The advent of the holiday of Shavuos awakens in us a medley of gratifying sensations, triggered in part by the season’s balmy weather and the heavenly fragrance of blooming lilacs and roses.
The tantalizing aroma of kreplach, browning in butter as we anticipate savoring an array of sinfully rich cheese treats, heightens our euphoria. So does the giddiness of happy couples about to experience marital bliss during the busiest wedding season of the year.
As our countdown of the Omer nears its conclusion, the essence of Shavuos – the most pivotal of the holidays we celebrate – injects us with a spiritual boost that will hopefully sustain us through the long, hot summer ahead and beyond.
Although gazing skyward is for most a spontaneous daily activity, looking up at the heavens as one begins to pray is a prescribed approach intended to enhance one’s kavanah. With Shavuos reinforcing our awareness of our true calling in life, contemplation of the skies evokes a most incredible time in history, when, as it states in the biblical text of Shemos, “…min hashamayim dibarti imachem – from the Heavens I talked with you.”
A compelling phenomenon, but at odds with an earlier verse that states “Hashem descended to the top of the mount…” Rashi’s captivating illustration reconciles the seeming contradiction: God took the uppermost and lowermost layers of heaven and arched them toward the earth, spreading them out upon the mountain like a sheet over a bed, upon which He then lowered His Throne of Glory.
We had come a long way in a relatively brief span of time, and yet for all of Moshe Rabbeinu’s words of caution and chizuk in the days leading up to the big event, the kedushah that permeated the atmosphere surrounding the Holy Presence proved too much for mere mortals to withstand; human feet gave way and neshamos escaped their physical confines to cleave to the Heavenly Throne at the mount’s summit.
God not only availed Himself of the heavenly dew reserved for the time of techias hameisim to restore life to His children but assigned two angels to every one of them — one to guard the soul from departing, the second to lift the head of the individual so that he or she could perceive Hashem and His word.
The sound waves of the divine utterances manifested themselves both visually and audibly, each dibur taking on a life force of its own as it entered the human ear and simultaneously sought verbal affirmation of acceptance from each recipient, on two counts: one pertaining to the 248 positive commandments in the Torah, the other relevant to the 365 negative commandments.
“Yishakeini minshikos pihu…May He kiss me with the kisses of His mouth…” Shlomo HaMelech, in his Song of Songs, expresses our longing in exile for the bliss we experienced at that breathtaking moment in time when God communicated with us “mouth to mouth.”
Coming back down to earth, our thoughts revert to the worldly pleasures of our existence, such as the aforementioned palate-pleasing dishes we partake of in honor of the holiday, mindful still of our holy mission in life – for even our earthly activities are to be discharged l’shaim shamayim (for the sake of heaven).
A casual dialogue between two prominent tzaddikim more than 150 years ago bridges the gap between the physical and spiritual realm of our daily lives. Reb Yisrael, the holy Rizhiner, who was known as a small eater, once sat at a seudah with his mechutan, the Kossover Rebbe.
Whereas the latter ate normal portions, the Rizhiner, as was his practice, ate merely a spoonful of each serving. Intrigued, the Kossover Rebbe asked his son’s father-in-law why he wasn’t eating, to which the Rizhiner replied that prior to descending to this world, his neshamah and his physical body came to an understanding – the latter agreeing to the condition of satisfying its corporeal desires with but the minimum necessary to sustain itself.