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Shavuos: Being a True Representative of Hashem

A good friend of mine, Dovid, flies weekly from Newark to Rochester, New York, for business. The Rochester airport is quite small and the staff all know him. Frequent flyers like Dovid know that delays are part of the deal, so he always brings pastries to give to staff whenever there’s a delay. Why this gesture? He said simply, “Wherever I go, people see I am a Jew. My rosh yeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, taught us that our job is to make a positive impression wherever we go. It’s important that people see the caring and kindness of someone who represents Hashem.”

The above present-day story illustrates a core concept of Shavuos.

What did we receive on Shavuos? The Torah, of course! Well…not exactly. Hashem only spoke the first two of the 10 Commandments; the next eight were communicated by Moshe. And the Luchos themselves were brought down on the 17th of Tammuz. So what did we actually receive?

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains that Shavuos is the bar mitzvah of the Jewish people. On that day we were commanded to follow the will of Hashem and not just do the mitzvos based on our own reasoning. The Kuzari describes Shavuos as the day we became royalty, as it’s written: “You will be a royal, priestly and holy nation.” As a result of this elevated responsibility and status, all our actions became imbued with tremendous potential and great consequence.

This “royal” status is a constant. We can’t leave it behind and just have a “casual day.” As Jews, we know the cameras are always rolling—the world is watching. Israel as a country and Jews as individuals make world headlines because more is expected of us. When we don’t live up to our elevated status, the nations of the world are quick to point fingers at us! Indeed, that’s one of the reasons Hashem gave the Torah on Har Sinai. The word Sinai sounds like the word sinah—hatred (Gemara Shabbos). Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk explains that this hatred is mostly expressed when Jews do not live up to their Divinely given expectations. There are three inherent character traits of every Jew. Compassion, benevolence and self-awareness (sensitivity to shame). The Gemara Yevamos says that these three traits were ingrained in the DNA of every Jew at Mount Sinai.

We can now understand the transformative nature of Shavuos. It’s the day we became elevated, holy and “royal.” To demonstrate this status we need to have a celebration to show that we’re now different in a positive way. There is a dispute among the Sages whether one has to partake in physical pleasure as a celebration of the Yom Tov, or if one should just spend the day praying and studying. This issue applies to all other Yomim Tovim; however, for Shavuos, all are in agreement that one needs to partake in food delicacies to mark the royal status with which we have been crowned.

In addition, consider the puzzling line in Dayeinu that we sing on Pesach night: “If Hashem would have just brought us to Har Sinai and not given us the Torah, that would have been enough.” One can’t help but ask the glaring question: Why stand at the foot of the mountain if we were not to receive the Torah?

The answer is simple. Even if we were not to have received the actual Torah, the elevation and new responsibilities Hashem vested in us would have been enough.

Of course, we know all too well that we would be hard pressed to fulfill this potential and all the accompanying responsibilities without learning Hashem’s precious Torah. These two awesome towers that guide us—refined behavior and exalted Torah learning—are intertwined and pivotal to our worldly mission.

Let’s use this Yom Tov of Shavuos to appreciate the charge Hashem is placing on us, and by observing His mitzvos and learning His Torah to be a true light unto the nations.

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

 Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Bergenfield, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a multi-level Gemara learning program. Recently he has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis midrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston and Springfield. This year he joined Heichal Hatorah in Teaneck as a Gemara iyun rebbe. His email is [email protected].

 

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