutronomy 6:4
[9] Shavuot: The Day of the Giving of the Torah?

See also the blog Noahides and Matan Torah
See also the article from AskNoah

With thanks to Rabbi W. van Dijk for the inspiring question and Rabbi Tani Burton for finding the missing source.

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