Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Shavuot:: The Unforgottable Festival

A provocative article in today's Jewish Ideas Daily claims that almost no Jews know about Shavuot, and tries to account for that fact. One of the factors that the author cites is the fact that (in the absence of the Temple) there are no ceremonies or mitzvot that are uniquely associated with the festival. On the face of it, that's true. Upon closer examination, that is not only a false assertion, it is profoundly misleading.

To begin with, Shavuot is wonderful specifically because it is unencumbered by considerations beyond the laws of Yom Tov. Indeed, it is Yom Tov, pure and simple. It's a day given totally over to rejoicing before God. The Torah commands us, ושמחת בחגיך. The Rav זצ"ל always pointed out that the ultimate joy a Jew can experience is to stand before God, ושמחת לפני ד'. On other holidays, there are all kinds of accessories to help us do that. On Shavuot, in the afterglow of Pesach and 49 days of spiritual preparation through the Omer period, we are bidden to just experience God's presence and rejoice; physically and spiritually. The paucity of ceremonial is, indeed, its power.

In addition, Shavuot has a mitzvah. We are bidden to re-experience Revelation and to sit and study Torah. What is better, more sublime. more exalted and more spiritually intoxicating than meeting God, the Creator of the World? As R. Hayyim of Volozhin writes in Sefer Nefesh ha-Hayyim (4, 3), attaining insight into the Torah is a personal act of Revelation. And we do it through a meeting of physicality and spirituality (רוחניות וגשמיות).

That is why, for me, Shavuot is not only unforgettable. It is my absolutely favorite Hag.


Abba said...

i think the author of that article is correct. shulchan aruch/mishneh brurah has 200 pages on pesach and then 2 mesely se'ifim on shavuos. mishneh torah has even less. i think you will search in vain for any reference to shavuos there in zemanim (skips from pesach to shofar). of course you'll find it there in avodah (or korbanos?), but the content there is completely irrelevent to us today.

classically after churban habayis shavuous was merely the atzeres of pesach. (indeed, most jews have no idea what shemini atzeres is either for the same reason)

"In addition, Shavuot has a mitzvah. We are bidden to re-experience Revelation and to sit and study Torah."

you mean mitzvah in the colloquial sense and not the halachik obligatory sense?

Jeffrey Woolf said...

Obviously. The genius of the Jewish People is found in filling the lacunae with content.