In March 2011, the New York Times attempted to discover the happiest person in the world. Using a formula called the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, the paper found that the happiest person in the world is an Orthodox Jew. Is this shocking to you? If we can generalize from this individual, what is it about our lives as Orthodox Jews that makes us so happy? What aspect of our religion allows us to enjoy life more than any other?
We are a people who are very connected to our calendar. On the days of the year when we commemorate destruction, we mourn, while on days of the year when we commemorate salvation, we celebrate. But on which day do we experience the most joy? On which day of the year is our euphoric delight greatest? In a somewhat counterintuitive analysis, the Yesod V’shoresh Ha’avoda and Rav Yakov Emden both state that on Shavuos, more than all the other Yomim Tovim, we should feel the most simcha. Why? What is it about Shavuos that makes it so unique?
While the obvious answer is our possession of the Torah, I would suggest that it is not only our ownership of the Torah which should cause us simcha on this day, but rather our commemoration of our receiving of the Torah.
The Vilna Gaon (The Gra) in his commentary on Shir Hashirim (Ch. 1 verse 16) explains that the bracha of ahava raba ahavtanu which we recite before Shema is referring to matan torah when Hashem revealed his great love to us. As well, in his commentary on the siddur, the Gra explains that ata bechartanu refers to Pesach, ahavta osanu refers to Shavuos, and vratzisa banu refers to Succos.
Hashem’s eternal love for us was truly revealed on Shavuos. The Torah was Hashem’s most precious possession, his most valuable commodity, and he chose to give it to us! When a husband gives an expensive piece of jewelry, wrapped in beautiful box with a bow on top, it is a tremendous sign of love and caring. But when one gives a gift truly cared about, a possession with a tremendous amount of personal meaning, that is the ultimate sign of affection. Hashem gave us the ultimate present through which he expressed to us his everlasting love for us, and it is that realization which gives us tremendous delight.
All too often we hear of children who feel neglected, children who feel unloved. When a child feels abandoned and uncared for it leads to a lack of self-worth and a lack of self-confidence. The same is true for adults as well. When we feel as though no one cares about us, it saddens us and leads us to question our own value. And so, on Shavuos, as we commemorate our receiving of the Torah, we recognize Hashem’s true love for us and experience true joy. Any feelings of loneliness or isolation are removed when we realize that Hashem cares about each and every one of us. Sometimes it’s hard for us to see how much He cares; sometimes it seems to us like He doesn’t love us. Let’s use Shavuos to reinvigorate and re-instill within ourselves how much Hashem truly loves us. For when we recognize how much he cares, we will celebrate with the utmost happiness that each of us is unique, significant, and special in His eyes.
Rabbi Nosson Rich is currently the Rabbinic Intern at Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck and is also a Kupietzky Fellow at Rabbi Elchanan Theological Seminary.
By Rabbi Nosson Rich