The Soul of Shavuot

original art, inspired by the DNA of Torah and the awe of Har Sinai

This post is dedicated wholeheartedly to the safe and victorious return of our חיילים. 

G!dly timing of historic events, good and bad, beg us to review time and time again our purpose and trajectory, through both physical and spiritual translations. 

I read this incredible story on social media:

“Last night, at the time of the sirens, I sat in a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv, with ten Americans in Israel on a program for the year. They were twenty years old, boys and girls. 

After a few of the booms sounded close by, one of the members of the group asked half sarcastically, “Ok, who’s ready to move to Israel?” 

Slowly, voices were heard in the bomb shelter, “Me…me…me…

If there was one emotional moment to point to from the entire difficult night, this was the moment.”

This story brings not only tears to my eyes, but pride into my heart and motivation into my soul. 

As we exit the restful ark of Shabbat and enter into the powerful wedding between our nation and Hashem through Chag Shavuot we are challenged to renew our vows. Our vows to G!d and Torah observance, but also our internal vows. Who we want to be and how we’ve promised ourselves we’d get there. 

Before one can jump into the wedding ceremony, we almost satirically study the lack of a “prenup”. We all know and learn the famous interaction between Am Yisrael and Hashem before we receive the Torah, we all exclaimed “נעשה ונשמע–We will do and we will hear.” Arguably the most popular פירוש (commentary) of this response is it was  the overwhelming trust and faith the Jews were experiencing that the difficulties of details and stringency of this new lifestyle did not matter. However, In Rebbe Nachman’s Likutey Mahahral (1,190), he offers a new lens of understanding that  Bnei Yisrael was actually objecting to G!d’s proposal of the Torah as this was a direct challenge to the notion of free will. It is not a cheer of “we will!” but more of “We will ‘have’ to” (considering the hovering mountain above our heads.) 

The humble leader Moshe brings this concern to Hashem and the response brings us to an even deeper understanding of our role and opportunity of choice. Hashem responds by explaining that the free will of Bnei Yisrael wasn’t “erased” through the seemingly choice-less presentation of the mitzvot because they were simply bystanders to G!d’s private offering of the Torah to Moshe. 

After first reading this, I really felt like this was a borderline “cop out” from Hashem to make us all feel better about this union. Which then I learned to always continue reading before jumping to conclusions. Hashem then tells Moshe, “Go to the Jewish people and sanctify them today and tomorrow” (being the three days leading up to the Torah being gifted.) Moshe then took this and commanded Bnei Yisrael to add the extra day. Which explains the receiving of the Torah to be, in a sense, dependent on the free will of Moshe Rabeinu. But this answer does not satisfy our national crisis. The answer still seems fragmented because we certainly aren’t on the level of spiritual consciousness Moshe Rabeinu was on. It is only until the student of R’ Nachman, R’ Natan who explains that we indeed are. Rav Natan adds that if we concentrate on our eternal purpose, we will discover hints along the way that lead us to our own personal “Giving of the Torah” So in essence, we not only have the capability to receive the Torah, but we have the spiritual capacity to give it. 

There is a concept based in Chassidut, specifically from the Baal HaTanya that I feel really compliments R’ Natan’s understanding of Kabbalat HaTorah. The Tanya discusses the surface explanation of “spiritual growth” specifically through the accumulation of Torah and mitzvot. But the Baal HaTanya challenges this teaching by explaining that the mitzvot of the Torah are not a foreign concept that one must bring themselves close to; as bringing one close to something infers that he was once far from it. When the truth is the complete opposite, instead we should approach mitzvot with a sense of familiarity and clarity as it is the most obvious expression of our souls. When we were given the Torah, we were simply re-introduced to ourselves. 

So of course, the choice was not difficult after all. Not because the hovering mountain or because of Moshe told us to, but rather because we were finally understanding the language of our soul, a translation that had been fragmented and distorted by Galut. 

Back in Parshat Lech Lecha, Avraham and Sara proved to us that actively choosing a Torah lifestyle was in direct benefit to them internally. In seminary, I was introduced to the idea of “Making Aliyah of Your Mind” —to deeply relate spirituality through all events and experiences in our lives, big and small to the cultivation of holiness. By leaving what they had known behind, they actually came closer to something much more familiar. 

We now have Shavuot: the holiday culminating the counting of the Omer, a dedication of harvest and celebrating the beauty of choice. We read Megillat Ruth, a story I find stunning in its scenery and inspiring through the obvious and hidden divinity. Although there are many strange, powerful, emotional and confusing moments throughout the story of Ruth, the most significant to me was the complexity and simplicity of her choice. Ruth was placed at a crossroads, physically and in a spiritual sense. With no obligation to continue the Jewish lifestyle with the strict and narrow limitations, testing and difficult expectations, Ruth sees this as a “no brainer.” Ruth in her elegance and valor chooses, actively and passionately chooses a life seemingly foreign to her. However, as we know when a Jewish neshama enters this world, it will do everything in its power to relish in the holiness of its surroundings. Ruth was in fact choosing the easier option, one of familiarity to her and her deepest reality. 

There is a midrash, with commentary by Radak, that we will know when Geulah is coming when in complete darkness, in the same hour there are beams of light. This light in question can be understood as lights of tzadikim, lights of miracles and even lights of clarity.

I’d like to suggest maybe, that these lights are beams of choice. Beams that re-build the foundations of Btei Knesset burnt down by terrorism, hate and שקר. Beams of light so blinding they sift out fear, doubt and disconnect. A light so warm and comforting that Jews across the globe bask in their glory. 

The beauty of our choices and the strength of their power is what renews our vow to Hashem constantly, which makes our bond all the more present. We are literally genetically disposed to the mentality of  “Wherever you go I will go, for your people are my people and your G!d is my G!d.” 

Intertwined with Judaism is Zionism. So with every choice of religion and observance, we additionally make the choice of Eretz Yisrael. We make the choice three times a day throughout Tefila, where we long and praise the land of Israel for her eternal prophecy. We choose her in times of peace and times of turbulent terror. We choose her in the silence of the Amida and we choose her in the deafening Shema Yisrael. 

I am currently in my first experience of rocket terrorism as an Israeli citizen and returned native to my homeland. I initially was very dictated by fear, feeling small and vulnerable, but through the tenacity of continued celebration and overwhelming Ahavat Yisrael I am no longer afraid. I am empowered and encouraged to choose Israel again and again and again. 

I pray we have the love in our hearts to choose Am Yisrael through our brothers and sisters in Ahavat Chinam. I pray we have the courage to choose Eretz Yisrael as our prideful homeland. I pray we have the spiritual clarity to choose Torat Yisrael as our source and compass. 

May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, my Rock and my Redeemer. 

Chag Shavuot Sameach! 

About the Author
Edan is currently studying for a degree in English and Torah education. Since making Aliyah in 2020, she hopes to share some of the wisdom and insight she has been blessed to have witnessed and heard, as well as try to articulate and pass on moments that were most impactful for her. Edan believes in using the power of words to silence our fears, worries and doubts in order to hear our inner truths of clarity, faith and hope. Through some poetry, Torah and anecdote, she is praying to illuminate the lights that already exist in all of us.
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