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Shavuos: Torah, Shabbos and the Jews

A Striking entry in our Shavuot Contest for Children and Teens from Aryeh Spiro, age 8, of Toronto.

A Striking entry in our Shavuot Contest for Children and Teens from Aryeh Spiro, age 8, of Toronto.

Shavuos. How unremarkable a name for a Yom Tov that celebrates the very foundation of our existence. Actually, Shavuos is one of five names designated for this holiday, the others being Atzeres, Yom HaBikurim, Chag HaKatzir and Z’man Mattan Toraseinu.

The prominence given to “Shavuos” arises from the seven-week interval (shivah Shavuos) – the duration of time it took us to reach an apex of purity that would enable us to receive the holy Torah. This seven-week count cleansed us of defilement and prepared us to stand under the “chuppah” at Har Sinai.

As we say in each successive daily count of the Omer, “May it rectify our nefesh, ruach and neshamah from every baseness and defect, and may it purify and sanctify us with Your supernal holiness.” Here we are taught that the name Shavuos also connotes that Torah must be learned b’kedushah uv’taharah – with a holy and pure spirit.

The significance of that lesson is highlighted by the historic occasion that takes place on a Shabbos, the seventh and most coveted of days, one that God blessed and made holy and presented to us as a “special gift hidden in My treasure house” (Shabbos 10b).

Our spiritual essence is made up of three elements: nefesh – the basic animal part of the soul that drives our material inclinations; ruach, resting on a somewhat higher plane and associated with our emotions, and the neshamah, which is solely spiritual in nature and centers on the intellect.

The ruach tends to dwell with the nefesh on weekdays, whereas on Shabbos – when we divest ourselves of mundane thought and activity – it attaches itself to the neshamah, the loftiest part of our soul. This hones our spiritual awareness, further enhanced by the additional soul given to us on erev Shabbos – the neshamah yeseirah – that inculcates us with that special capacity to perceive and absorb the aura of Gan Eden that Shabbos allows us to sample.

Week after week after week it keeps us going. We look toward it and live for it – not merely for its respite from our daily grind aspect, but for the tonic effect that revitalizes all our senses, physically and spiritually, and impacts our quality of life for the coming week.

The countdown already begins on the first day of the week. Hayom yom echad b’Shabbos… Today is the first day of the Sabbath; Hayom yom sheini b’Shabbos… Today is the second day of the Sabbath, etc.

The tempo builds with each new day, by the evening of the fifth reaching a crescendo that charges the atmosphere of every Jewish home as preparation for the holy Shabbos is in full swing. By the sixth day, an ethereal sense of transformation is palpable. Heaven and earth are in sync, as all of creative work above and below wind down to a standstill.

Har Sinai and all other mountains trembled violently. The waters of lakes and rivers sought to escape their confines as the Holy Presence began to descend to the top of the mount. With the first word of God, the tumult ceased. Not a sound could be heard – from the bird’s trill to the fluttering of its wings, all was still. The angels halted their songs of praise, the ocean their rippling waves, the sun stopped in its rotating tracks as the Master of the Universe declared Anochi Hashem Elokecha, I am Hashem your God.

The Torah is literally our life force, for had we not agreed to receive it at Har Sinai, the world would have ceased to exist. Since our faith lies at the core of the holy Torah and the fundamental premise of our belief system is rooted in the holy Shabbos, it is easily discerned how keeping the Shabbos holy is akin to adhering to all of the 613 mitzvosin the Torah.

* * * * *

When the Chofetz Chaim once visited the city of Petersburg, all of its Jewish residents came to greet him at the train station. An affluent citizen in the crowd who had come with the hope of eliciting a berachah from the Chofetz Chaim handed him an impressive sum of money as contribution for the yeshiva in Radin.

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