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The Gift of Torah
Mom with a View

The Gift of Torah

Why Shavuot makes me cry.


My kids don't understand why Shavuot – the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah -- makes me cry. They know that the Torah is a gift, but it's a gift they take for granted. It's such an integral part of their lives that they almost don't think about it. They are completely intertwined. As it should be.

But for those of us for whom this has not always been true, Shavuot is a true miracle. Receiving the Torah brings a renewed joy. We are able to contrast a life with Torah to a life without. And we recognize the blessing clearly. From darkness to light. From the profane to the holy. From the banal to a life infused with meaning and purpose.

As baalei teshuva, people who have chosen to become observant later in life, we identify with the story of Ruth read on this holiday. We understand her choice to cast her lot with the Jewish people. Was there really any other one to make?

As our children move through elementary school, we parents are frequently called upon to come to their class plays. They're always at inconvenient times, they usually start late, and my children frequently have only one line. I dread going.

Yet when I sit in the audience, something amazing happens. I begin to cry. Not because the dialogue is so corny and the acting is so bad, but rather because I am so moved to be there. How did I get here? I wonder to myself.

The workings of the Almighty stun me -- how His hand plucked me out, picked me up and dropped me down, smack in the middle of this community. And I look at my children -- and all the children -- and I can't stop crying.

It's such a gift. So although I have my challenges with Shavuot -- too old and too tired to stay up all night, too much cheesecake -- I don't have any problem focusing on the miracle of receiving the Torah.

We are exhorted to try to imagine that we are receiving the Torah fresh every Shavuot, in fact every day, just as our ancestors did at Mount Sinai. Luckily for me, since my imagination is limited to more prosaic wanderings among unpaid bills and unreturned phone calls, I don't have to imagine. I know the experience of receiving the Torah fresh and new. I know first hand the awe and wonder.

I don't take it for granted, but Shavuot reminds me yet again of the miracles the Almighty has done for His people and for me personally, of the gift He has given to me in the wisdom of His Torah and in the community of His people.


May 23, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) ruth housman, May 29, 2009 1:15 PM

my name is Ruth

I do believe we actualize our names and that each name has within, deep significance and since I deconstruct words and see within the letters, deep and profound aspects of creation, I can say, in going down the years, that my life and my name make perfect sense. We have to believe the "original" Ruth had a choice. Otherwise her choice, to move from her land of origin, to follow Naomi, to a strange land, would make her story not so significant. She could have done as Orpah and remained behind. She could have taken the easy road, but for her, it was entirely about love, and not neceesarily about Judaism. The Book of Ruth for me, is one of the most compelling and sacred of stories. For Ruth it was also a romance, because she found Boas and Boas found, her. This is my favorite Bible story because it's pure. I hate the violence of so many of the other stories and question the wrath of a God as portrayed in those passages. Time collapses. All is, in deep ways, ONE. To perceive this, deeply, is to arrive at a different place but to stand in place. It is most relevant, to my mind, that the Messianic lineage is very specifically given in "Ruth". I can understand the Divine reasons for this. It's easy to divine. I am surprised there is not more written on this very profound subject. Today and every day, is ONE. When we perceive this, then we have climbed another rung on that road towards merger.

(8) Tzipporah, May 27, 2009 2:03 PM

One other point

Emuna, thank you very much for this article. I really enjoyed reading it, as it touched my heart also. I think that this feeling, the ability to feel renewed is easier also for the gerim, (converts) as much as it is for the baalei teshuvah. I think they too feel very privileged to be celebrating and embracing a Jewish way of life, having no background in Judaism in their family. It is sad to see so many who have the opportunity to take part of the miracles and celebrations in Torah and Hashem year after year, who have such a rich heritage, and do not choose to follow it.

(7) Marsha, May 27, 2009 10:14 AM


I cried at this as well as in Temple.

(6) Batsheva, May 27, 2009 7:59 AM

I always cry, too!

Emunah, Know that you are not the only baalat teshuva who is brought to tears at every yeshiva school play, bris, bar mitzvah and Jewish wedding...not to mention at awesome moments such as reading the Ten Commandments in synagogue. I, too, wonder how I got here and marvel at how my Torah-inspired life is turning out. The taste of Torah (not to mention cheesecake) is especially sweet in the mouths of those who have chosen to partake. Wishing you and yours a happy and inspiring Yom Tov and the traditional blessing to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness, and may joy and inspiration be with you throughout the year.

(5) Anonymous, May 26, 2009 11:25 AM

Thank you so much for this article. I plan to share it with my guests over Shavuot. And yes, it made me cry too.

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