Shavuot – A Time for Meaning

In Jewish thought, time is both cyclical and linear. The concept of a “moed,” holiday, embodies the idea that time is cyclical. As we move through the course of a year, different periods of time have different spiritual energies. So, Passover, for example, must always occur in the springtime. It is a holiday of renewal, of focusing on freedom and our ability to formulate our own identity. In a larger sense, as a result of this dynamic, history repeats itself. Therefore, the Torah commands us to keep our eye on history, in order to grow and learn from our mistakes.

By extension, keeping our eye on history is only relevant, because time is also linear. We are not condemned to repeat the mistakes of our past. We can grow and innovate. We have the capacity to choose to expand forward into the future to something greater; or, we can make choices restricting who we are.

As the holiday of Shavuot approaches, celebrating the giving of Torah on Mt. Sinai, focusing on these ideas is appropriate. Shavuot, like Shabbat, marks both the end and beginning of a cycle of time. More than a simple day of rest, Shabbat is the day when we gather, and revel, in all that we achieved in the prior six days. The day also renews our souls, enabling us to take all that we have become and bring that forward to a greater self in the next six days.

Similarly, Shavuot is the climax of a 50 day count of what was supposed to be a period of spiritual growth, which began the day after Passover. In the Talmud, Shavuot is named Atzeret, meaning gathering. It is the time, when we gather all the spiritual fruits of the prior 50 days in order to be a fitting vessel for G-d to give His Torah. Just as G-d gives, though, the holiday celebrates that we receive. Receiving implies that we will take the Torah and do something with it in the future.

To make the most of the holiday of Shavuot for our own personal growth, for gathering in the best of who we are and cultivating those seeds for our future, we must recognize that life presents each of us with a single fundamental choice – do we want a life of holiness and meaning, or not?

In the cycle of time, Shavuot is the day of meaning. It is the day we commit to a life of holiness. This is one reason that there is a custom to stay up all night to learn. We want to express that Torah is our core.

One of the questions that the Heavenly Tribunal will inquire of us when we move from this world to the next is: “Did you set aside fixed times for the study of Torah?” By “setting” fixed, impenetrable, times for working on spiritual matters/for studying Torah, we state emphatically that connecting to G-d is our priority. That is our identity; we want a life of meaning. It may be that we are required to engage in some other function in life at this moment, or that perhaps we were not gifted with the background or advantages of one who has more time to devote to spiritual matters; but when all else is stripped away, by setting aside time for spiritual growth, we express our answer to life’s primary question.

In this respect, our sages have expressed whether a little or a lot, the amount of time that one commits to spiritual matters is secondary. Each person must act according to their own inclinations, abilities, and demands on their time. The primary issue is commitment.

I heard a story about Rabbi Soloveitchik that at the end of his life, he suffered a stroke and was for the most part incoherent. In this condition, he sat in his hospital bed reciting by heart the Rambam’s Mishna Torah over and over again. When all else was taken, at his core, his devotion to Torah is all that was left.

You hear similar stories about people in the holocaust – about individuals stripped of everything, who were willing to risk their lives to share a piece of bread or perform a mitzvah. In these acts we see their core, who they really were.

As for you, to what have you committed your time?

If your choice is a life of meaning, Shavuot is the time to express that. Make a commitment to yourself to set aside regular times for spiritual matters in the coming year. Then, take a step to make that commitment a reality – preferably Shavuot evening – by spending some time of focused on Torah. By doing so, you will elevate your life to one of meaning and holiness, which will carry you through the rest of the year.

This entry was posted on Friday, May 25th, 2012 at 1:18 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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