What is Missing on Shavout?
By Mendel Weiss
The festival of "Shavuot" is the annual celebration of the day which the Jewish people received the precious Torah from God. On a standard Jewish holiday there is always some physical action (mitzvah commandment) which the Torah prescribes for us to do in order to express the essence of the day. On Passover we eat Matzah - unleavened bread, on Succoth (the festival of booths) we leave the house and sit in a Succah-booth, and on the New Year's holiday we blow the sacred Shofar horn. Yet, on the holy day of Shavuot we have no special mitzvah to do, which presents a puzzling reality and leaves the introspective mind wondering - what exactly is it that we are supposed to be doing here?
The reason that Shavuot does not have or allow for any symbolic physical expression can be understood through a "behind the scenes" examination of what really occurred when God took His people out of Egypt and gave them His precious Torah.
In King Solomon's famous "Song of Songs", he portrayed the love of a bride and groom who have been separated and long for the time that they will be re-united. The "Vilna Gaon", one of the greatest Torah scholars of the past 300 years, explained in his monumental commentary on the Song of Songs, that the entire song is merely a metaphor which expresses the relationship which God revealed to The Jewish People which began when He took them out of Egypt and gave them His precious Torah.
The song refers to the day of that God gave His Torah to the Jewish nation as the "day of His wedding". The song begins by describing the yearning of the bride (an allusion to the Jewish people) who wishes to once again experience the special relationship which was expressed by the kisses of the groom (an allusion to God) which she received on the day of her wedding (the day when God gave His Torah to the Jewish people).
The Vilna Gaon explained that the song specifically refers to "kisses" (and not merely one kiss), because the kiss of the husband and wife has a dual implication. On one hand it is an expression of the direct and intimate connection between them, and on the other hand it represents a relationship which is excludes the intervention of others.
He explained further that the kisses themselves are an allusion to the first two of the Ten Commandments which were received from the mouth of God on that very day.
The first commandment was "I am the God that took you out of Egypt". The intention of this statement expressed Gods commitment to the Jewish People (his new wife) that just as He took them out of their suffering in Egypt, so too He would always be there for them in the future.
The second commandment was "do not serve other gods". This was alluded to by the second kiss which was an expression of Gods exclusive relationship with the Jewish people which in turn also obligated them to relate directly to God Himself without placing their trust in any other sources.
In light of the words of the Vilna Gaon, it is therefore understood that hidden behind the giving of the Torah is no less than the wedding day of God Himself to the Jewish people which He chose as His wife. With this in mind, one can glean insight into why the Torah has not provided us with any specific physical 'mitzvah' action on this day. This is because the festival of Shavuot is the "anniversary-day" which has been set aside by God as a time to simply enjoy and treasure the special relationship itself which transcends any physical expression.
The special intimate relationship which God shares with the Jewish people was represented in the inner sanctum of the holy temple by two figurines, referred to as the "cherubim", (angels) which were in the form of a boy and a girl. The Talmud teaches that when the Jewish people lived their lives faithfully to God, the 2 figurines would passionately face each other like a husband and wife. Yet, when the Jewish people would turn away from God, so too, the "cherubim" figurines would miraculously turn away from one another.
The Talmud relates that when the pagans destroyed the holy temple, they found that two figurines were embracing one another. The question was asked that certainly at the time of the destruction of the temple itself the Jews had turned away from God and God had also left the Jews, and it would be expected the "cherubim" figurines should also be facing away from one another.
In order to explain this anomaly, Rabbi Sholom Shadron, provided the following parable. Imagine if a husband and wife we having a very serious dispute, and suddenly a strange man entered the quarrel and began beating the wife. Would the husband thank the man for his help? Certainly not! He would certainly forget about their argument and express his true love for his wife which transcended far beyond the fleeting quarrel.
So too, explained Rabbi Shadron, when the Jewish people were not loyal to God they perceived the cherubim as if they were turned away from one another. However, in the face of a foreign party, the cherubim would only express their closeness in order that it should be clear that the intimate relationship between God and the Jewish people would ultimately transcend any dispute that they would ever have.
The Song of Songs ends with the eternal message from God to the Jewish people "Even the waters of the greatest ocean would not extinguish my eternal love for you". This means to say that even if we have strayed very far from God, He will never forget the eternal relationship which He began on His Wedding day, the day when He gave us His precious Torah.
With this in mind, one can glean an even deeper appreciation for the special festival of Shavuot, and why the Torah does not proscribe any physical mitzvah to express the essence of the festival. When God tells us to celebrate the day which He gave us the Torah, being the day of our anniversary, He is essentially telling us that even if we have strayed far away from Him, we should never forget the special relationship which He revealed to us on that day, because it is an eternal connection which He himself will never forget.
Shavuot is a special day to contemplate the special relationship that we have with God which transcends any possible physical action, and therefore the essence of the day itself can only be expressed by reflection to bring out the inner joy of our intimacy with God. Shavuot become the holiday of embracing the special gift which God gave us on that day.
from the May 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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