If you've ever planned an event, you know how many details go into bringing your crowd together. Take a wedding, for example, where many months of logistics are involved. Now imagine a wedding where the guest list is in the millions. No ballroom was big enough, so they did it in the open desert. G-d, as the groom, proposed the marriage, and we, as His beautiful bride, accepted. The setting was a little mountain called Sinai and the Ketubah was inscribed onto two stone tablets. There were even sound effects and visual lighting effects, in the form of thunder and lightning.
This Sunday, May 27th, we will celebrate our 3,324th wedding anniversary, known as Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. It may not be the most celebrated holiday, but it's when we commemorate the most important event in our history. Our ancestors stood under the chupah and committed to a relationship with G-d. It was the day we received the Ten Commandments and entered into an eternal covenant with G-d. It all began with the great revelation at Sinai and the rest is history.
But isn't there another holiday in the fall where we celebrate the Torah, known as Simchat Torah? So why do we celebrate twice? Ever wonder why two separate festivals are necessary? While at first glance it may seem redundant, when we consider the theme of each holiday, we see how each one is, in fact, very different.
Shavuot is when we study the Torah. Many have the custom to stay up the entire night of Shavuot immersed in the act of exploring and analyzing the depth of Torah wisdom. Shavuot is when we remember that we are, after all, the "People of the Book."
Simchat Torah, on the other hand, is when we dance with the Torah. But the Torah we've just concluded reading is all rolled up in a scroll of parchment, girdled with a sash, clothed in a mantle. Instead of highlighting the depth and brilliance of the Torah's wisdom and guidance, we dance with a closed and sealed Torah!
There were two sisters. One married a rich man; the other's husband was poor. Yet, of the two, ironically, it was the wealthy sister who was the unhappy one. Her sister couldn't understand why she should be so miserable. "He supports you handsomely. He buys you beautiful clothes, expensive jewelry. Just look at your diamonds. Why are you so unhappy?"
The wealthy sister replied. "Actually, I am jealous of you, my sister. You have a wonderful, loving relationship with your husband. Yes, my husband does buy me expensive things. It is true that he does spend money on me. But your husband spends time with you and mine does not."
So while it may be true that on Simchat Torah we dance with the Torahs adorned with exquisite velvet mantles, precious silver crowns, breastplates, bells and pointers, all the expensive ornaments don't come close to spending time with the Torah. And the Torah is unhappy and cries out, "Thanks for the silver, thanks for the décor, but what I really want is you! I want your time, your brain, I want you."
We don't dance with the Torah all year long. That's only for Simchat Torah. Now it's time to learn Torah, embrace Torah and internalize its timeless message. On Shavuot we are reminded that we need to open the book and spend some quality time, some meaningful study time with the Torah, whether it's in book form or through an app on our tablet computer.
Practically speaking, why not take advantage of the holiday weekend schedule this year and attend Shavuot services? The first time round, we were all there personally, from the youngest infants to the senior citizens. Let's make sure we are all present once again to re-accept the Torah, as we listen to the reading of the Ten Commandments and recommit to our original wedding vows. Call your synagogue office to find out the Torah reading schedule for Sunday so that you can be there, with young and old, to relive the Sinai experience.
Hopefully, this Shavuot will be for us not only the Season of the Giving of the Torah — that is G-d's job — but the Season of Receiving the Torah — that is our job.
Rabbi Yochonon Goldman is spiritual leader of Historic Congregation B'nai Abraham in Center City.