In our tradition, the Holy-Day of Shavuot, the middle of our Shalosh Regalim, our three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, is unique in several ways. First, it is the only one not assigned a specific date by the Torah on the Jewish calendar (though now we observe the festival on the 6th of Sivan). Pesach and Sukkot, in contrast, are mandated to begin on the 15th of Nissan and of Tishrei, respectively. Shavuot is simply described in the Torah as follows: “And you shall count for yourselves from the day following the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving, seven weeks; they shall be complete weeks.” (Vayikra 23, Verse 15).
Moreover, Shavuot is the only one of the three Yontiffs that is a one day long commemoration (two days in the Diaspora) whereas the others are seven (eight days in the Diaspora). So what are we, contemporary Jews and spiritual seekers, to make of this difference? As we know, Passover, referred to as Zeman Cherutenu, the time of our emancipation, recalls the Exodus and liberation from Egyptian tyranny and servitude. And Sukkot, Zeman Simchatenu, the time of our great joy, recounts the tender sheltering protection provided by the Almighty to our forebears as they sojourned in the harsh wilderness of Sinai. Both of these occasions are clearly worthy of being considered Yamim Tovim, “goodly” days, days of remembrance and celebration. Shavuot, however, is a wholly different kind of festival. It is called Zeman Matan Toratenu, the time of the giving of our sacred instruction. This name connotes that Shavuot is the beginning of an ongoing process – one that may have begun at the Sinaitic Epiphany, but is still happening in real-time. Shavuot is not a Holy Day marking a singular moment in time, but rather the initiation of a Divine challenge to humanity to move from simply being passive recipients of God’s gift of Torah, to active participants in the ways of Torah, the ways of the Holy-Blessed-One. Shavuot is not called Zeman Kabbalat HaTorah, the time of taking hold of the Torah as our own, because that is a process that demands dedication and diligence not on one day or at one season only, but each and every day of our lives.
The early 3rd century sage, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, taught in Pirkei Avot: ‘‘Each and every day a Bat Kol - a reverberation of the original voice of God heard at the time of the giving of the Torah on Shavuot - goes forth from Mount Sinai to proclaim: “Woe to humankind for contempt and neglect of my Torah”.”
Let us, this year, as we prepare to once again come together for the commemoration of the Festival of Shavuot, strive to recall that the Torah is constantly and continuously being given. And that the true goal of the giving of Torah is not to simply nostalgically look back on past miracles, wonders and revelations. Rather, it is to implore us to take hold of, and make use of, our Holy Tradition so we can become agents of goodness, uplift, and insight for ourselves, our people and the entire human-family.
Amen and Chag Shavuot Sameach!
Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose is the Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona.