Shavuot 5781

Holiday #14 (294) Shavuot 5781 Sunday night - Monday, May16-17(+18)
From the Chassidic Masters From Ascent Quarterly Laws & Customs
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an amazing story for Shavuot

(Chassidic Masters)

The Midrash says that the Torah was given to us in three stages: through fire, through water and in the dessert.  These three stages are symbolic and they teach us how one merits the Torah. Fire: the fiery arousal of longing for their Father in Heaven that burns in the heart of the Jew; water: moderation, contemplation and clarity of thought, to think in the ways of Torah, in the right spirit and mind; desert: doing without all the pleasures and desires of this world that hinder the person in reaching perfection.
(Shem MiShmuel)

A great emphasis is placed (see Ex. 19:18) on the fire that accompanied the Giving of the Torah. This teaches us that all matters concerning Torah-study, mitzvah-observance, prayer, and every manner of serving and acknowledging G-d, must be carried out in "fire": with vital warmth, and with flaming desire to fulfill G-d's will.  Our power to do so is derived from the fire on the mountain that burned during the Giving of the torah.
(based on Sefer HaMaimorim 5701)

Why is Shavuot called "The Time of the Giving of the Torah" as opposed to "Receiving the Torah"? It is because on the sixth of Sivan was the time of the giving of the Torah, more than three thousand years ago, but the time of the receiving of the Torah never ceases; every day a Jew has to receive the Torah anew.
(Chidushei HaRim)

Every festival the Torah informs us that one has to sacrifice a sin offer. Only on the festival of Shavuot is the word 'sin' not mentioned. For on the festival of Shavuot, the day of the receiving of the Torah, all Jews are like the convert  "newborn", and so free of all sin.
(Rabbi Levi Yitschak of Berditchev)

The Torah was given on a mountain, to teach that the learning of Torah and going in G-d's ways should give us a certain emotional elevation. At the same time one has to be careful not to fall prey to arrogance. That is the meaning of 'opposite the mountain': to be exceedingly careful to oppose the aggrandizement that can come from Torah learning and knowledge.
(Sefer HaMaarim Taf Shin Gimmel)

(from Ascent Quarterly)


took place on Shabbat, fifty days after the Exodus from Egypt, on the sixth day of the month of Sivan, 2448 years after the creation of the world (May 9, 1313 BCE), 3333 years ago.  That day, at the break of dawn, G-d spoke the Ten Declarations.1  Although the entire fifty-day period was a time of purification2, the most intensive preparations were started on the first day of Sivan, when the entire Jewish nation arrived at Mt Sinai.

1 Literal translation of "Aseret HaDibrot."  The popular rendition, "Ten Commandments," is somewhat misleading, since a careful reading reveals 13-15 mitzvot, depending on how you count (a popular topic for scholarly debate!)
2 Today too it is a mitzvah, Sefirat HaOmer, to count these days.  A blessing (printed in every siddur) is recited each night before counting.

Similarly, each year G-d gives us the Torah anew on Shavuot. In utilizing the final six days properly by reliving the events of that momentous time, we prepare ourselves physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally to receive the Torah anew.

We arrive at Mount Sinai in a spirit of love and unity.
Therefore, the first step in preparing ourselves to receive the Torah is to increase feelings of love towards our fellow Jew. G-d's Torah cannot dwell in someone who harbors hatred.

Suggested Activities
1) Go out of your way to be nice to another Jew.
2) Resolve to relate to other Jews in a spirit of love.

We discover that acceptance of the Torah involves a commitment to fulfil the mitzvot, which in turn will enable us to enter into an eternal and irrevocable covenant with G-d as His special people, chosen to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. We accept.
Therefore, we must try to be aware that the soul of a Jew yearns to enter into a special relationship with G-d, one that transcends all the limitations of time, space, and personality. The Torah not only instructs us how to be a good person, it connects us to G-d on a super-rational level. This relationship, however, entails responsibilities.

Suggested Activities
1) Strengthen your Jewish identity. Find out what your Hebrew name is. Perhaps you can even start using it in some way.
2) Take an everyday activity (eating, dressing, working, etc.) and try to connect it to G-d.

G-d tells Moshe that He plans to deliver the Torah by speaking to him from a thick cloud, but the people will still be able to hear. We protest, saying: We want a direct revelation of G-d!
Therefore, Jew should long for G-d himself. The degree to which we are able to perceive G-d in the Torah is commensurate with our desire to do so.

Suggested Activities
1) "Rediscover" G-d. Pray to Him - either from a siddur [prayerbook] or spontaneously, or both.
2) Examine your life and see how much of it constitutes the sort of life G-d would want to be present in. Discuss with friends (or with yourself) how to strengthen the positive aspects and remove the negative.

G-d tells us that if we want a direct revelation, we must 1) purify ourselves and 2) set up a barrier around Mt. Sinai so that we do not approach too close when He reveals Himself there.
Therefore, do not go to extremes or see yourself as further along than you actually are. Recognize your present standing. Torah is intended to be a guide to life - not an escape from it. We are ready for a new spiritual level only when it will enable us to live more optimally within the world. Spiritual advancement involves self-discipline.

Suggested Activities
1) Try refraining from an available pleasure that serves no constructive purpose.
2) In your enthusiasm, don't repudiate your past. Visualize all of your life - including the negative aspects - as a cumulative movement towards receiving the Torah anew.

1) We immerse in a mikveh. 2) Moshe builds an altar and offers sacrifices on behalf of all the twelve tribes. He sprinkles half of the blood on the altar and half on us, signifying that we and the Torah (represented by the altar) are now inseparably bound -- each without the other is only half an entity. 3) Moshe reads the Book of the Covenant (i.e., all the Torah from Genesis until this point). 4) We respond na'aseh v'nishmah- - "We will do (first) and then understand!"
Therefore, we should realize, 1) Torah is not something we can live without. It is our life, our blood, the vitality pulsating through our bodies.
2) Action is more essential than understanding and anyway, true understanding of the Torah can only come after we start doing mitzvot.

Suggested Activities
Start doing! 1) Choose a mitzvah that you don't observe yet and commit yourself to fulfilling it from now on (e.g., saying Sh'ma Yisrael, see AQ#1). (If you do them all already, select an observance to improve and strengthen.) Perhaps pick one you don't relate to or understand.
2) Learn some Torah, think about what you have learned, internalize it.



1)  Evening:  We all go to sleep, mistakenly assuming that the best preparation is to be fresh for the big event, instead of staying up late and readying ourselves.
2)  Dawn:  Thunder, lightning, thick clouds, rain, and unceasing shofar blasts increasing in volume.  We tremble, the mountain smokes, G-d bends the heavens down to the mountain top; His presence accompanied by 22,000 angels descends on fire.  Birds stop flying and chirping, all animals are silent, the seas are still.  The world holds its breath.
   Moshe ascends and descends at G-d's word.  G-d begins the Ten Declarations, first saying all of them simultaneously, then repeating them one at a time.  Our souls depart from bodies as we hear the first two;  G-d revives us but we retreat in fear, requesting Moshe to listen for us.  G-d calls Moshe back to the top of the mountain and tells him the last eight, and Moshe repeats them to us.

G-D created (and continuously creates) the world in order for us to perfect it through Torah.  By accepting the Torah and fulfilling the mitzvot we consummate the purpose of creation and become G-d's partner in the perfection of the world.  The giving of the Torah heralded the bridging of the gulf that separated the physical and spiritual dimensions of existence.  Before the Torah was given, it was impossible for a physical object to become imbued with G-dliness.  After this, we became capable of infusing divinity into physical objects and activities.  Therefore, every moment and every object presents an opportunity to increase the consciousness of G-d in the world and permeate existence with spirituality through our observance of Torah and mitzvot.  Celebrating Shavuot each year instills within us the strength and inspiration to carry out this mission.

    The holiday begins.
   Effects accumulate.
  The shofar is blowing!
 The mountain is smoking!
Revelation is imminent!

Some Laws and Customs



1)  Switch into high gear!
2)  Stay up all night studying Torah to rectify our mistake.
3)  Towards dawn, immerse in a mikvah (or ocean or pool), but don't drive there–it's Yom Tov!
4)  Go to a shul and hear the Ten Declarations.  Try to bring others too–especially Jewish children, for they were our guarentors at the first Giving of the Torah and they too will benefit by experiencing it now.  Accept the Torah unconditionally with joy and sincerity.
5)  Eat some dairy foods.  When we were given the Torah (including the laws of kashrut), we realized that our cooking vessels were not kosher, so until we kashered them we ate only dairy products.
6)  Read the Book of Ruth: a) King David, her descendant, died on Shavuot; b) Ruth was a convert and at Sinai we were like converts –G-d transformed us from ordinary people to a special nation.

Chag Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!

The ASCENT staff


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