The Midrash says that the Torah was given to us in three stages: through
fire, through water and in the dessert. These three stages are symbolic
and they teach us how one merits the Torah. Fire: the fiery arousal of
longing for their Father in Heaven that burns in the heart of the Jew;
water: moderation, contemplation and clarity of thought, to think in the
ways of Torah, in the right spirit and mind; desert: doing without all
the pleasures and desires of this world that hinder the person in reaching
A great emphasis is placed (see Ex. 19:18) on the fire that accompanied
the Giving of the Torah. This teaches us that all matters concerning Torah-study,
mitzvah-observance, prayer, and every manner of serving and acknowledging
G-d, must be carried out in "fire": with vital warmth, and with flaming
desire to fulfill G-d's will. Our power to do so is derived from
the fire on the mountain that burned during the Giving of the torah.
(based on Sefer HaMaimorim 5701)
Why is Shavuot called "The Time of the Giving of the Torah" as opposed
to "Receiving the Torah"? It is because on the sixth of Sivan was the
time of the giving of the Torah, more than three thousand years ago, but
the time of the receiving of the Torah never ceases; every day a Jew has
to receive the Torah anew.
Every festival the Torah informs us that one has to sacrifice a sin offer.
Only on the festival of Shavuot is the word 'sin' not mentioned. For on
the festival of Shavuot, the day of the receiving of the Torah, all Jews
are like the convert "newborn", and so free of all sin.
(Rabbi Levi Yitschak of Berditchev)
The Torah was given on a mountain, to teach that the learning of Torah
and going in G-d's ways should give us a certain emotional elevation.
At the same time one has to be careful not to fall prey to arrogance.
That is the meaning of 'opposite the mountain': to be exceedingly careful
to oppose the aggrandizement that can come from Torah learning and knowledge.
(Sefer HaMaarim Taf Shin Gimmel)
(from Ascent Quarterly)
THE FIRST SHAVUOT
took place on Shabbat, fifty days after the Exodus from Egypt,
on the sixth day of the month of Sivan, 2448 years after the creation of
the world (May 9, 1313 BCE), 3330 years ago. That day, at the break
of dawn, G-d spoke the Ten Declarations.1
Although the entire fifty-day period was a time of purification2,
the most intensive preparations were started on the first day of Sivan,
when the entire Jewish nation arrived at Mt Sinai.
1 Literal translation of "Aseret HaDibrot."
The popular rendition, "Ten Commandments," is somewhat misleading, since
a careful reading reveals 13-15 mitzvot, depending on how you count (a
popular topic for scholarly debate!)
2 Today too it is a mitzvah, Sefirat HaOmer,
to count these days. A blessing (printed in every siddur) is recited
each night before counting.
Similarly, each year G-d gives us the Torah anew on Shavuot.
In utilizing the final six days properly by reliving the events of that
momentous time, we prepare ourselves physically, spiritually, mentally,
and emotionally to receive the Torah anew.
We arrive at Mount Sinai in a spirit of love and unity.
Therefore, the first step in preparing ourselves to receive the Torah
is to increase feelings of love towards our fellow Jew. G-d's Torah cannot
dwell in someone who harbors hatred.
1) Go out of your way to be nice to another Jew.
2) Resolve to relate to other Jews in a spirit of love.
We discover that acceptance of the Torah involves a commitment to fulfil
the mitzvot, which in turn will enable us to enter into an eternal and
irrevocable covenant with G-d as His special people, chosen to be a Kingdom
of Priests and a Holy Nation. We accept.
Therefore, we must try to be aware that the soul of a Jew yearns to enter
into a special relationship with G-d, one that transcends all the limitations
of time, space, and personality. The Torah not only instructs us how to
be a good person, it connects us to G-d on a super-rational level. This
relationship, however, entails responsibilities.
1) Strengthen your Jewish identity. Find out what your Hebrew name is.
Perhaps you can even start using it in some way.
2) Take an everyday activity (eating, dressing, working, etc.) and try
to connect it to G-d.
G-d tells Moshe that He plans to deliver the Torah by speaking to him
from a thick cloud, but the people will still be able to hear. We protest,
saying: We want a direct revelation of G-d!
Therefore, Jew should long for G-d himself. The degree to which we are
able to perceive G-d in the Torah is commensurate with our desire to do
1) "Rediscover" G-d. Pray to Him - either from a siddur [prayerbook]
or spontaneously, or both.
2) Examine your life and see how much of it constitutes the sort of life
G-d would want to be present in. Discuss with friends (or with yourself)
how to strengthen the positive aspects and remove the negative.
G-d tells us that if we want a direct revelation, we must 1) purify
ourselves and 2) set up a barrier around Mt. Sinai so that we do not approach
too close when He reveals Himself there.
Therefore, do not go to extremes or see yourself as further along than
you actually are. Recognize your present standing. Torah is intended to
be a guide to life - not an escape from it. We are ready for a new spiritual
level only when it will enable us to live more optimally within the world.
Spiritual advancement involves self-discipline.
1) Try refraining from an available pleasure that serves no constructive
2) In your enthusiasm, don't repudiate your past. Visualize all of your
life - including the negative aspects - as a cumulative movement towards
receiving the Torah anew.
1) We immerse in a mikveh. 2) Moshe builds an altar and offers sacrifices
on behalf of all the twelve tribes. He sprinkles half of the blood on
the altar and half on us, signifying that we and the Torah (represented
by the altar) are now inseparably bound -- each without the other is only
half an entity. 3) Moshe reads the Book of the Covenant (i.e., all the
Torah from Genesis until this point). 4) We respond na'aseh v'nishmah-
- "We will do (first) and then understand!"
Therefore, we should realize, 1) Torah is not something we can live without.
It is our life, our blood, the vitality pulsating through our bodies.
2) Action is more essential than understanding and anyway, true understanding
of the Torah can only come after we start doing mitzvot.
Start doing! 1) Choose a mitzvah that you don't observe yet and commit
yourself to fulfilling it from now on (e.g., saying Sh'ma Yisrael, see
AQ#1). (If you do them all already, select an observance to improve and
strengthen.) Perhaps pick one you don't relate to or understand.
2) Learn some Torah, think about what you have learned, internalize it.
1) Evening: We all go to sleep, mistakenly assuming
that the best preparation is to be fresh for the big event, instead of
staying up late and readying ourselves.
2) Dawn: Thunder, lightning, thick clouds, rain, and
unceasing shofar blasts increasing in volume. We tremble, the mountain
smokes, G-d bends the heavens down to the mountain top; His presence accompanied
by 22,000 angels descends on fire. Birds stop flying and chirping,
all animals are silent, the seas are still. The world holds its
Moshe ascends and descends at G-d's word. G-d begins
the Ten Declarations, first saying all of them simultaneously,
then repeating them one at a time. Our souls depart from bodies
as we hear the first two; G-d revives us but we retreat in fear,
requesting Moshe to listen for us. G-d calls Moshe back to the top
of the mountain and tells him the last eight, and Moshe repeats them to
G-D created (and continuously creates) the world in
order for us to perfect it through Torah. By accepting the Torah
and fulfilling the mitzvot we consummate the purpose of creation and become
G-d's partner in the perfection of the world. The giving of the
Torah heralded the bridging of the gulf that separated the physical and
spiritual dimensions of existence. Before the Torah was given, it
was impossible for a physical object to become imbued with G-dliness.
After this, we became capable of infusing divinity into physical objects
and activities. Therefore, every moment and every object presents
an opportunity to increase the consciousness of G-d in the world and permeate
existence with spirituality through our observance of Torah and mitzvot.
Celebrating Shavuot each year instills within us the strength and inspiration
to carry out this mission.
The holiday begins.
The shofar is blowing!
The mountain is smoking!
Revelation is imminent!
Some Laws and Customs
SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES for SHAVUOT
1) Switch into high gear!
2) Stay up all night studying Torah to rectify our mistake.
3) Towards dawn, immerse in a mikvah (or ocean or pool), but don't
drive there–it's Yom Tov!
4) Go to a shul and hear the Ten Declarations. Try to bring
others too–especially Jewish children, for they were our guarentors
at the first Giving of the Torah and they too will benefit by experiencing
it now. Accept the Torah unconditionally with joy and sincerity.
5) Eat some dairy foods. When we were given the Torah (including
the laws of kashrut), we realized that our cooking vessels were
not kosher, so until we kashered them we ate only dairy products.
6) Read the Book of Ruth: a) King David, her descendant, died
on Shavuot; b) Ruth was a convert and at Sinai we were like converts
–G-d transformed us from ordinary people to a special nation.
Chag Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!
The ASCENT staff