The beautiful Yom Tov of Shavuos has passed, but our Yamim Tovim never fade. We are charged to carry them with us throughout the year. While this holds true for all our Yamim Tovim, it is especially valid for Shavuos. This is the one day for which our Torah does not designate a specific time or date. Shavuos is “Z’man Matan Toraseinu,” the season of receiving our Torah, and that is an eternal happening, which every one of us must re-experience and relive every moment of our lives. “Not with our forefathers alone did Hashem seal the Covenant, but with us, we who are here, all of us alive today (Deuteronomy 5).
But if that be so, if all our souls were at Mount Sinai, if all of us heard the Voice of G-d, why don’t we all feel the sanctity of that moment in the same manner? Why are we not all deeply inspired? And more, since our sages teach that every time we genuinely undertake a mitzvah and plumb the depth of G-d’s holy words, we can relive Sinai, why is that we fail to feel the fervor, the zeal, and the love?
To understand, let us carefully study the passage in the Torah that describes Ma’amad Har Sinai, Revelation: “The appearance of the Glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop before the eyes of all the children of Israel” (Exodus 24).
At first glance, it is difficult for us to understand how G-d could appear to the people like “a consuming fire,” especially since we know that G-d has no image, shape or form. So what does the Torah wish to impart to us through this description?
Fire interacts with various materials in different ways. Some materials, such as oil, straw, paper, etc., are highly combustible, while others resist the flames altogether. This teaches that, while we all stood at Mt. Sinai and we all heard the Voice of G-d, not everyone reacts in the same manner. It all depends on us.
Whether our souls will be like oil and rise to a glorious flame when it comes into contact with the fire of Torah, or be like iron and resist it, or like water and extinguish the flame altogether, is our choice. How we respond to Torah is the most critical decision that we can make – it is life determining and will define our days on this planet. So let us ask ourselves, “How combustible are our souls? How do they react to the fiery words of G-d?”
King Solomon, the wisest of all men, taught that a man can be recognized by that which makes him enthusiastic, passionate, and by that which makes him run. So again, let us ask ourselves, “What makes us run? What makes us excited Torah or money? Torah or a gourmet meal? Torah or sports? The answer to these questions will help us to gauge our “neshamah quotients.”
We are living in pre-messianic times. We need only open our eyes and see the constant danger enveloping us internally and globally. We are the generation that is experiencing assimilation, family breakdown, dread disease and horrific natural disasters. Globally, we are witness to the escalation of anti-Semitism and the constant threat of another Holocaust.
What can we do? How can we protect ourselves from the impending calamity?
Our sages offer a three-fold formula, the first, La’asok B’Torah, to make Torah your occupation, your very life. It depends upon how combustible our neshamos are, for that is the first key to triumphing over chevlei Mashiach, the painful labor pangs of the pre-messianic period. But is it realistic to believe that each and every one of us can elevate his neshamah to such a level?
Yes, and again we turn to our Torah for guidance. “In the heart of every man who has wisdom, G-d promises, “I will grant wisdom.” This is rather paradoxical, for if wisdom is a prerequisite for wisdom, what is the poor man who lacks it to do?
The wisdom that G-d refers to, however, is not based on I.Q. or absorption of information, but it is to be found in a yearning…. an insatiable desire to know the Word of G-d. In converting our souls into combustible material, capable of catching the fiery words of Hashem’s Torah, if we yearn for that gift, to appreciate G-d’s Torah, if we desire its illumination, if we beseech Him to teach us His holy words, then yes, our hearts will be overtaken by that flame and we will become living examples of G-d’s Word on Earth.
This week I received e-mail from a young woman who spent Shavuos in Jerusalem and was touched by a small spark of that fire from Sinai.
A Letter from Israel
Shavuos here was totally out of this world. I think it really may be my favorite holiday. There is no way to put into words the experience; you have to feel it yourself. That said, let me share a few highlights with you:
Walking to the Old City at around 1:30 a.m., the streets were packed with people, and there was this happy glow in the air. The thousands and thousands of people come later, around 4 a.m. or so, to be at the Kotel at sunrise. But I wanted to go early for the all-night classes and amazing energy of the Old City. There were so many good classes going on all night, with so many of the best teachers, so there was an energy of people popping from one class to the other.
Finally, at about 3:30, I decided, instead of going to another class, to take some quiet time for myself to sit, and reflect on what the Chag means to me, and what receiving the Torah means for me, and to talk to G-d about it. Then, at around 4:20, I went down to the Kotel, and miraculously got very close to the Wall. It was an unexpected gift, because the entire plaza was packed with thousands of people.
Davening there at sunrise was beyond words. And, just as the sun peeked through and the first moments of light shined on us, the entire area became totally silent, everyone in their own personal meditation, and for a few moments, you could almost hear a pin drop.
At exactly that moment, hundreds of doves flew above our heads. I have no idea where they came from. It was a real high, beyond description. All I can say is that, I can’t really explain it, but what emerged from really being in the experience of Shavuos and receiving the Torah was an inner transformation. Not some big dramatic thing, not something that would probably be apparent to anyone, but within me, I can feel it.
I know that is what all the holidays are supposed to do, but I don’t always experience it in a conscious way. This Shavuos, I understood what that means.
Oh, and one last note. This is one of those little fuzzy feelings that make me love the Jewish people. There were tables set up all over, just outside the Old City, with drinks, water, juice, sodas, cups, rugalach and cookies. Private individuals just figured that people might be thirsty from the long walk, and took it upon themselves to provide drinks and snacks for us at no cost. This was just another expression of this sense here that we are all family and naturally want to care for another.
I heard a beautiful teaching from a Rabbi Dov Ber Pinson, that each moment in our lives is an opportunity to receive the Torah, to accept G-d’s presence in our lives – or the opposite. Only a G-d that loves us with an infinite love would give us a choice like this. No matter how far away we feel, every single moment is another chance to return to who we really are.