In pastoral Israel, Shavuot was celebrated as –Chag Hakatzir– an agricultural festival. It was the season when we brought an offering of the first produce of the field and orchard as a thanksgiving to the Almighty for his bounty. Today Shavuot is primarily celebrated as the great occasion on the Jewish calendar as it commemorates –Z’man Mattan Toratenu— the giving of the Tora to Israel, on Mount Sinai over 3000 years ago. It has been estimated that since the Tora was given, mankind has passed millions of laws in order to enforce the laws contained in the—Aseret Hadibrot-the Ten Commandments . The exact number is not significant; what is significant is man’s struggle to live a good life inspired by Divine Commandments.
Consciously or unconsciously, great thinkers of the past based their doctrines on ideas expressed in the Aseret Hadibrot . But in the process, people have forgotten the source, and began to think of the content of those commandments as the product of earlier civilizations or legislators. Civil laws concerning human relationships are poor substitutes for the biblical commandments. Today’s society has neither outgrown the Ten Commandments nor has it reached a point where they are no longer needed. Daily events prove not only that the world needs them but that the world accepts them as guiding principles in everyday life.
Shavuot is the festival that marks the consecration of our youth to the ideals of our ancestors and our sages. It is interesting to note the Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabbah describes the children’s role at Mattan Torah. The Midrash relates that when the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Tora, G-d said to them, “I will give you the Tora provided you bring me trustworthy guarantors that you will observe its laws.” The Jews proposed various guarantors who were not accepted by G-d. Finally they said, “Behold our children will be the guarantors for us.” Said the Holy One, “These are certainly trustworthy guarantors; for them I will give you the Tora.” We see that Tora education of our children was essential to receiving the Tora Shavuot is the holiday of hope, of our aspiration that our children will adhere to the faith of our people, to the great ethical values inherent in Tora and its Mitzvot. It is the season to inspire in our youth a desire to study Tora, to strengthen the adherence to its Mitzvot.
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur, author of the famous “Sefer Hidushei Harim”, reflecting upon the aspect of Shavuot: Why is Shavuot called “ Z’man Mattan Toratenu-the time of the giving of the Torah”? Shouldn’t it be called ” Zman Kaballat Hatorah-the time of receiving the Torah”? His answer is that while the giving of Tora is a historic event which occurred thousands of years ago, the Tora is constantly being received and accepted, over and over again in each generation. In the giving, there is also an obligation of receiving. The problem is in the failure to achieve the latter, the accepting. The emphasis on Shavuot as one of the three major festivals, is a message of moral and human values to all humanity.
Shavuot, in contrast to the other two festivals, is devoid of rituals. It is devoted to Tora study and observance of Mitzvot, and yet it has no unique laws. Why? Simply because “-Talmud Torah Keneged Kulam-the study of Torah is the greatest Mitzvah” Learning Tora and observing its Mitzvot does not need any rituals. Shavuot, as a reminder of our adherence to the Mitzvot and the strengthening of our Tora values, remains one of the great festivals on our calendar; it is as such that we usher in this holiday with the hope of experiencing the light of Tora in everyday life.