The “Soul” of Shavuot

No live bodies can exist without souls.  If the basic messages of a holiday can be seen as its body, its unique emotional character would be its soul.  Shavuot, as the holiday that commemorates and celebrates the giving of the Torah, has many messages and lessons that it teaches.  Appreciation of the Torah as our unique moral, legal, ritual and spiritual heritage is the central slogan of this festival.  What is the emotional thrust of this holiday; what is the “soul” of Shavuot?

There is a verse in the very beginning of Song of Songs that the classical commentaries understand as a reference to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  “I wish he would kiss my lips, for his closeness is better than wine from the bride to her bridegroom” (Shir Hashirim, 1:2), a quote of a bride to her absentee groom.  Rashi (1040 – 1105) explains this verse allegorically (as he does with the entire book), as referring to the giving of the Torah.  According to his interpretation, the verse is a plea, from the Jewish people, estranged and in the midst of its exile, to the Almighty, and reads: “Communicate Your innermost wisdom to me again in loving closeness, for Your friendship is dearer than all earthly delights” [The Chumash, Stone Edition, p. 1263].  The collective Jewish conscious remembers the experience of His speaking to us and giving us the Torah when we met Him face to face at the mountain long ago, as if it was yesterday.  The love and awe we felt at that time, explains Rashi, still feels so authentic and special to us that it’s more precious to us than any earthly pleasure or pastime.  This verse expresses the emotional impact of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on the Jewish people:  A deep yearning to experience again the profound wisdom that the Almighty imparted at that time.

The soul of the holiday of Shavuot is to reconnect to this deep yearning for wisdom, especially Torah wisdom.  Sinai implanted within our psyches a thirst for knowledge and enlightenment so intense that it now would exceed, when unhindered by spiritual and emotional baggage, our desire for anything else under the sun.  The unmistakable Jewish affinity for education and study, and academic scientific achievement may perhaps be an attempt to somehow soothe this yearning.  If this emotion has atrophied within us, Shavuot is the time to exercise it, breathe life into it, and reconnect with it.

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