Give and Take

Thursday, 25 May, 2023 - 8:56 am

The holiday of Shavuot begins tonight. It is commonly referred to as the time of Kabbalat HaTorah, receiving the Torah, commemorating the event of Revelation at Sinai 3335 years ago.  In the Chassidic community it is customary to wish each other, “Kabbalat HaTorah B’Simcha U’bipnimiyut,” meaning “May you receive the Torah with joy and internalization.”

If we look at the liturgy for the holiday, the name of Shavuot in the siddur is “the Festival of the Giving the Torah.”

So which one is it? Is it the celebration of receiving the Torah or of giving the Torah?  Obviously, both occurred.  Any gifting between two parties results in a give and take.  But why the discrepancy in reference to Shavuot? And if the official name in our prayers refers to the holiday as the time of Giving the Torah, why not be consistent and stick with that?

Conversely, one might argue that the most important part of the holiday is that we received the Torah. After all, if G-d had given it to another people or some other entity (angels or aliens… okay I won’t go there), we would be missing out.  So, ultimately, we should care exclusively about receiving the Torah.


Well, it’s baseball season and maybe the great American pastime can give us some insight.  In a baseball game there are many different positions.  The most important position is (arguably) the pitcher.  All the other positions are involved in some of the plays, but not all.  The pitcher duels with every batter.

In other words there is a give-and-take between one pitcher and many batters. In an ideal game the pitcher plays for many innings, facing many batters, hopefully exactly 27.  Each batter has his unique strategy to overcome the pitcher.

This means that each batter faces the same talent.  But each batter responds differently.


 When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He offered it up to each individual equally.  Every person was given equal access to the infinite wisdom contained within it.  Yet, each of us is uniquely different.  What we choose to do with the wisdom of the Torah – how we perceive it and integrate it into our lives – varies from person to person.

The result is that on Shavuot we re-experience both the give and take of the Torah.  It is gifted to all of us uniformly.  But that’s the automatic part.  The rest is up to us.

After the pitch is delivered, it’s up to the batter to decide whether to swing, bunt or simply let it pass.

On Shavuot we recognize that both are crucial. The Torah remains the singular Divine wisdom of G-d.  It is always connected to the Giver.  Yet, simultaneously, it’s our job to “receive it with joy and internalization.”

G-d delivers the pitch perfectly. Will I swing and connect? Will I bring it home in a way only I can?

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