The Season of the Giving of Our Torah

Summer has descended upon my corner of the Midwest. How can I tell? A few ways:

Juicy, fresh, non-imported summer fruits are appearing in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Last summer, we picked our own peaches. Not all of them made it home.

I bought this impossibly summery dress to wear to my friend’s June wedding.

I already let out the hem; now begins the epic battle to combine shells and shrugs and still look like a normal human.

And, of course, Shavuos is just around the corner. As in, tonight. I have quiche and cake and challah to make, but I thought I’d share this humble little thought with you, Internet, an amalgamation of several divrei Torah I’ve heard recently:

Of all the chagim, I’ve always had the hardest time connecting to Shavuos. I know it’s not just me – I’ve heard this from a lot of people, and I think it’s because Shavuos is the only chag that has no unique mitzvos connected to it. There’s no shortage of inspiration around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; on Sukkos we have the sukkah and the lulav and esrog; on Chanukah, the menorah; on Purim, the megillah, the shalach manos, the seudah, and matanos l’evyonim; and on Pesach, the seder with all its intricacies. These mitzvos are physical manifestations of the unique kochos of the holidays – the deepest spiritual potentials connected with each time of year (says R’ Akiva Tatz). They allow us to concretize and channel everything else we do to honor and observe the chag, all the abstract stuff, like prayer, Torah study, refraining from melachah, and enjoying beautiful clothing and fancy food. Shavuos, on the other hand, celebrates something so broad – how blessed we are to have the entire Torah – that it’s hard to find a concrete symbol to grab onto.

But on Shavuos we have cheesecake! everyone protests, jokingly, at this point in the dvar Torah. There’s actually something to this. Whereas on other chagim, one could decide to forgo the delicious meals (yeah right) and spend the day in study and prayer, on Shavuos the rabbis of the Talmud agree that there is a mitzvah to partake of – and delight in – the physical pleasures of food and drink.

There are a few different explanations for this, but here’s the one I like: our Torah isn’t interested in asceticism. There is no Jewish equivalent of a monastery or convent or ashram. Living a Torah life doesn’t just draw down spirituality from above – it elevates the mundane, the physical, to a holy level. So on Shavuos, the day(s) when we celebrate how privileged we are to have the Torah, we mark the occasion not only by learning all night and praying, but by eating, davka, to show how we can turn even the most physical of pursuits into a form of worship.

So I’ll be eating my cheesecake with kavanah this week – kavanah toward elevating the mundane, toward appreciating the extraordinarily beautiful and delicious world Hashem created for us. I think this might be just the kind of symbolism I need to connect with this special time of year more deeply – but if not, at least I’ll be eating cheesecake.

Have a very gut yontif!

LM

Hebrew and Yiddish words can be found in the Glossary.

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