By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I grew up with little knowledge of the holiday of Shavuot, and my children are learning songs for it in religious school. Could you please fill me in about its significance?
— Joel W.
This coming Tuesday night, June 3, Jews around the world will observe the holiday of Shavuos, the 3326th anniversary of our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.
This is the day that the Jews received the Ten Commandments from God, and accepted upon themselves the entirety of the Torah, including its study and the observance of the 613 mitzvos.
Many in Dallas and throughout the world observe an “all-nighter” study session, spent engrossed in intensive Torah study until the morning.
There are many messages included in Shavuos and we shall offer one perspective here.
The Torah describes the Jews’ arrival at Sinai, “and the nation encamped across from the mountain.” This encampment is expressed in the singular, (vayichan), not in the plural tense (ve’yachanu) which seems to be the incorrect tense in Hebrew for a group of people. Why would the Torah use this phrase?
The commentaries explain the Torah is hinting that this was the one unique instance in Jewish history that the entire nation was together with no disputes, “like one person with one heart.” All other encampments were with argument and disunity. Why was this encampment so different?
The Torah is the great unifier of our people. Every Jewish soul is connected to a letter, line or crown of a letter of the Torah. Only a Torah, which is complete with no letters missing, is kosher. Only a totally united Jewish people is complete, connecting the “lines, letters and crowns” of their souls into one Torah scroll which is the Jewish nation. If even one Jew would have disagreed to receive the Torah it could not have been given, as the great “Torah scroll in the heavens” would have not been complete.
The Jews understood at Sinai the vital importance of unity to receive the Torah and went beyond all divisions, accepting the yoke of Torah as one soul, with all Jewish hearts beating in unison in their acceptance of Torah. (See Rashi Shemos/Exodus 19:2)
We suffer, unfortunately, from many divisions in our people. The best way Jews can repair their divisions and reunite is to study Torah together. We are reminded of the profound words that Senator Joe Lieberman uttered over a decade ago at the DATA Speaker’s Series, “although perhaps we can’t necessarily all pray together, why can’t we at least all study together”?!
(The young Rabbi Cohen became the new rabbi of a 100-year-old synagogue in the south side of Chicago. The first Sabbath he was there was the reading of the Ten Commandments, and a hearty fight broke out among the congregants if to sit or stand during that reading. After the Sabbath, the rabbi visited the 95-year-old Mr. Katz in the nursing home nearby, asking for his help. “What can I do for you, young man?” The rabbi related the problem, how those sitting were yelling at those standing “sit down!” and the others yelling “stand up!” How can I help you?” asked Mr. Katz. The rabbi responded, “You are the oldest living member of our congregation, what is the custom of our congregation?” Mr. Katz responded: “that, young man, is the custom of our congregation!”)
Shavuos is a time to join a study session, class or program and be immersed in Torah study with fellow Jews. It’s also the perfect time to increase our Torah study and Jewish literacy throughout the year, much as the Jews accepted upon themselves the yoke of Torah for all time more than 3000 years ago.
The more we join together studying and celebrating Torah, the more we will ensure a vibrant Jewish community and Jewish continuity for eternity.
Anyone interested in joining a study session near you for Shavuos or throughout the year please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or at DATA, 214-987-3282 and ask for any rabbi.
Wishing all the readers a meaningful and joyous Shavuos with peace in Israel and throughout the world.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.