This past week Jews all over the world celebrated Shavuot.
Shavuot is the holiday when we received the Torah. In the Torah a Jew learns everything they will need or want to know about Judaism and how one is to behave throughout their days and lives. The Torah has a language of its own.
In Jerusalem, where I live, there is a very beautiful custom. On the first and only night of Shavuot that we observe here, people from all over the city walk to the Western Wall to pray at the break of dawn, after learning all night long.
On the way to the Kotel there are giant and amazing booths with food and drinks and ices given out freely to refresh all the people who are coming from far and near to pray. The generosity and good heartedness of the Jews who donate all that food is beyond words. It’s a sight to see. The courtyard of the Kotel is packed with Jews from all walks of life. As the morning breaks, the sky starts to change its colors, announcing the coming of a new day. The birds chirp loudly above as the wind blows ever so slightly, hugging all its children, giving them strength to stand and pray before the one and only in the holiest place in the world.
The entire courtyard of the masses becomes silent exactly at sunrise as they pray to Hashem. This is a magnificent moment; you can hear the hum of the prayers as all the Jews unite quietly with Hashem in prayer at that exact moment. So many different faces and so many different thoughts. And yet only one Torah with so many wonderful ways inside it, teaching us all the righteous way to behave.
One of the most important lessons we learn from the Torah is how to think and how to react. As Jews we must always remember that there is always another choice. What does this mean? For instance, if we are insulted or made to feel bad, we automatically feel that we must lash back at whoever it was that just hurt us. This is not true; we are taught in the Torah that we have another choice. We can choose not to answer and thereby we are enhancing our image of G-d. We are also taught how to make a comment to another person, how to speak in a way that is respectful and yet assertive. The Torah is so vast, from learning the proper way to lace ones shoes, to what side is best to fall asleep on. On the other hand, the Torah has the most intricate and detailed instructions in human behavior of how to treat one another despite all the changes and differences among us.
Standing at the Kotel at five o’clock in the morning I was overwhelmed with feelings of joy, of just being together with the people of Israel. It was so fascinating to see all the different faces and opinions and differences among everyone. How deep, awesome and infinite is our Torah, how great is Hashem that had all of us in mind when giving over the Torah to Moshe Rabbeinu on the mountain of Sinai.
Sometimes we concentrate a lot on the laws of how to do a certain physical act and yet not enough on the emotional level. We tend to concentrate on how many times we must wash our hands in the morning when we awake, or at what time precisely should we begin the morning services. Yet how much emphasis do we put on how we should wake our child in the morning for school? Or how to greet our spouse first thing in the morning? Do we say hello to a neighbor or just someone on the street? Or do we tend to forget these type of commandments? It’s not technical so we generally forget. These commandments are called derech eretz – courtesy. And it is written that derech eretz comes before the Torah. Which means that the courtesy comes before the technical instructions of the Torah.
It’s like a vessel. You can have a very tasty cold and delicious drink that you want to drink. However, if you do not have the proper vessel, then you can only drink so much. And more than that, you can’t save or take that drink with you anywhere since you don’t have a way to transport it.
This vessel is our emotional behavior. We are all the children of Hashem, and we are all created in his image. G-d is our king and we are all princes and princesses. We must know all the rules of the Kingdom. However, no less important is how to treat one another. How to smile and how to give a good word to the other, how to make a necessary comment in the proper manner so that it will be heard and appreciated and not just ignored or disregarded.
This respect for one another starts at home with our children and spouses. If we learn how to respect one another, especially those we see every day – which is extremely hard to do since we are with them all day long and we feel free to say and do almost anything that comes to mind. After all, they are family. That is just the point. What occurs in the home is just a microcosm and a formula for what and how we are meant to behave with our “family of Israel.” We are all really one big family. If we treat and speak respectfully to our immediate family we are creating, on a small and very intimate level, a model for our behavior with all our family at large.
We must be very careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings while trying to teach or give over a message. Since the way it’s given over isn’t less important than the message itself.
Teachers have such an important role in sculpting the future generations and how it will look. More important than all the information that is learned is how teachers give it over. How did the teachers themselves behave in the classroom? How did they react when a student spoke up? And how did they speak when they wanted to relay an important message of conduct or self-awareness?
Standing at the Kotel and looking at all those tens of thousands of faces of Am Yisrael I marveled at how wonderful and awesome G-d truly is. At how awesome and vast the Torah really is.
While learning all the important laws and commandments in the Torah, let’s put an emphasis on how to first be a vessel that can carry all the infinite wisdom of the Torah. Let us concentrate on how to behave like the children of royalty. And let us remember before we speak and say what must be said, who we are talking to and how to respect the person that is in front of us.