Shavuot: A Match Made in Heaven, By Rabbi Yaakov Glasman

We all experience challenging periods in life. Imagine you’re doing it tough and all of a sudden you meet the most wonderful person you could ever ask for. He/she is smart, kind, attractive, caring, funny and most importantly, a mentch. You fall in love instantly. You love them with all your heart and soul and the feeling is mutual. You get married and have the most romantic honeymoon. And then all of a sudden – as if out of nowhere – your newfound love bombards you with an endless list of demands and expectations, none of which were discussed with you prior to the wedding. How would that make you feel?

As fictional as it sounds, this “fairytale” was, in a spiritual sense, a sober reality for our ancestors some 3,330 years ago. The Jews had been completely demoralised and humiliated after 210 years of backbreaking Egyptian slavery in what was clearly one of the worst periods of ancient Jewish history. Then all of a sudden G-d comes to the rescue. He redeems us with “a strong hand and an outstretched arm”, destroys our enemies and promises to take us to the land of milk and honey. Finally, we found a loving and caring life Partner who was as passionate about us as we were about Him. He led us to Mount Sinai and gave us the most cherished gift of all – the Torah. Our Sages have referred to this gift as the “marriage” between G-d and the Children of Israel. We had new meaning in life, a fresh start and a divine purpose. For the first time in centuries, we were happy.

And then suddenly, immediately following the spiritual and emotional high of tying the knot with the Almighty, He bombards us with an onslaught of commandments and obligations, none of which he communicated to us beforehand. Indeed, in the portion immediately following the giving of the Torah there appear more commandments than almost any other portion in the entire Torah.

What was G-d trying to tell us?

In doing so G-d was teaching us one of the most foundational lessons for a healthy relationship, whether our relationship with G-d or with man: that love must ultimately lead to action. It’s one thing to fall in love. It’s another thing altogether to translate this into the behavioural arena. We love our spouses, yet we buy them flowers. We love our children, yet we hug and kiss them. We love our grandparents, yet we clear our diary to spend time with them. They know we love them so why bother with the good deeds? The answer is simple yet profound:  Because love is the catalyst for action, not its substitute.  In the words of the international bestseller The Five Love Languages –relationships are built on deeds, not words.

But as we know, this value is not always easy to maintain throughout one’s relationship. We sometimes fall into our comfort zone and become rather selective as to what “actions” we wish to contribute to our personal relationships. And just as it applies in the interpersonal space, so it does in our collective relationship with G-d.

As Jews today integrated in a society whose values are ever changing, we often find ourselves grappling to make sense of our own Jewish identity. Too many Jews today question the role Judaism and ritual play in their lives. Our opinions and world outlook are understandably informed by the culture in which we live, and when those values clash with our Jewish values, the former may trump the latter. All too often this results in a process of trimming down our own Jewish belief system to create a version we’re comfortable with.

The danger inherent in this process is that our final product may bear no resemblance of the Torah G-d gave us at Sinai. By delisting, for instance, prayer, Shabbat, Kashrut, Mikvah and other commandments seen by some as senescent and antiquated, one ends up with a Judaism defined exclusively in terms of humanism. Being a good person becomes the new Jewish motto whilst ritual is relegated to a bygone era.

Indeed, as we celebrate on Shavuot our having received the Torah, we reflect on what it was like to stand at Mount Sinai and hear the immutable word of G-d in the form of the Ten Commandments. We reflect on their content, their meaning, and perhaps most importantly, their composition: five commandments about faith and ritual, and the other five about humanism and menchlichkeit. The fifty-fifty split illustrates the inestimable value G-d places on our both ritual and menchlichkeit.  Both form an equal part of our national Jewish identity and both did, and always should, form equal parts of our Jewish identity. Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Glasman is Senior Rabbi at Melbourne’s St Kilda Hebrew Congregation. He served as President of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria from 2009 until 2012 and then as President of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand from 2016 until 2017. 

 

 

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Ruth: Kindness that Leads to Kingship, By Rabbi Yosef Blau

 

The description in the Torah of the holiday of Shavuot focuses on the seven week counting from Pesach but reveals little about the intrinsic nature of the day.  Our sages concluded that it

commemorates the date that the Torah was given on Sinai to the Jewish people.   From this perspective the appropriateness of reading  Megillat Rut, the story of a single Moabite convert, who becomes the great grandmother of king David, is not clear.   Some relate this reading to the agricultural aspect of Shavuot which connects to an important part of the Ruth narrative.  There is a way to see the vast contrast between the revelation on Sinai and Ruth’s individual  choice as a reason to connect the two.

On the Seder night in the recital of Dayenu we say that if Hashem had brought us to Mount Sinai and had not given us the Torah it would have been sufficient.   The divine revelation even if it hadn’t resulted in the giving of the Torah had enormous religious impact.   It created an eternal bond between Hashem and the Jewish people, the nation He had taken out of slavery in Egypt.  It is a singular event that led to the entire people as one accepting the commandments.  The description of the revelation on Sinai is vivid and detailed;  the  experience  is so powerful that, overcome with dread, the Israelites are afraid to go up the mountain.

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What Does Shavuot Really Celebrate: On Preparing for Kabbalat Ha-Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter

The Gemara (Shabbat 86b) records a disagreement between the Rabbanan and Rabbi Yosi as to the day of the month of Sivan that the Aseret ha-Dibrot were handed down at Sinai. The first opinion is that it occurred on the sixth of the month while Rabbi Yosi maintains that it occurred on the seventh. The Gemara goes on to explain that both agree on two matters: first, that the Bnai Yisrael arrived in the Sinai desert on the first of that month and, second, that the Torah was given on a Shabbat. They disagree, however, continues the Gemara, regarding on what day of the week did the first of the month fall, on a Sunday (in which case the Torah was given on the seventh of the month) or on a Monday (in which case the Torah was given on the sixth).

A second Gemara. The Gemara (Shabbat 87b) informs us that the Bnai Yisrael left Egypt on a Thursday.

A third Gemara. The Gemara (Pesachim 68b) simply assumes that the holiday of Shavuot commemorates the day of the giving of the Torah. This is not self-evident because the Torah refers to this holiday four times and not once makes this association. In Shemot 23:16 it is referred to as “chag ha-asif,” in Shemot 34:22 as “chag shavuot,” in Bamidbar 28:26 as “yom ha-bikkurim,” and in Devarim 15:9, 16 as “chag shavuot.” Nowhere does the Torah associate this holiday with the event of Revelation, an association that became self-evident in later rabbinic literature. Indeed, in his biblical commentary on Vayikra 23, the Abravanel wonders (question #17) why the Torah does not explicitly make this connection, and he is only one of many who address this issue.

And a pasuk. The Torah (Vayikra 23:15-21) tells us that fiftieth day from the beginning of the counting of the omer is a holiday and the clear assumption in Jewish tradition is that this is a reference to the holiday of Shavuot.

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Shavuot: A Holiday Without Rituals, by Rabbi Shimon Murciano 

 

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.

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The Hidden Revelation at Sinai, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

Of the Ten Commandments, the First and Second are considered those that are primary.  The First is positive and states, “I am the Lord your God who has taken you out of the Land of Egypt from the house of slavery.”  Exodus 20:2.   The Second is negative and states, “You shall have no other Gods before me.” Exodus 20:3.  Immediately after receiving the Ten Commandments, it seems that God is repeating the first two.  The Torah says, “And God says to Moshe, Thus you shall say to the Children of Israel, ‘you have seen that I spoken with you from the heavens.’” Exodus 20:19.  This is a positive statement of what God did.  And it immediately follows with a negative corollary, “do not fashion with me gods of silver and gods of gold, do not make them for yourselves.” Exodus, 20: 20.

What was the need for God to repeat these again?  The Rabbis were sensitive to this issue and attempted to explain that it referred either to those who serve God through the worship of the heavenly constellations or these referred to the construction of the cherubs on the aron.  “Do not make an image of my servants who serve before me in heaven.”  Rashi, Ad Locum.

The plain meaning of the text, however, even with the Rabbinic interpretation, is that this is another prohibition against idolatry, albeit with a broader definition of idolatry.

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The Second Day of Yom Tov Revisited, By Rabbi Daniel Friedman

With the approaching ‘3-day Yom Tov’ this Shavuos, and the accompanying sociological challenges, this essay will reexamine the origins of Yom Tov Sheini shel Goluyos.

Most are familiar with the Gemara in Beitzah 4b:

In early times they used to light bonfires, but on account of the mischief of the Samaritans the Rabbis ordained that messengers should go forth. But now that we are well acquainted with the fixing of the new moon, why do we observe two days? — Because they sent from there: take care of the custom of your fathers in your hands; for it might happen that the government might issue an antisemitic decree and it will cause a blunder.

Rashi explains that the inability to learn Torah would lead to confusion regarding the fixing of the calendar.  Were they only to observe one day of Yom Tov, their negligence might result in an error concerning the calculation and setting of the correct day of Yom Tov.

The Meshech Chochma (Bo ch.12 s.v. Uvazeh), however, asks: What makes the Diaspora unique in this regard?  Theoretically, such a decree could also be enacted in Eretz Yisrael, causing confusion around the correct day of Yom Tov!

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What the Israeli Mossad and the Holiday of Shavuot Have in Common, By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

 In the recent few weeks, Mossad operations have generated considerable attention. From lifting hundreds of kilograms of the most classified materials in the heart of Teheran by dozens of agents to the mysterious assassination of a Hamas terror engineer deep in Indonesia, the Mossad is in the headlines.

So, consider the following description:

Job Description: N/A

Mission:N/A

Date:N/A

Location: N/A

Sounds like a standard description of a Mossad operation, doesn’t it? And yet, it also happens to be the description of the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is the only Jewish holiday for which the Torah does not give a set date, does not oblige individuals in any Mitzvahs, and does not inform us about the specific spiritual mission of the holiday.

The Torah mysteriously states:” From the day after the Sabbath… count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord . . . On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. (Leviticus 23: 15-21)

The Torah gives no date, just tells us to count 50 days. And when do we begin? What day after the Sabbath were we to count from? This mystery erupted into a full-scale fight between the Pharisees and the seduces as traditional Jews interpreted “the Sabbath” as referring to Passover while the seduces believed it was referring to the actual Shabbat following Passover. To make things worse we don’t count 50 days. We count 49 and celebrate Shavuot on the 50th day.

Furthermore, in the Shavuot prayers, the holiday is described as “zman Mattan Toratenu-the time we received the Torah”. Where was that? We know where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are buried, we know where Rachel is buried, we know where the Temple stood, where Jericho, Shechem, and even Mount Carmel are—we don’t know where Mount Sinai is. Not a clue. Why all this Mystery?

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