Shavuot- Bringing heaven down to earth

The festival of Shavuot commemorates the most momentous event in history of mankind, the torah was given to the Jewish people who stood at the foot of sinai. They experienced first hand the Almighty speak to each and everyone of them.  At that moment the nation declared in unison “ we will do and listen” their unequivocal commitment to the fulfill the Divine laws for all time.

What is baffling and surprising  is the fact that whilst on the other festivals it is permitted to spend the entire day on spiritual pursuits when it comes to Shavuot it is imperative there is also physical pleasure. Surely the sacrosanct nature of the Torah should not be sullied by the mundane physical activities and yet our sages are urging the reverse?

The answer to this conundrum can be found in a story related in the Talmud Shabbat 88b in a debate that occurred prior to the giving of the Torah. The Talmud relates that when Moses ascended to receive the Torah, the angels refused to surrender this priceless treasure into his care. Moshe retorted that the torah was irrelevant to them. “Have you any business dealings with each other? He followed this with “are you prone to pangs of jealousy?” and “Do you have to confront the evil inclination every day?” When Moshe remonstrated “ If so why do you need the Torah? Surley it is more relevant to us humans who are subject to such circumstances all the time.”

This dialogue sheds light on the essence of the purpose of the Torah. Contrary to popular misconceptions, our Torah is not merely  an academic work to be studied by scholars  in the study halls. Likewise  it is not a form of theology, containing the thoughts of man on things Divine. Torah embodies the thoughts of Hashem on man and all his activities. It informs us how to regulate and perfect ourselves and improve our interpersonal relationships and how to control our physical propensities. It teaches us to infuse all aspects of our daily lives with spirituality . In short, The torah doesn’t tell us how things look in heaven, rather it guides us how they should look in our hearts and lives in this  earthly world. This was Moshe rejoinder to the celestial beings.

With this large preface we can now appreciate the emphasis on the festival of the Giving of the Torah on ensuring there is an aspect of physical pleasure and enjhoyment

On Shavuot especially we must devote at least part of the Yom Tov to ordinary secular matters, otherwise we will have missed the point of the Revelation. The Torah we received is the blue print for us to be able to infuse sanctity in all aspects of lives.  The Sinaic experience was not intended ot be a  one off event in history. Rather each time we infuse this world with G-dliness through honesty in business, consideration in the way we treat every person, and eat and drink in the way the torah directs us we elevate this world . This is something to savour when we eat the cheese cake this Shavuot

What is baffling and surprising  is the fact that whilst on the other festivals it is permitted to spend the entire day on spiritual pursuits when it comes to Shavuot it is imperative there is also physical pleasure. Surely the sacrosanct nature of the Torah should not be sullied by the mundane physical activities and yet our sages are urging the reverse?

The answer to this conundrum can be found in a story related in the Talmud Shabbat 88b in a debate that occurred prior to the giving of the Torah. The Talmud relates that when Moses ascended to receive the Torah, the angels refused to surrender this priceless treasure into his care. Moshe retorted that the torah was irrelevant to them. “Have you any business dealings with each other? He followed this with “are you prone to pangs of jealousy?” and “Do you have to confront the evil inclination every day?” When Moshe remonstrated “ If so why do you need the Torah? Surley it is more relevant to us humans who are subject to such circumstances all the time.”

This dialogue sheds light on the essence of the purpose of the Torah. Contrary to popular misconceptions, our Torah is not merely  an academic work to be studied by scholars  in the study halls. Likewise  it is not a form of theology, containing the thoughts of man on things Divine. Torah embodies the thoughts of Hashem on man and all his activities. It informs us how to regulate and perfect ourselves and improve our interpersonal relationships and how to control our physical propensities. It teaches us to infuse all aspects of our daily lives with spirituality . In short, The torah doesn’t tell us how things look in heaven, rather it guides us how they should look in our hearts and lives in this  earthly world. This was Moshe rejoinder to the celestial beings.

With this large preface we can now appreciate the emphasis on the festival of the Giving of the Torah on ensuring there is an aspect of physical pleasure and enjhoyment

On Shavuot especially we must devote at least part of the Yom Tov to ordinary secular matters, otherwise we will have missed the point of the Revelation. The Torah we received is the blue print for us to be able to infuse sanctity in all aspects of lives.  The Sinaic experience was not intended ot be a  one off event in history. Rather each time we infuse this world with G-dliness through honesty in business, consideration in the way we treat every person, and eat and drink in the way the torah directs us we elevate this world . This is something to savour when we eat the cheese cake this Shavuot

Published by Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch

Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch is currently the Senior Rabbi in Woodside Park Synagogue – a modern orthodox thriving community of some 1,400 members. His innate love for people and his empowering brand of leadership make him a well-loved figure in Woodside Park & London.

Leave a Reply