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Date or Mandate?

Friday, 10 June, 2016 - 4:33 pm

Imagine if your parent gave you a present of 5000 houses, none of which you were allowed to sell or let others use.  You’d probably be happy, but also disappointed. You couldn’t possibly enjoy them all, so what is the gift worth if it never gets used? In fact, you might even feel irresponsible, being charged with maintaining property that you clearly cannot keep up with.

That might be how some of us feel on Shavuot. Here we are celebrating the gift we received from our Father in Heaven. Yet, most of us will never study the entire Torah. We probably won’t even master a 1/100th of the teachings gifted to us at Sinai. So, why should I rejoice on Shavuot?

Trues, as a people, we revel in the Torah that is our collective inheritance. But, that celebration is actually on Simchat Torah. On Shavuot we are rejoicing over the teachings of the Torah. This is why we dance with a closed Torah on Simchat Torah; whereas on Shavuot we study the Torah.

It’s also true that we, as a people, collectively – and throughout history – study the entire Torah. And, we share in the delight of our fellow Jews. But, what does it mean to me personally that G-d has given me such an enormous gift that I can’t seem to wrap my arms – and head – around?

***

One of the interesting aspects of Shavuot is its place on the Jewish calendar. Unlike other festivals where the Torah specifies the date, Shavuot doesn’t technically have a date.  That doesn’t mean we can observe it whenever we want. The Torah tells us to observe Shavuot on the fiftieth day from counting the Omer, essentially seven weeks after Pesach. In many ways Shavuot is the culmination of Passover. At the simplest level: we left Egypt in order to receive the Torah. So, our emancipation and nationhood only came to full fruition at Sinai.

It’s clear from this unique setup that the Torah cares more about the preparation for Shavuot than the actual calendar date.  We must count the days until our acceptance of the Torah. In fact, the Torah doesn’t simply tell us to observe Shavuot on the fiftieth day. Rather, it instructs us to count each day, and then celebrate Shavuot.

[Perhaps this is also the connection between this week’s parsha, Bamidbar, and Shavuot. Bamidbar talks about the counting of the Jewish people. Reading this census always precedes Shavuot. So, it is all about counting.

***

“Longer than the earth is its measure, and wider than the sea,” proclaims Job (11:9), referring to the Torah and its explanations.  Using the land and sea as metaphor may help us.  We may never enjoy each drop in the vast oceans. I’m not a physicist, but it is one drop, multiplied by over 30 septillion, that constitutes the oceans. Each drop is a step in the process.

This is the lesson from counting each day to prepare for Shavuot.  We may never master the entire Torah. But, just as each day is critical in the count to 49, so too, each drop is precious. And when we ‘tap into’ the infinite energy and wisdom of one drop of Torah we are truly experiencing it all.

As we approach Shavuot, let’s remember that the joy is personal. My place in Torah is unique. My contribution is irreplaceable. Without my little drop, a critical piece of the puzzle is missing.

Shavuot doesn’t have a date. It does, however, have a clear mandate.  It’s a time to celebrate and rededicate ourselves to the Torah.

I will conclude with a quote from Hayom Yom (4 Sivan):

Shavuot is an opportune time to achieve everything in improving Torah-study and avoda marked by fear (awe) of G‑d, and also to strive in teshuva concerning Torah-study, without interference by the accusing Satan - just like the time of Shofar-sounding on Rosh Hashana and the holy day of the Fast of Yom Kippur.

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