Beit Midrash

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קטגוריה משנית
To dedicate this lesson
Tranlsated by Hillel Fendel

The holy and glorious day of the festival of Shavuot is the day on which the blessed G-d bequeathed to us a hidden fortune: our sacred Torah, more valuable than gold and glass and silver vessels. It was on this day that He distinguished us from the other peoples of the world to be for Him a holy, chosen, treasured nation.

It is known that Shavuot is inseparably connected with Pesach via Sephirat HaOmer, the seven weeks between the two holidays during which we count each day and week separately. As such, Pesach is the action, while Shavuot is the objective. For when we look carefully at the essence of these two holidays, we see that Pesach stands for freedom of the physical, of the body; G-d took us out of the house of bondage, ending our bodily enslavement. Shavuot, on the other hand, is a day of freedom of the spirit; on this day, Hashem gave us the Torah – that which restrains man from being drawn blindly after his physical and even animal urges, and after distorted and false ideas and movements.

Only via the study of Torah is one freed from these negative forces, thus truly becoming a free man. As we learn in the Mishna in Avot (Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers; 6,2): "No one is free other than one who engages in Torah." One who does not study or engage in Torah, and instead walks with no defined purpose or restraints, but only in accordance with what he feels like doing at a given time – becomes an indentured slave to his lusts and his deviant thoughts, unable to free himself from then and certainly not to subjugate them.  

The Aggadah (Rabbinic homiletic literature) tells us that when Shimon HaTzaddik (Simon the Just) greeted Alexander the Great, he told him enigmatically: "The one who rules over you is my servant, and my slave rules over you." The king suspected that the rabbi was not being sufficiently respectful, and angrily asked for an explanation. Shimon HaTzaddik said: "The lusts that rule over you and cause you to bend to their every wish – I rule over them, and cause them to bend to my wishes. It is therefore clear that the lusts that rule over you are subjugated to me, and so my slave rules over you." 

These words of the Aggadah are crystal-clear to those who understand, and are upright to those who find knowledge in their depth and who delve into them. 

It is also well-acknowledged that the main aspect of every action is its result and final purpose; the action itself is merely a means by which to reach it. Accordingly, the chief purpose of the Exodus from Egypt that led at first to our physical freedom, is actually much more than that. The essential goal is actually our receiving and accepting the Torah, which is the attainment of our spiritual freedom. The Exodus was merely a means by which to achieve this, albeit a critical step without which we would not have been able to receive the Torah.

This concept is also included in that which G-d said to Moshe Rabbeinu at the Burning Bush, when Moshe asked for a Divine sign: "For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it is I Who have sent you: when you take the nation out of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this mountain" (Ex. 3,12); study and understand [the juxtaposition of the means and the ends].

Who Should Not Study? 

It is of course a widespread custom in every Jewish community to study Torah throughout the night on Shauvot, in large groups and in great sanctity, with joy, enthusiasm, and uplifted spirit. The study [generally] includes Bible, Medrash, Aggadah, and the 613 commandments; the source for this is found in the holy Zohar in Parashat Emor, p. 97a. We must be extra careful not to waste this precious time in idle conversation and joking around, Heaven forbid. For one who does so commits a two-fold sin: one against his body, in going without sleep for a full night, and also against his soul, in spending his Torah-learning time in matters of no import, and at the same time disturbing others who might have been learning at that time. Take to heart: Someone who can't learn on Shavuot night should rather go home and sleep on his bed, bringing benefit both to himself and to others. 

In general, Torah study must primarily be done in accordance with the concept of "rejoice with trembling" (Psalms 2,11) - about which the Talmud explains, "Where there is joy, there shall be trembling" (B'rachot 30b). And from this will follow that "Israel will rejoice in its Maker, and the sons of Zion will rejoice in their king" (Psalms 149,2), may His name be blessed forever and ever.

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