Aryeh Ben David

Shavuot…. it’s not about the learning

I wonder if people are excited about Shavuot.

I’m excited about cheesecake and the walk to the Kotel.

I’m excited about being with friends and wandering the streets of Jerusalem late at night.

But am I excited about sitting in shiurim – ehh.

For me, Shavuot is not about the learning. It’s about the receiving.

In order to learn Torah – you have to receive it. In order to receive it – you have to want to receive it, to need to receive it.

Why would somebody want or need to receive Torah? What is missing?

I’m not receiving Torah for a connection to God – I can have that and a meaningful spiritual life without Torah. Many other religions manage to create this. Thus bringing us to one of Judaism’s ingrained tensions – what is the role of Torah if I can be spiritual without it? “Being spiritual”, being centered, or being present are “states of being”. On the other hand, Torah is not about a “state of being” – it is about a “state of becoming”. Torah is about the path, the calling, and the journeying.

What is the need that impels me to want to receive Torah?

I need to hear the voice that is calling to me – that is guiding my becoming.

I cannot provide the path for my soul since I didn’t create it. But Rav Kook writes that when people learn Torah correctly, they hear the whispering of their souls calling them to their destiny. Every day a voice goes out of Sinai with my soul calling, and learning Torah is the key to hearing the calling.

Torah is not a “to-do” list that reminds me of specific behaviors. It is not the vehicle that will bring me to mindfulness, centered-ness, or nirvana.

Torah is the path of our souls. I learn Torah to be engaged in the process of becoming.

I have been sent into this world with a purpose. My birth and life are not random. My soul was called and sent into this world to provide a piece of the unique tikkun (healing) that the Jewish People are mandated. I can work on myself. I can examine my actions. I can yearn, seek, reflect, and evaluate.

But the pathway, the GPS map of my soul, I did not write. That path is what I need to receive.

Pirkei Avot begins: “Moshe kibeiail Torah M’Sinai”, Moshe received Torah from Sinai. Moshe is known as Moshe Rabbeinu, Judaism’s greatest teacher. What is his greatest teaching? To receive.

It is not easy to receive. The Talmud comments that someone who receives a gift often resents the giver, feeling inadequacy of needing the gift. It is a profoundly humbling admission to need, to accept incompletion, to need to receive. Moshe, the most humble, received the greatest gift.

Shavuot is my reminder of my essential inability to chart my own path. I need to be open to the path of my soul, to listen to its whisperings, and to receive the guidance from my Creator.

I can get excited about that.

About the Author
Aryeh Ben David founded Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education in 2008. Ayeka educates rabbis, teachers, and professionals to bring Jewish wisdom from our minds to our hearts to our souls and into our lives. He recently published: The Secret of Love - A Glimpse into the Mystical Wisdom of Rav Kook. He lives in Efrat with his wife, Sandra.
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