The cheesecakes are baked and in the freezer – one plain, one peanut butter cup and one chocolate-filled that I put in a pan that was too small, causing it to spill all over the oven! The French onion soup (our once-a-year Shavuot treat) is ready for the final broiling and the salmon is cooling on the counter. The house is clean and covered with plants. All the physical preparations have been made. Yet I still don’t feel ready.
How do you really prepare to receive the Torah? How do you begin to imagine that spectacular moment of revelation and commitment? How can I hope to create an experience that even comes close?
Last year I taught a class at 12 a.m. for some women that were staying up to learn. It was torture for me (and apparently for them too since they didn’t ask me back!). I could barely keep my eyes open. I don’t think it’s realistic for me to plan or expect to stay up late learning (whether that’s a reflection of my personal weakness or a deep understanding of women’s role can be left for another discussion).
The question remains. What should I do on this special day? How can I replicate the emotion and intensity of the day? What do I do to receive the Torah anew?
Without Torah we wouldn’t have a guide book for living.
I think one answer is appreciation. On Passover, we sing the song Dayenu; it’s a list of just some of the many kindnesses the Almighty has done for us as a people.
“If He had just brought us to Mount Sinai, but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us!” Is that really true? Without Torah we wouldn’t know how to function. We wouldn’t know the best way to serve our Creator. We wouldn’t have the tools to distinguish between reality and illusion, between light and dark. We wouldn’t have moral clarity. We wouldn’t have a guide book for living. We wouldn’t know how to confront life’s greatest challenges or answer life’s difficult questions. We’d still be wandering in the desert – if not literally, certainly spiritually.
So Shavuot is a time to appreciate, to say thank you, to imagine the void of a life without Torah and to experience as if for the first time how it lights up our lives and fills our souls.
Amidst our daily existence, our chores and our struggles, we may end up doing mitzvahs by rote, taking our Torah values and lifestyles for granted. Shavuot is an opportunity to see the Torah with new eyes, to marvel in awe at the Almighty’s wisdom and generosity.
When my children were small, they used to sing a Shavuot song, “Hashem gave us a present; do you know what it was? He gave us the Torah so we could keep its laws.” Even as adults, Shavuot reminds us of what a magnificent gift the Almighty has given us, what a privilege it is, and how we should cherish it.
It also raises the age-old question alluded to in the opening paragraph: Should I have plain cheesecake or the chocolate-filled kind?