Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.
The joy we experience on the Three Festivals can give us a share in the light of Hashem’s countenance. This brings new life to the soul and mind, through which we can gain a perception of Hashem. — Rebbe Nachman’s Advice, Festivals and Seasons # 1
On Shavuos, we commemorate the Jewish nation receiving the Torah at Har Sinai. More specifically, this is the day we received the Ten Commandments directly from Hashem.
Shavuos represents the eternal bond between Hashem and our people. It is the day that Hashem chose us as His treasured nation. As the verse in Shir HaShirim states, “Ani LeDodi VeDodi Li” (“I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine”).
The reason for the name of Shavuos is that “Shavua” is a week, and this festival is celebrated seven weeks after the bringing of the Omer. However, the Ohr HaChaim adds another reason for this name. “Shevuah” means an oath. At Har Sinai, Hashem and the Jewish nation exchanged oaths, swearing eternal allegiance to each other. As Rabbi Avraham Twerski zt’l explains, “Although we have gone through periods of suffering, we have never separated from Hashem, and Hashem has never abandoned us.”
Similarly, when describing the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, the verse sates, “And Moshe drew near to the darkness, where Hashem was.” Rabbi Elimelech Biderman explains that this comes to teach us that even when a person feels like they are surrounded by intense darkness, they should remember that Hashem is there with them.
Our Sages teach that the day we received the Torah was considered the wedding day between our nation and Hashem. Shavuos marks our anniversary.
In the Talmud, the festival of Shavuos is referred to as “Atzeres”, which means withholding. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev explains, that whereas the festivals of Pesach and Succos have special mitzvos – such as matzah, succah and the four minim – Shavuos has no unique mitzvah, and is characterized only by our abstaining (or withholding) from work. It is a day that Hashem asks us to skip work and spend quality time with Him. Hashem wants us to use this day to strengthen our bond, and connect to Him on new levels.
From the festival of Shavous we can learn the proper balance of pride and humility. The mountain that Hashem selected for the giving of the Torah is the lowest of the Sinai range, and was chosen to emphasize that Torah can only be acquired by the humble. So why didn’t Hashem give us the Torah in a valley, which would be an even more graphic symbol of humility? The answer is that Hashem wanted to show us that too much humility can be dangerous. This can lead a person to feeling unworthy. Rather, one must retain a sense of pride and worth, while remaining humble.
Similarly, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa said, “Every person must carry two notes in his pocket. On one should be written, ‘The world was created for me’ and on the other, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ And one must be judicious to read each note in its proper time.”
Shavuos is a time for great joy. As the verse states, “You should rejoice on your festival.” Rebbe Nachman teaches that the more we are attuned, the greater the level of joy we experience on the Three Festivals (Pesach, Shavuos and Succos). The more we focus on the great miracles Hashem performed for us, the more joy the day will bring.
Rebbe Nachman writes, “The truest joy comes from fulfilling the mitzvos. The more a person forms some estimate of the true greatness of Hashem, the greater the joy he is able to feel with every mitzvah he performs. He begins to realize how privileged he is to perform the will of the Holy One, Who alone is, was, and will be for all eternity. The joy of the mitzvos we perform throughout the year is collected together, as it were, on the Three Festivals. This is what makes up the joy of the festival. All the good points of all the mitzvos performed throughout the year are joined together and concentrated in the festival, and the joy becomes truly palpable… There are no limits to this joy.”
Rebbe Nachman teaches that the festivals are a time that defy nature. Shavuos is a day for salvation, both physically and spiritually. We are taught that when the Torah was given to the Jewish nation, they experienced immense love and mercy. Anyone suffering from an ailment was miraculously healed; the blind could see, the deaf could hear, etc.
Similarly, the month of Sivan is an acronym for “Sof Yesurim V’Techillas Nissim,” the end of suffering and the beginning of miracles.
Rebbe Nachman teaches, “Shavuos is the season of receiving the Torah. It is a time of new vitality. And it is a season that brings healing to the lungs.” Rebbe Nachman explains that the five lobes of the lungs correspond to the five Books of the Torah.
When Rebbe Nachman says that Shavuos brings healing to the lungs, he is referring to the new breath, vitality and spirit we receive on this special day (the Hebrew word for spirit is “ruach”, which also means breath).
Our breathing is closely tied to our peace of mind. When a person is angry, their breathing becomes heavy. Similarly, when a person is anxious or afraid, they experience shortness of breath. Therefore, when a person’s heart is racing, they are advised to “take a deep breath.” Controlled breathing helps us stay calm and think clearly.
Rebbe Nachman is telling us that Shavous is an opportunity. On Shavuos, we receive new breath, we receive a clear mind. Without any distractions from the outside world, we can focus on what is truly important.
When our minds are free from distractions, we can then receive daas (holy knowledge) from Above. Through expanded consciousness, we can receive clarity. Hashem sends us this daas and clarity when we honor the festivals.
As Rebbe Nachman writes, “The festival days cry out, proclaim and reveal Divine will, which rules over all. There is no such thing as the “inevitability of nature.” Every festival commemorates the awesome signs and miracles that Hashem performed on our behalf – all of them contrary to nature… Through these awesome signs and wonders it was revealed that everything comes about through the will of Hashem alone. There is nothing inevitable about nature at all. You must just take care to direct your ear and heart to the holy message that is thus proclaimed. The more carefully you attend to this message, the greater the joy of the festival you will attain.”
Similarly, Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen (1843-1926) said, “Nature is but a constant miracle.” On Shavuos, we are granted peace of mind and we are capable of seeing the wonders surrounding us.
Rebbe Nachman teaches, “There are many different ways to honor the festivals – with fine food and drink, with beautiful clothes, with pure and holy thoughts, with joy and openheartedness, and so on. Through honoring the festival, you can attain the knowledge of Hashem, and you can draw this knowledge down into the heart, which is the seat of passion and desire.”
Lastly, Shavous is a time to focus on the everlasting love Hashem has for us. As we say in prayers, “With an abundant love have You loved us” and “Blessed are You, Hashem, Who chooses His people Israel with love.”
This applies to each and every one of us. As Rabbi Berel Povarsky said, “There would not have been Maamad Har Sinai if even one yid was missing.” On Shavuos we remember that, to Hashem, we are all considered essential.
Wishing everyone a chag filled with clarity, joy and love!
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