We experience life through the medium of time. Each new moment brings with it new opportunities as we ascend through the journey of time. Amidst the constantly moving waves of time, the chagim are specific and set points that carry with them unique energy. Each holiday presents us with the chance to tap into and experience the theme inherent to that point in time. Before we delve into the specific theme and uniqueness of Shavuot, we must first understand time in general.
The Nature of Time
The widely accepted understanding of time is that it moves in a straight line. Hashem created our world of space and time, and since its inception, time has been moving inexorably forward. Along this line of time is the past, present and the future. If we were to move backward on this line we could peer through history and find Avraham Avinu at the Akeida, Moshe Rabbeinu receiving the Torah, and the Rambam writing the Mishneh Torah. Our current experience is taking place in the middle of the line, and if we could move forward along the line we would see events that have not yet occurred. However, there is a major contradiction to this theory.
There is a piyut in the Pesach Haggadah (U’vchen Va’amartem) that describes how Avraham Avinu served matzah to the three angels because it was Pesach at that time. Rashi quotes this opinion (Bereishit 19:3) and says that Lot did the same for the malachim who came to Sedom. How can this be? The mitzvah of matzah originates from the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim—which would not occur for another few centuries!
Circles in Time
In order to understand why Avraham and Lot served their guests matzah before Pesach even occurred, we must develop a deeper understanding of time. Time does not move along a continuous, straight line; it circles around in a repeating yearly cycle. As the Ramchal explains, Hashem created thematic cycles of time, and each point in the year holds unique spiritual energy. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and all the rest of the chagim are each associated with their own unique spiritual themes in time.
This deep understanding transforms our perception of time. We don’t celebrate freedom each year on the 15th of Nissan because that’s when the Jews were freed from Egypt, rather the Jews were redeemed from Egypt on the 15th of Nissan because that is zman cheiruteinu, the time of freedom. That power of freedom is what allowed the Jews to escape the slavery of Mitzrayim, and this is why Avraham and Lot ate matzah long before Yetziat Mitzrayim occurred. Matzah represents freedom, and Avraham and Lot tapped into the spiritual waves of freedom that were present at that point in time. Rather than commemorating a historical event, they were tapping into the deep energies of time already inherent at the point in the circle. So too, when we celebrate each holiday we do not simply commemorate a historical event, but experience and tap into the deep energies inherent at that point in time.
Spirals in Time
However, even the circle analogy is limiting. If time were indeed a circle, each point of the year would simply be a repetition of that point from the previous year, from the previous loop around the circle. That would be pointless. We do not seek to re-experience the past each year. Our goal is to expand upon what we have created year by year so that each time we return to that same point on the circle we are on a fundamentally different level. Each Rosh Hashanah must be higher than the previous one, each Pesach a new Pesach, each Shavuot a new Shavuot. Through our growth and ascension we convert the two-dimensional circle into a three-dimensional spiral, traversing along the same circle at ever-greater heights. We maintain circularity while achieving ascension.
Re-Experiencing Shavuot Every Year
Once we understand the concept of time and the distinct opportunity and importance of tapping into the unique theme of each point of time in the systematic process of ascension, we must delve into the specific theme that Shavuot presents. What is the power and potential inherent in this time of the year, and how can we harness it to grow along our ascending, spiraling path?
On Shavuot there is a custom to stand during the Torah reading. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Harirei Kedem Vol 2) explains that we stand during Torah reading on this day because we are recreating the experience of Matan Torah, when the entire Jewish people stood around Har Sinai to receive the Torah. On Shavuot we do not simply remember what once occurred, we relive the experience as we tap back into the power of kabbalat haTorah, receiving and accepting the Torah. We do not simply repeat this process each year, rather we reaccept the Torah on an entirely new level, as fundamentally higher beings, growing through each revelation of Torah.
Kabbalat haTorah this year is at the same point along the circle as last year, but one rung higher on the spiral. We are truly receiving the Torah anew, in a new dimension of time and spiritual energy.
Our mission is to make this Shavuot the next step in our evolutionary spiral through time. We must not only reaccept what we have already accepted, we must take it to the next level, the next rung of the ladder. We do not simply remember, we build; we do not repeat, we ascend. May we be inspired to accept the Torah this Shavuot with all of our heart, commit to living a life of Torah truth, and endlessly pursue higher and deeper perceptions of the physical world as an expression of a spiritual reality.
Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker, writer, and coach who has lectured internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities on topics of Jewish Thought and Jewish Medical Ethics.
You can reach him and find more inspirational lectures, videos, and articles from Shmuel on his website, https://www.shmuelreichman.com.