19:1 On the third month [חדש] to the children of Israel’s departure from the land of Egypt, on that day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 19:2 When they had departed from Rephidim, and had come to the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel encamped before the mountain.
19:3 Moses went up to God, and Yudkay called to him out of the mountain, 19:4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself. 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine; 19:6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.’ These are the statements which you shall communicate to the children of Israel.”
19:7 Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these statements that Yudkay commanded him. 19:8 All the people answered together, and said, “All that Yudkay has communicated we will do. ”Moses reported the statements of the people to Yudkay.
In the third month meaning the Rosh Chodesh (first of the month). The proof for this being [the words] "on that day". The word “month” [Chodesh] has two senses. 1)30 day period. 2) The first of the month.... This shows that the giving of the Torah was at the very earliest on the 3rd of the month... because of the preparatory time of 'ready yourselves three days'. Since they might well have been in the desert three days before this “preparatory period” it is reasonable to believe that the giving of the Torah was on the 6th. Furthermore it is preposterous to suppose that the Torah would mark the time of Exodus, the time of Passover, while not marking the time of the wondrous giving of the Torah. It is therefore clear that Shavuot is indeed the time of Matan Torah. This timing was done to serve as a memorial of the wondrous Matan Torah phenomenon to continuously maintain our belief in the veracity of the Torah system.
Summary of Chumash al pi Ralbag
Avraham Avinu, at Brit Bayn hab'tarim, was troubled by the idea that his Zera would inherit the land through Hashgacha.
He did not ask for a sign,rather he said 'tell me by what merit will [my progeny] endure there? [God] answered by the merit of Korbanot.
Avraham's question would appear to be rooted in the difficulty of maintaining the Shem Hashem in a national setting. The notion that an overarching Chochma permeates all Creation including Man is indeed daunting. People generally feel great conflict with this notion, as it contradicts our egocentric world. By nature we seek Chochma as a means to the comforts of our lifestyle not as an end in itself. The result of this conflict is Shichecha, a compartmentalized view of the world which maintains the fantasy that the overarching Chochma we see governing the entire creation has no bearing on our chosen good. This Shichecha justifies a lifestyle dedicated to ends other than Chochma. How is a Nation to emerge which does not fall prey to Shichecha? If Hashem's promise were to come true,wouldn't Hashgacha be used by the Nation as justification for pursuing its chosen lifestyle through Shichecha, rather than as an opportunity to seek true development? How could such a Hashgachic relationship endure?
Using Modern Israel as an example. Has the Hashgachic restoration of the land provided impetus for renewed inquiry into research as the true end of life? Or has it rather served to justify the rather material nationalistic lifestyle we already have?
In fulfillment of the Nevua to Avraham, Zera Avraham, a nation that knew Hashem, was coming into being. This “emergence” required the penetration of Shem Hashem into the psychic domain of fantasy. Exactly as Hashem had told Avraham it was Korbanot, specifically Korban Pesach that allowed the nation to become focused upon the reality of Chochma extending into the human domain. The Korban provided the basis for zechira, the trumping of retreat into fantasy through continual reconsideration of the events of Geulat Mitzraim. Yearly consideration of the Nissim at the seder built upon Korban Pesach and daily remembering in Keriat Shema would provide the needed antidote to the fantasy that it was meant to sustain a materialistic lifestyle. On the one hand the Korbanot indicate the predilection of our psyche to fantasy-after all the sheep is representative of the sheep of avoda zara. On the other hand the halachic character of the korban enables the Jews a beginning sense of Shem Hashem sufficient to redeem the Yisrael from attachment to Egyptian AZ and begin the quest for a new avoda. The stage is set for the developmental stage of Matan Torah itself.
In this perspective, Matan Torah is a critical stage in the birth of the nation which knows Hashem. The birth begins with encampment at Sinai on a specific date- Rosh Chodesh Sivan.
Matan Torah, Israel’s acquisition of its natural regimen, is the development par excellence of Mankind. Human history up to that point is nothing other than the passage of time needed for the maturational stage needed for Torah readiness to arise in Israel. Given this the reader might reasonably expect the story to focus on identifying this “maturational stage” that forms the basis for Matan Torah. What is added to the pre-existing understanding of Pesach? This further maturation is indeed the topic of later pasukim that compare the Jewish nations’ knowledge of Hashem to the speed of an Eagle in flight:
19:3 Moses went up to God, and Yudkay called to him out of the mountain, 19:4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself.
There is however a preliminary of the timing that introduces this maturational point. The preoccupation with the precise time of encampment is disturbing. The Torah is usually extremely disinterested in the precise timing of events. The focus of intellectual inquiry is on universal timeless truths underlying the essential character of things, not their particularizing details.
The clues in Ralbag
While Ralbag begins with a grammatical contextual analysis of the word “חדש “ he quickly shifts to underlying first principles. The significance of “חדש “ is clearly linked to “זכירה “, in the sense of “זכירת יציאת מצרים“ we spoke of earlier. Clearly there is an underlying “זכירה “ principle here that unites Pesach and Shavuot.
Furthermore it is preposterous to suppose that the Torah would mark the time of Exodus, the time of Passover, while not marking the time of the wondrous giving of the Torah.
Why indeed is it “preposterous” that the Torah would fail to mark Matan Torah? It must be that the very nature of “זכירה “ demands that if Pesach is to be remembered so too must Matan Torah. Indeed this is Ralbag’s later point:
It is therefore clear that Shavuot is indeed the time of Matan Torah. This timing was done to serve as a memorial of the wondrous Matan Torah phenomenon to continuously maintain our belief in the veracity of the Torah system.
We can summarize our problems then in the following questions:
1)What is the significance of focus on the time of the encampment at Sinai?
2)Why is the time measured relative to Exodus?
3)What is the purpose of Ralbag's further elaboration of חדשv?
4)Why is it appropriate for Ralbag to digress to the exact date of Shavuot and the importance of remembering Matan Torah when the Torah is discussing the timing of the Jews arrival at Sinai?
5)What is the “זכירה “ that Ralbag refers to? In what way is the “זכירה “ of Pesach linked to the “זכירה “ of Shavuot?