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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Articles about Shavuot

Shavuot Thoughts

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Here in Israel Shavuot is a one day holiday. Since many stay up all night on Shavuot and therefore spend a great deal of the Shavuot day sleeping off the night’s study session, the day really whizzes by. This really does not allow for much true contemplation of the holiday and its intended message and long lasting influence upon us. We all know that Shavuot marks the granting of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, though the biblical names for Shavuot which appear in the Torah itself do not specifically reflect this truth. The reality of the holiday is not easily absorbed within us in so short a period of time as one day. After all we savor Pesach but it takes a week to do so and the same is true for Succot which lasts eight days. When I lived in the United States the second day of Shavuot was one of my favorite days of the year. I appreciated the wisdom of Jewish tradition in extending the holidays for a day for Jews living in the Diaspora. But living now in Israel with its one day holiday of Shavuot has forced me to consider the import of the holiday in a less leisurely manner than before. There is no second day of Shavuot here but the aftermath of Shavuot nevertheless can and should wield an influence upon us our attitudes, behavior and beliefs. If it does not, the holiday itself passing in a blur, loses its sense of importance and relevance and becomes a wasted opportunity.

Dealing with the Torah is not a one time situation. Perhaps this is the reason behind the Torah itself not emphasizing Shavuot as the anniversary of its being granted to the Jewish people on Sinai 3382 years ago. Torah is "our life and the length of our days." It really therefore has no anniversary or commemorative day for it is the constant factor in the life of Jews. It is a continuous guide and challenge in our everyday life, always demanding and probing into our innermost thoughts and outward behavior and lifestyle. It does not allow for vacations and negligence, societal correctness and sloppy thinking. Our teacher Moshe stated in his famous psalm that life itself passases by us as in a blur, much like the holiday of Shavuot does. Without focus and purpose, dedication and fortitude, life itself resembles a lost opportunity. Therefore Shavuot’s message truly lies in its aftermath and not so much in its one day of commemoration. In Temple times Shavuot so to speak was extended for another week to allow the holiday offerings of individuals to be brought upon the Temple’s altar. There was a conscious effort by Torah law to impress upon the Jews the continuity of Shavuot with the deep understanding that out of all of the holidays of the year it was the one that never quite ended for it was and is the source of "our lives and the length of our days." Shavuot is only one day out of 365 days but its true commemoration extends to the other 364 days of the year as well.

I have often remarked that Shavuot is the forgotten holiday for many Jews in the Diaspora. Its almost complete disappearance from Jewish life outside of the observant Orthodox community has become the symbol of the ravages of assimilation, intermarriage and alienation that plague the modern Jew who has little self-identity and abysmal ignorance of Torah and its values. Here in Israel all Israelis are aware of Shavuot, even those who only honor it in its breach. So the Torah and its influence is still a vital part of Jewish life here. The study of Torah and Jewish subjects of interest and worth on the night of Shavuot here cuts across all lines and groupings in Israeli society. Secular and religious, Charedi and Reform, synagogues and community centers, all have all night learning sessions on the night of Shavuot. So Torah has an effect upon all here, naturally in varying degrees of knowledge and attitude. In the Diaspora Shavuot is simply ignored by many Jews and thus it cannot have any continuity in the lives and value systems of those Jews. It is difficult to see how this situation can be materially changed in the near future. Yet Shavuot has always somehow been able to produce its magic on the people of Israel. We should therefore be most grateful that the Lord has extended to us a year long and eternal Shavuot.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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