Community Rabbi Corner, May 31, 2019

Rabbi Marc Spivak
Congregation Ohr Torah
West Orange, NJ
Parashat Bechukotai

Judaism has survived so many years and through so much upheaval due to one factor — the ability of different generations to learn Torah together. Passing down the Torah from generation to generation is the foundational glue that has kept the religion going. Torah study allows Jews to rise above time and space and enter into a conversation that took place generations ago and will continue to take place for generations in the future.  
Only one holiday is really focused on the Torah – Shavuot. But if you look at the text, you won’t find this connection. Our primary modern observance of the holiday of Shavuot, focused on learning all night, is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah. The Torah does talk about Shavuot as a holiday. It mentions it five times, but the references are strictly focused on agriculture. There is no mention that the Jews got the Torah on Shavuot. In fact, no date is ever mentioned for when the Jews received the Torah at all. The Torah only tells us, “In the third month of Bnei Yisrael's departure from the Egypt, on this day, they came to Midbar Sinai” (Exodus 19:1).  The great commentator Rashi (1040-1105) explains that the lack of a date is intentional. Rather than tie Torah study to a particular date and time, we should view the Torah as timeless and always being new to you. We should see and study the Torah as if it were given today.
That is why observe Shavuot in our particular fashion. On Shavuot, we mimic and elaborate on the awesome events at Har Sinai. We stay up and learn at night and read the Torah in a special grand tune to act as if we are getting it now. We show every generation that they should look at the same text but see it fresh through their own eyes. Our goal with Shavuot is that every time we sit to learn a subject of Torah, we should look at it as if we never saw it before, questioning and analyzing the text so that it comes alive once again. And we pass this behavior along to future generations so when we all sit together, regardless of our age or background, we find ourselves transcending time.