Rabbi Dovid Kviat zt”l , prolific author of the acclaimed “Succas Dovid,” was born in Bialystock, Poland, one of the outstanding scholars of the Mir Yeshiva. During World War II he fled with the yeshiva to Shanghai. After the war, he became a Rosh Mesivta in the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn.
“Succas Dovid: Selected Thoughts on Shemos,”an incisive analysis of sugiyos spanning the entire Talmud, earned him renown. It is studied and debated in yeshivos the world over.
The Succas Dovid series is not only a commentary on the oral law. Nine volumes are dedicated to the Five Books of Moses. The following selection from “Succas Dovid: Selected Thoughts on Shemos” presents Rabbi Kviat’s commentary on the 49 leading up to Matan Torah.
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The goal of the Exodus and G-d’s aim in bringing the Israelites out of bondage was to give them the Torah at Mount Sinai. When G-d first appears to Moshe, commanding him to take the children of Israel out of Egypt, He tells him, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). In other words, all the events of the Exodus from the beginning to end — the warnings, the plaques, the prophecies — inexorably led to one event: the giving of the Torah at Sinai. This event marked the spiritual liberation of the nation from the impurities of Egypt.
It being so, why was the Torah not given to the children of Israel as soon as they left Egypt? Why did G-d wait seven weeks before carrying out His plan? After all, their belief in G-d was fully cultivated already at the time of the splitting of the Red Sea, as it is written, “And they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moshe” (Exodus 14:31). Also, at that time, they attained the lofty level of uttering Shirah “a Divinely inspired song in praise of G-d.”
The reason for the delay was that the children of Israel still needed to be cleansed and purified before being able to receive the Torah and perform its commandments. They counted seven full weeks before being given the Torah. These seven weeks, 49 days, corresponds to the 49 gates of holiness they had to pass through to prepare for the awesome spiritual event ahead. Many of them had sunk to the 49th level of tum’ah while in Egypt, and these days provided a necessary and crucial opportunity to ascent to the required level of holiness.
It is certainly true that as soon as they left Egypt, they had perfect faith and trust in G-d and his servant Moshe, yet this in itself was not enough. Leaving Egypt was only the first stage. They still had to cleanse themselves of the spiritual contamination of Egypt, become holy, and attain a level commensurate to the Torah they were to be given. They had to become a receptacle that could accept the Torah and become permeated with it.
After counting the Omer in synagogue, we say the following prayer: “Master of the Universe, You commanded us … to count the Omer in order to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and from our contaminations. … May it cleanse us and sanctify us with Your exalted holiness.”
This prayer reflects the above idea, that the counting of days until Shavous (or, in the case of the Israelites who left Egypt, until the actual giving of the Torah) is a means to both cleanse ourselves of our impurities and sanctify ourselves in order to be ready to receive the Torah.
This progression is also alluded to in the prayer U-va l’Tzion said every morning after Shacharis: “Blessed is He, our G-d, Who created us for His glory, separated us from those who stray, and gave us a Torah of truth.”
First, we must separate ourselves from those who stray and eradicate any evil left inside us. Only then can we be ready to receive the Torah. Just as a cupboard must be emptied and cleaned before things can be placed inside, so too in the spiritual domain the waste must be emptied to make room for the pure and holy.