Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Shavuos Torah #1

The following is entirely my thought and may be way off base:

On Succos we have the Succah, Lulav, Esrog, and the Daled Minim. On Pesach we have the seder and the mitzvah to eat Matzah. On Purim we have the Megillah, Shaloch Manos, etc. On Rosh Hashana we have the Shofar. On Yom Kippur, we have fasting.

If I was to ask you what tangible mitzvah there is on Shavuos, outside of the regular Yom Tov restrictions, what would you say? Sure, we have the custom to stay up all night learning. Sure, there’s the custom to eat dairy products. But neither of these are mitzvos that we can attach ourselves to during this chag. The question is: why does every other chag have a tangible mitzvah attached to it – but nothing by Shavuos? I shall offer my own thoughts.

As Jews, we like to have connections; connections with other people and connections with the chagim. For a lot of people, their connection to Pesach is the time spent with their families. For some, their connection to Rosh Hashana is introspection, and their connection to Yom Kippur is atonement. However, even if one does not have that special thing about the chag that they can tangibly call their “connection” to the chag, Chazal had built in “connections” that connects every Jew with the holiday. Whether or not one values the family time together on Pesach, they will always have the seder, the matzah, and the built in meaning. Whether or not one feels compelled for a complete atonement on Yom Kippur, they will have their fast. Each of the aforementioned mitzvos are meaningful on so many levels that there is enough inherent to that mitzvah to serve as the connection between the Jew and the chag.

So if Chazal has built in these mitzvos to serve as vehicles to our connections with the holidays, why did the neglect to here by Shavuos? I believe that what Chazal are telling us is that the holiday of Shavuos and the essence of the holiday, Torah and Limud haTorah, is not something that can be connected to easily with a tangible mitzvas hayom. It’s easy for a lackadaisical Jew to run through the motions of all of the other holidays: to run to Shabsi’s to buy a Lulav, hit up minyan and space out during Megillah and moan and complain about fasting on Yom Kippur. While many, many Jews have proper intentions for the aforementioned mitzvos, it is plausible to just run through the motions and fulfill them, albeit with no meaning.

This cannot be said about the essence of Shavuos – Limud haTorah. Learning isn’t something you can just run to Shabsi’s, buy a sefer, and fulfill your obligation of Limud haTorah just by buying that book. Learning is something we make sacrifices for. Sure, it would be great to have every evening available to jump to every social gathering that comes up. When you enter the college world, the married world, or the work world, life is crazy. We’re involved in so many committees, classes, and other obligations, that it’s easy to say that it’s too tough to set up a regular time to learn. But let’s be honest – learning is the type of thing that’s tough to “get around to” – one must be kovea itim (establish fixed times) for learning. Being kovea itim is a huge sacrifice because you aren’t just saying that you can’t go out tonight, but you’re saying that during these days during these hours, I’m off limits, I can’t do anything. It's for this reason that is one of the only questions that Gd asks us when we go to heaven ("Were you Kovea Itim?"). Shavuos comes to teach us that Limud haTorah isn’t something you can just go through the motions to do. The “going through the motions” Jew probably doesn’t learn all that much – and Chazal, by not giving us a tangible mitzvah to serve as a vehicle to connecting to the chag is telling us that certain things in life are worth making sacrifices for. Hopefully, this mindset is one that will permeate all mitzvos that we do.

3 Comments:

Blogger Zenchick said...

Having not been raised with a lot of Judaism (understatement), I never even heard about Shavuous until I was an adult. I like your perspective, though. I'm one of those people that treat every day a little bit like Yom Kippur (as far as introspection and taking responsibility for my actions). I believe the mitzvot CAN be integrated into our daily lives, and not treated as "separate acts".
Thanks for the post.

10:27 AM, May 30, 2006

 
Blogger AlanLaz said...

Thanks for reading. I think the great thing about Judaism is that, unlike other religions, who mold their religion around their lives, we try to mold and integrate our lives around our religion. People who view that which we do as separate from their lives are taking the first approach - an approach on the same level of the other religions of the world.

11:05 AM, May 30, 2006

 
Blogger Ben-Yehudah said...

B"H How about Yom HaBikkurim? ...and the Qatzir? Something we can work toward for the future.

3:37 PM, May 23, 2007

 

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