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Browse Zemanim: Shabouot: Shabouoth and the Oral Tradition

Contributed by: Rabbi Haim Shaul

Shabouoth is the holiday on which we celebrate the giving of the Torah to the nation of Israel. Upon examination we find the Torah usually lists exactly what say a holiday begins. For example, concerning Pesah the Torah tells us that on the 15th day of the first month is the festival of Masot. However, concerning Shabouoth we find something different.

The Torah writes "And you should count for yourself the day after the Shabbat (Pesah) fifty days and it should be a holy day for you."

Why does the Torah not tell us the date of Shabouoth? Why does the Torah force us to calculate fifty days from the start of our counting of the Omer to figure out when Shabouoth occurs?

The Torah is composed of two parts, the written law and oral law, which consists of the elaboration and clarifications of the written law. We were given both the written and oral tradition at Mount Sinai. The oral law was transmitted from generation to generation until the points where our sages were worried that is would be forgotten. They preserved it first as the Mishna. Which was a concise systematic compilation that was to serve as a memory device for later generations. However, later generations began to forget even more and the sages determined that the entire oral tradition be written down lest is be forgotten.

To illustrate how central a role the oral law plays that the Torah does not mention the date of Shabouoth. The Torah terms the starting date for the count of the 50 days as "the day after Shabbat". The oral tradition tells us that this is the second day of Pesah. The "Shabbat" referred to in the verse is the first day of Pesah.

When we celebrate Shabouoth on the day that we do, we are simultaneously affirming our belief in the oral law. After all, it is only with the clarification that the oral law provides that we know when Shabouoth falls. Shabouoth, the holiday on which we celebrate the fact that we have the Torah, is the day on which we acknowledge that we received all the Torah, both oral and written. To be sure that we recognize the entirety of the Torah, the exact date on which we celebrate Shabouoth was omitted. Only by relying on the oral law can we celebrate Shabouoth in its proper time.
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