Shavout is the Time that the Torah was Given to the Jews
By Eliezer Cohen
Shavout is the time that the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai. This momentous occasion is commemorated each year, fifty days after the Passover holiday. In many areas, the tradition is that we stay awake the night of Shavout studying the Torah. Not only was the giving of the Torah an occasion for commemoration, but also the manner in which the Jews accepted it.
When the Jewish people were brought to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, we were told that the other nations were asked first if they desired to receive the Torah. They politely asked what was in the Torah. When the reply came that there were various acts that were forbidden and on their transgression they would be punished if they were to accept the Torah, they kindly refused the Torah. When the Jewish people were asked if they would like to receive the Torah, they simply replied, "We will do what is in it and we will learn it." After the reply of the Jewish people, a voice came out of heaven, booming, "Who revealed to my children the secrets that only the angels know?"
Tradition tells us that the angels gave two crowns to the Jewish people, one for saying that they will do and the second for saying that they will learn.
It is important to understand this Jewish legend, for in it is an important key to Judaism and Jewish thought.
First, we must understand, if all the other nations that were offered the Torah, asked first what is in it, in order that they may first know what they are accepting, should not the Jewish people, who claim fame for many intellectual achievements, also have asked the same question?
Secondly, what is praiseworthy of blind acceptance? Certainly, something that is carefully considered, weighing the pro's and cons prior to making a decision is a mature and proper manner of making a decision. Why did the Jews first say that they will do the Torah, and then afterwards, that they will learn the Torah. Should not the proper order be, first to learn the Torah and then to do what is written inside?
Also, why did a heavenly voice come out to exclaim that the Jew's had learned the secret of the angels? And why did the angels present two crowns to the Jewish people?
The answer is simple, yet deep.
In the kabbalah, man is considered to be the most elevated of all the created things in the world. The lowest level is that of the inorganic, it can neither move nor grow. It remains in one place, unless something external moves it. It can not grow, it stays the same.
The next level of being is the organic, the plant life. Whereas it can not move, it can grow. The next level above is the animal; it can both grow and move freely. And above this is man, according to kabbalah, he is called the middaber, the speaker. His lofty position is not just because he speaks, but because he uses the media of sound to exchange intellectual intelligence.
The total crown of man, according to the kabbalah, is the fact that he uses his intelligence. This is what differentiates man from the beasts below him.
If this were the case, we have not answered our questions, rather intensified it. The Jewish nation should have utilized their highest level, intelligence, and asked what is contained in the Torah before accepting it.
Kabbalah, however, explains that there is indeed a level above intelligence. This level is called Ratzon. Ratzon means desire or will. In reality there are two types of ratzons, one above intelligence and one below intelligence.
As an example, if a man desires to by an automobile, he will check and compare the features of the various manufacturers, together with the prices, warrantees, reputations, service, his personal needs, etc. After amassing all of the pertinent facts, he will make a decision on which car is best for him to purchase. In this brief example, we can say that the desire to purchase an automobile stemmed from his upper ratzon, the level of will above logic. For if we asked him why are you buying a car, he may respond, because I want one! This is the upper level of ratzon that supercedes logic. In kabbalah, it is referred to as the "crown," which sits above the head (above the logic).
The next step in our example, the man executed logical deductions and inferences to arrive as to which car would be the logically proper selection for him. Here he used his intellect to compare the various facts and factors which contributed to making the proper decision.
After he arrived at the chosen automobile, he had now an inborn desire for that particular car. This is an example of the lower level of desire; a desire that is spurned on by an intellectual understanding of what is proper to desire. In this level the desire is subservient to the intellect, and it carries out the intellects decrees.
In our lives, we constantly vary between these two levels of desires. The lower level and the upper level. The upper level is manifested by strong passion, irrational desire, and aggression that leads to action. The lower level of desire is characterized by slow moving consultations, calculations and comparisons together with a weak and cautious motivation. In our own lives, many of our major decisions are made by the upper level of ratzon. Who we marry, which business we pursue, wars and genius are basically derivatives of this higher level of will. The secondary decisions in our lives, the choices that derive from carrying out the dictates of our logic are given to wavering and re-contemplation and change.
Therefore, the angels gave the Jews two crowns to use. One for correctly utilizing their upper level of will to take the Torah. With out this unconditional commitment to G-d and the Torah, the Jews would have quickly changed their minds. For this they received the "crown" which is above intelligence. The second crown was the crown of intelligence, to be used for understanding the teachings of the Torah.
This is the mistake that the other nations made. They wanted to make their commitment to the Torah based on their own intellectual understanding of the goodness (meaning what good would have been in it for them). But the angels knew the secret; an unswerving decision based on total devotion to G-d.
This is the secret of the specialness of Shavout. We, too, can re-commit and dedicate ourselves on this very day that the Torah was given. We can be a part of that great nation, who abandoned themselves for their greatest yearning, to become close to G-d.
from theIssue Number 21, May 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine