Shavuot is a difficult holiday. It is of utmost importance since it commemorates the giving of the Torah, yet it has so few rituals associated with it (unless you count eating cheesecake which I happen to do very well!) that it’s hard to stay focused.
In fact, the only other significant custom is to stay up all night learning in anticipation of receiving the Torah -- but I’ve long been way too old and tired for that!
So what do I concentrate on? How can I make the most of this holiday before I fall into a sugar-induced stupor brought on by the excessive quantity of cheesecake consumed?
I think, perhaps for me, the key is appreciation. What makes the giving of the Torah so crucial is the recognition of what it means to us, individually and as a people; the understanding of all the wonderful ways in which it positively impacts our lives.
When I put down my fork (did you try the chocolate truffle one?), I can sit back and think about the gifts which a life of Torah imbues. I can think about the sense of meaning and purpose. I can think about the intellectual pleasure of grappling with ideas. I can think about the excitement of really working on oneself and trying to grow. I can contemplate the stimulation involved in sharing these ideas with others. I can think of the myriad kindnesses I have received through membership in the Jewish people and the ways in which I have been privileged to help others. I can think about the power and beauty of Shabbos. I can focus on the unique, almost painful, joy of raising children who will also know the Torah and follow its ways or the special wisdom involved in building a Jewish home and marriage.
I can be appreciative. And grateful, very grateful.
Maybe that’s why there are so few external customs on Shavuot. The work is internal. It’s a time to introspect and examine who we are and what this gift has done for us. (Oh, and did I mention the cheesecake?)
It’s a time of real, heartfelt appreciation. Maybe I could stay up all night after all! (Or at least past 10…)