Tonight and tomorrow, the Jewish world is going to celebrate this year’s Shavuot. In Israel we only celebrate one day (until Wednesday night) whereas most Diaspora Jews usually keep two days.
On Sivan 6th , G-d gave the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai. G–d reminds us several times in the Torah that the Torah itself is eternal and cannot be replaced by anything else. G-d and His Torah do not depend on time, as we do (Bnei Yissachar). After Adam and Eve (Adam and Chava) ate from the Tree of Knowledge, G–d changed the human DNA and made us mortal.
How do we approach Shavuot in our time ? How can we get exited at all without having been at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given ?
First of all, we do have the concept in Judaism that any souls (Neshamot) ever been created or will be created in the future, have been at Mount Sinai. All of us were there including the converts to Judaism. Before G–d gave the Torah to the Jews, He went to all the nations and asked if they would like to receive the Torah. The nations refused, as according to the Torah, murder, theft, adultery, not keeping kosher etc. are forbidden. However, the other nations did not want to give up their old habits and no changes in society whatsoever. Only the Jews said NA’ASEH VE NISHMA – Let’s hear and we will do. The Jews said yes without knowing the conditions (Midrash).
The Vilna Gaon states that actually there were some people among the nations who did want to receive the Torah but G–d only asked their kings who refused. According to the Vilna Gaon, those people are the converts to Judaism today.
How do we prepare ourselves for Shavuot ? First of all, we should internalize the Torah. We need to understand that it is not an ancient book which does not apply to me today. Rabbi Me’ir Weiner once said at a Shiur that each of us should look at the Torah as if it only speaks to himself. This thought might help us to understand the meaning of Shavuot in our days.
Everybody should spiritually prepare himself for this holiday and then we are able to reach higher and higher level and do important Tikkunim of the spiritual worlds. Furthermore, Shavuot is a Chizuk, a strengthening of the souls for all generations (Kuntres Dibrot of Toldot Avraham Yitzchak).
All generations still have the eternal Mitzvah of Torah study (Bnei Yissachar). In Judaism we differentiate between different levels of Torah study. The first concept is called PSHAT where we only study on a more or less superficial level. However, our task is to internalize the inner meaning of Torah and Halachot.
During Shacharit (the morning prayer service) we add three additional readings: The Ten Commandments (Aseret HaDibrot), the famous poetic AKDAMUT prayer (written by Rabbi Meir ben Yitzchak in the 11th century) and the Book of Ruth (Megillat Ruth).
Akadamut tells us in a very poetic way about G–d’s creation of the world until the World to Come (Olam HaBah). The verses are written according to the Hebrew alphabet and each sentence is being answered with the word “TA”. TA consists of the letters Aleph and a Tav standing for the first and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Symbolically, the word TA represents the whole Torah and that its study is endless.
The Book of Ruth was written by Shmuel HaNavi (the Prophet Samuel), as it says in the Gemara in Talmud Bava Batra 14b. But why do we read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot ?
Ruth was an ancestress of King David and he was born and died on Shavuot. It says that only Zaddikim (righteous people) die on their birthday. Ruth was one of the most important converts to Judaism and, therefore, Shavuot is also the day of the converts. His whole life, King David had to suffer from bad comments of other people, as his ancestress was a Moabite and not a born Jew.
Background: The Moabites and the Ammonites (today’s Jordan) came from the illicit relations between Lot and his two daughters after they fled from Sodom. Both daughters had intercourse with their father and both bore a boy. One was called Ammon and the other was called Mo Av.
The Mishna in Yevamot 76b teaches that Jews are not allowed to marry male Ammonites or Moabites but marrying a female is allowed. According to this Mishna, Ruth and Boaz had a legal marriage and there should not have been any gossip or doubt about King David’s Jewishness. However, all his life, King David suffered from false accusations and I think that if he entered the Rabbanut (Chief Rabbinate) today, the Rabbis might throw him out as well. Nevertheless, the Meshiach is coming from a Moabite. Who would have thought so, as one might assume that the Meshiach is coming from a perfect family.
But not only King David died on Shavuot. On Leil Shavuot, Erev Shavuot, the great founder of the chassidut, the Baal Shem Tov died. Therefore, many Chassidic groups celebrate his Yahrzeit with certain events.
Especially Chassidut very much emphasizes the Tikkun on the night of Shavuot. Reading certain prayers and Kavanah (Concentration) helps us reaching higher levels and connect the spiritual worlds with our physical world.
All over the world, thousands of Jews will stay awake and learn through the whole night. Especially in Jerusalem, people like going to different Shiurim (lectures). Most synagogues and religious programmes offer different classes. Israeli newspapers have already started publishing many addresses for Torah study on Shavuot. Classes are free of charge and light refreshments will be served.
At about 4 am, people will start walking to the Western Wall (Kotel) in order to pray Shacharit. Every year, it is a great experience seeing the sun rising over the Temple Mount.
Chag Sameach – Have a great holiday !!!