Shavout, but why the third month?


Shavout, but why the third month?


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By Avi Lazerson

The holiday of Shavout falls in the Jewish month of Sivan. Sivan is the third month of the Jewish year. Even though the year begins at Rosh HaShannah, nevertheless, Rosh HaShannah falls in the seventh month, the month of Tishre. This is because the monthly cycle begins with Nisan, the month of Passover. Nissan is the first Jewish month, Iyar is the second and Sivan is the third month.

Everything in the Torah is exact. Even the dates are exact and for a reason. Nothing is just happenstance. If the Torah was given in the third month, then the third month must has a special reason or purpose. Let us understand what is that specialness of the third month.

First we must understand what is the specialness of the first month. It is not difficult to perceive that the first month, Nisan, is special. This is the month that G-d showed to the Jewish people his special love. He came down into Egypt to redeem us from bondage. He, and not an angel.

We, the Jewish people, were in a very depressed and lowly spirit. We were slaves from a land from which no slave ever escaped. It was bondage of more than just the physical; mentally and emotionally we were slaves. We thought like slaves, we acted like slaves, we did not know even what it was to be a free man.

Yet in spite of our low status, G-d came down into Egypt, a land of immorality and decadence and from there he showed us his great love. He not only took us out of Egypt, and set us free, but he brought us close to Him. Not just fulfilling a promise to the Patriarchs to redeem their children, but bringing us closer to him than any other nation has been. An entire nation of millions of people saw and experienced the outstretched hand of G-d as he repaid the cruel Egyptians for the unjust treatment that was meted out to the Jewish people.

As an act of supreme love, he took us to his bosom to be his cherished people. This was an act of love that came not from our actions, but rather from the action of G-d. We, in our lowly state, did not deserve such a great outpouring of love. It came totally from above.

That was the specialness of the first month, the Jewish people were brought together with G-d in love from above. A month of love.

The second month, the month of Iyar is different. Whereas the first month is blessed with the holiday of Passover, the second month has no holidays. Yet, each day is marked by the counting of the Omer. The counting of the Omer is traditionally regarded as a time of self-improvement. Additionally, the second Passover, the non-holiday, was given to those individuals who were ritually impure during the Passover holiday in Nisan and were therefore unable to bring their sacrifices to the Temple.

There is a sense of detachment in Iyar from the spiritual heights reached during the Passover holidays. We are no longer a nation alone with G-d; we are a nation alone. The supreme closeness that we enjoyed in Nissan is gone; only the desolation of the daily Omer counting accompanies through the month. We are devastated. We are astonished. We are alone in the dessert; we are alone in the city. Where is G-d in all of this? What was the purpose in being so close to G-d and now so far?

To answer these questions, we must now understand the third month, Sivan, the month that the Torah was given.

With the giving of the Torah, a new thing was conceived and given to mankind - the concept of mitzvot, the divine commandment. Prior to the giving of the Torah, for a person to reach a deep and divine personal connection to G-d, he had to dedicate his life to separation from the world. Only in such a manner could an average person achieve a close relationship to G-d.

Once the Torah was given, each person, irrespective of his personal life and livelihood, could, through the fulfillment of the divine commandments achieve a personal closeness to G-d. Through the divine commandments, we may be connected to G-d even in this mundane world.

Consider a soldier in the army, he is given a command to execute. While he is occupied with fulfilling the order of his commander, he is connected to him by virtue of his carrying out the will of the commander. As long as he is acting in accord with his commander's orders, a relationship between the soldier and his commander exists.

However, a civilian who hears the officer make a command, and decides on his own to implement the command of the officer may not have any connection to the officer. Why? Because a relationship between the officer and the civilian does not exist. Only the soldier, who has a relationship to the officer maintains his relationship through the implimentaion of the command.

This was the difference between Nissan and Sivan; in Nissan the relationship was established, in Sivan the relationship was confirmed and made contractual. Once that relationship was established, we may utilize it to continue the relationship. Each time we perform a divine commandment, we not only maintain our relationship, but we enhance it.

That explains the need for the Torah to be given in the third month. The first month is the time of establishing a relationship with out regard to the world. The second month is re-entry into the world seemingly with out our relationship to G-d - a mundane world devoid of spiritual closeness. Comes the third month and cements the two prior months together. A relationship with G-d in the world!

This is not to be understood as simply a quasi shidduch that is second rate. This is the intended and specific desire of G-d. Just like a husband and wife share those precious moments at the beginning of their marriage in intimate oneness and togetherness, so we were with G-d. But just as the husband must leave his betrothed and make a living, so we separate from G-d. But the truthful purpose of the marriage is to build a family, so the husband and wife must interweave their private lives with that of the outside world.

That is the importance of the giving of the Torah in the third month. We connect heaven and earth.


from the May 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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