Shavuos Dvar Torah
“Shavuos is tomorrow.” That is what I was told on the first day of seminary and constantly reminded throughout the year. Now that Shavuos is finally here, that statement has been validated. The year is almost over, and while it is deeply saddening to leave, it is also time to move on. Shavuos is the quintessential holiday on which to assess the Torah values that have hopefully been achieved.
The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) says that G-d held the mountain over Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai, and thus Bnei Yisrael were coerced into accepting the Torah. Tosfot ask how this Gemara can be understood in conjunction with the “Na’aseh Ve’nishma” statement Bnei Yisrael made – apparently affirming their voluntary acceptance of the Torah.
Tosfot answer that Bnei Yisrael were not afraid of keeping mitzvos in general; they willingly accepted sheva mitzvot bnei noach, as well as the mitzvot of Shabbat and kibud av v’em given at Mara. But the all-encompassing commitment of Torah as a whole, and mitzvot as extensive as “kedoshim ti’hiyu,” were too much to accept willingly, and thus they had to be coerced into that acceptance.
But there is a deeper level to Matan Torah and Bnei Yisrael’s acceptance of Torah. When G-d suspended the mountain over Bnei Yisrael, waiting for their response, it was not merely a question of “do you want the Torah.” The entire existence of the world was conditioned on that acceptance. Bnei Yisrael have a huge obligation to keep the Torah so that the world can continue to exist. Therefore, keeping Torah is not simply based on voluntarism – it includes commitment and obligation.
Often times people, especially teenagers, approach mitzvot with the attitude of “it must speak to me” – I must connect to it and feel it before following it. However, the truth is that not everyone is going to “connect” to every single mitzvah we are obligated to follow. It is an all-encompassing, diehard commitment to the word of G-d that must be the basis for the way we live our lives.
This is a very blunt, straightforward approach. Ultimately, throughout our lives, we must work really hard to connect emotionally and intellectually to the obligation the Torah puts upon us. A person shouldn’t have to act out of external pressure, but from internal desire. The Gemara in Chagiga (9b) says “there is no comparison between one who repeats his chapter a hundred times and one who repeats his chapter one hundred and one times.” That one extra time refers to action that is not mere rote. Mitzvos done by rote are incomparable to those done from internal desire.
Regarding emotional connection, we can look to Rashi’s explanation of the passuk (Shemot 22:24), “When [im] you lend My people money.” Although the word “im” connotes optionality, the mitzvah is truly obligatory. The Maharal explains that G-d really wants us to fulfill this obligation as if it was optional. We must learn to connect to these obligations and not regard them as forced upon us, but internalize them and desire to do them on our own.
Regarding intellect, we can’t merely let our hands and other organs fulfill the mitzvos while our brains are not in sync with the rest of our actions. Today, such an intense focus is placed on intellect, and we shouldn’t use our minds on only for professions. Furthermore, without a certain level of intellect applied, mitzvot can inevitably become mere routine. Therefore, it is extremely important to continue Torah study throughout one’s life and connect to G-d intellectually. Studying Torah creates an unexplainable bond between Man and G-d and only through this relationship can Judaism survive. This connection will help one understand the significance of details, and appreciate these details as a way of life, a focus on life, and an attempt to sanctify it – not burden it.
Often, when young people finish high school, seminary or yeshiva, they claim that they are heading out into “the real world” to finally experience “life.” This implies a certain dissonance between Torah and life, while truly they are one and the same. If one can learn and work very hard every day, committing himself unconditionally to halacha while simultaneously connecting to it emotionally and intellectually, then he can bring these two together.
As the year is coming to a close and many of us are ready to set out to college and into “the real world,” we must constantly keep this in mind. The mountain may have been suspended over us, but we said “Na’aseh Venishma.” We may have been coerced to a certain extent, but this obligation is a privilege. Torah is life.
Written by a student in MMY