Why Jewish lovers can’t get a date for Shavuot
The Mishna states that the first chapter in the Book of Ezekiel on the Merkava (chariot) should not be read in public. However, in contravention of the Mishna’s prohibition, the chariot chapter is traditionally read publicly in all synagogues on Shavuot. Why?
Kabbalists and Hassidim brought encountering God’s love through personal experiences into the center of Shavuot. They taught that only on this day does the hidden Ayn Sof descend through the ten Divine dimensions of Sefirot into Shekeenah, our mundane reality, just as it occurred on the original day of Shavuot at Sinai.
Thus, Shavuot offers the best opportunity for each Jew to love and be loved by the Holy One of Israel; for this day is the anniversary of the marriage of God and Israel that first occurred at Sinai.
Some men feel they are blessed because the women they marry are gifts from God. I know I feel this way. Not all marriages are arranged in heaven; but if you are in one that you feel is from heaven you should thank God. I do.
During our 53 subsequent anniversary celebrations our love continues growing. Experiencing each additional anniversary is more significant than our original wedding day. The consequences of the choice seem more important than the original choice itself; provided the choice was the right one. Yet without the choice to make the commitment, love would be unexpressed and unrequited: a terrible loss for both partners.
Although I always thank God for my wife, it is when we make love that I feel closest to her and to God. Rabbi Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement, said (in Zava’at ha-Riva’sh), “Prayer is intercourse with the Shekeenah” (the feminine presence of God).
I would add that intercourse with a God given Shekeenah-wife is a divine service because one is always aware of God’s presence and blessing. As Rabbi Akiba taught, “Husband and wife: if they are worthy, Shekeenah abides between them; if not, fire consumes them.” (Talmud: Sotah 17a)
Most Jews know that sexual activities between a husband and wife are a Mitsvah- a Jewish responsibility. Many Jews know that lovemaking on Shabbat is a double Mitsvah, and I would add that lovemaking on Shavuot is an even greater Mitsvah. Some Jews know that the Kabbalah (the Jewish mystical tradition) teaches that the Shekeenah (the feminine presence of God) rests on a Jewish man when he makes love to his Jewish wife on Shabbat.
But very few Jews know that Jewish couples who make love with an awareness that the Shekeenah is present through the wife’s love and the husbands reverence can repair fractured hopes and intentions in those around them; thus helping to elevate broken spirits both near and far. This is called a Tikun, a spiritual repair.
This Tikun also enhances the spiritual bonds of their own marriage. As Rabbi Shim’on teaches in the Zohar (2:46a) “Then (in the early morning hours) a woman unites with her husband, conversing with him, and entering his palace. As morning approaches, Kenneset Israel (Shekeenah-wife) comes and converses with the Holy One (Tifferet-Yesod-husband) and he extends to her a scepter of love, not over her alone, but over her and over all those participating with her.”
This refers to all Jewish couples that engage in late night/early morning love making with the holy intention of unifying their spiritual sexual commitment to each other. Each time they enact this Tikun Hatzot helps repair or elevate another relationship that is a participating part of the couple’s, especially the wife’s, relationships.
Actually the Shekeenah can rest on a man whenever he makes love to his wife with a sense of reverence, tenderness, adoration and love. Shabbat, and especially Shavuot, adds holiness and chosenness to their feelings. The key attitude for each husband is the feeling that my wife is God’s gift, the source of my blessings, and a most wonderful manifestation of God’s holy presence in my life.
If, in addition to this attitude, a man also makes love to his wife with the intention of unifying the heavenly realm as he unifies the earthly one, he and his wife enact a great Tikun Hatzot spiritual mending or uplifting which can also affect other people.
This Tikun Hatzot is woven together with similar Tikunim from other married couples into a crown for the Divine One who also unites with His Shekeenah on Shabbat and Yom Tov-Jewish holy days. Just as the prayers proclaimed in each Synagogue are woven into a crown for the Holy One of Israel, so too are the holy unifications (Tikunim) of each married couple woven into a crown.
Shavuot is a transhistorical event like Shabbat and not a historical event holiday like Purim or Passover. Shavuot, the holy day that commemorates the revelation of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, is the only Jewish annual holy day, that like the weekly Shabbat, that Torah does not give us an exact date. Jews are simply told that starting with Passover we should count each day for seven weeks and then the fiftieth day is Shavuot.
Of the seven holy days prescribed in the Torah; five are fixed to always fall on the same date of the month but not on the same day of the week, one (Shabbat) always falls on the same day of the week, but on different dates of the month, and one (Shavuot) is unfixed and timeless because we have to count 49 days from the day after the Shabbat of Passover.
Since the Shabbat that falls during Passover has no fixed date, only the day (Sunday) is fixed, unless we say, as did the Pharisees, that the Shabbat of Passover refers not to a regular Shabbat but to the first day of Passover, in which case the date is fixed but the day varies.
Why does the Torah not give us a fixed date for Shavuot? Why do we have to count seven weeks of days?
Because Shavuot is both a specific event marking the anniversary of the covenant made between God and the nation of Israel; and an experiential process like falling in love or becoming wise, which rarely occurs at a specific time or place.
There is a great difference between celebrating a birthday; and celebrating a life. A wedding ceremony is an important day because it focuses attention on the much longer and complex process of forming and maintaining a loving relationship.
Of all Jewish holidays, Shavuot is the most expressive of the dynamic and pluralistic values of Judaism, Shavuot began as an agricultural holiday marking the end of a seven week period when the first fruits of the spring grain harvest were brought to the temple in Jerusalem.
In Talmudic times Shavuot became the occasion for celebrating Mattan Torah, God’s gift of Torah to Israel, and not long after that Jewish mystics began to spread the view that what happened at Sinai was actually a marriage commitment between God and Israel; with Torah being the covenantal Ketubah.
For modern Jews trying to understand the meaning of an evolving revelation, religious pluralism, a God who chooses and a chosen people; Shavuot, the only Jewish holiday where the Torah does not give us an explicit fixed date, is an ideal way to gain insight.
Why did the talmudic rabbis insist that Shavuot and Mattan Torah always must fall on the sixth of Sivan although they all agreed that the first Shavuot was on a Shabbat: and why did they almost always prefer calling the holiday Atzeret instead of Shavuot?
I know the exact day when I and my wife were married. I do not know the day, the week or even the month, when I fell in love with her. A wedding is a specific event that can be observed. Forming a loving commitment is an ongoing process that must be experienced. This is why the only Jewish holy day that does not have a proscribed specific date is Shavuot/Atzeret; a day commemorating the beginning of the partnership-marriage covenant commitment between God and Israel.
Being chosen is an event; choosing is a process. One day, propelled by my growing love for my beloved, I proposed marriage. Two weeks later, she finally said ‘Yes’. Four months later, on December 25, 1966 we were married.
During 53 subsequent anniversary celebrations our love has continued to grow. Experiencing each additional anniversary is more significant than our original wedding day. The consequences of the choice seem more important than the original choice itself; provided the choice was the right one.
Yet without the choice to make the commitment, love would be unexpressed and unrequited: a terrible loss for both partners.
Shabbat celebrates Israel’s weekly love for the Shabbat bride as in “Come my beloved, to meet the Shabbat bride”.
Shavuot celebrates the yearly anniversary of the Jewish People’s first intimate experience of God, as Hosea proclaims God’s vow: “I will betroth you (Israel) unto Me for ever; yea, I will betroth you unto Me in righteousness, in justice, in lovingkindness, and in mercy. I will betroth you unto Me in faithfulness; and you shalt know the LORD” (2:21-22)
A Hassidic mystic Rabbi Nathan Hanover, adds, “After you perform Tikun Hatzot, prepare yourself to unify the Holy One with Shekeenah by making your body, each and every limb, a Merkavah chariot for Shekeenah.”
Thus sexual activity should end with the wife above, feeling she is Shekeenah-the ruling Matronita blessing her husband and rising to heaven, with her husband below her feeling that he serves as a mystical Merkavah chariot elevating her to the heavens. This helps actualize their thoughts and desires and promotes remedies, rectifications, and blessings for those around them and throughout the world.