Shavuot is a time of gifts. Along with The Torah the greatest gift G-d gave us at Mount Sinai, He also gave us many other gifts. Every year Shavuot comes and these gifts are poured into us again for 24 hours.
The mighty event of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, Megillat Ruth, King David who was born and died on Shavuot, our marriage contract with G-d (there are various symbolic marriage contracts with G-d in Jewish literature for Shavuot full of love and deep meaning!) These 24 hours are saturated full of great and lofty ideas!
I want to talk about ‘Stopping’. Shavuot is called Atzeret which means to stop. Every holiday has many things to do before and during the holiday. Passover has massive preparations, getting matzot and the wine then there’s Seder night. Sukkot has building and decorating the Sukkah and then getting the lulav and etrog, Hanukkah has the candle lighting and the special doughnuts; Purim has the Megillah and the other mitzvoth of the day. Shavuot has no special preparation (excluding the cheese cake that is really optional). You don’t need any special preparation for Shavuot!
You don’t need to go to the Synagogue to hear the 10 commandments nor do you need to bake cheesecakes even if all your friends do; Shavuot is all about ‘stopping’!
Just like a young couple that runs around taking care of the house and the children buying what they need and then they look at each other and say we need a time out to recharge; to give each other strength (this is a good thing to do which really helps).The Netivot Shalom explains: In this same manner exactly G-d says: “Don’t prepare anything special. Let’s take a break and recharge, I’ll understand you and you’ll understand me, I will strengthen and heal you and bring you gifts from heaven.” Shavuot is a time of quiet; when Torah came to the world not one bird tweeted (nor did our cell phones or twitter accounts)!
This stopping actually takes place twice a year. One time is on the 8th day of Atzeret after 7 days of Sukkot and all the high holidays this 8th day is to stop and take stock of all the gifts of all the previous days. The other time is as we said, Shavuot, which is meant to take stock of the gifts of Passover and the counting up to receiving the Torah.
The Noam Elimelech says that a Torah Scroll has holy letters written in it. But the parchment itself is considered even holier as it encompasses the holiness of all the letters written in it. The same is with Shavuot; it’s like the parchment which encompasses the holiness of all the other holidays preceding it. Passover preparations, checking for Chametz, burning the Chametz, Seder night, the intermediate Passover days, counting the Omer, Lag BaOmer, the light of the counting and of Rabbi Shimon; all of this is packed into Shavuot. Since this is the case, you don’t prepare anything; just stop and take it all in! Let G-d help you absorb the treasures He’s giving you.
Your only preparation is to fashion yourself into a receptacle for all of G-d’s gifts. But how do I do it, how do I fashion myself into a receptacle for blessing? How do I receive the Torah? “You accept by accepting”; you can become a receptacle of G-d’s blessings by accepting upon yourself even a small resolution.
Before the receiving of the Torah there was thunder and lightning afterwards there were voices and torches. Lightning lights up the sky for a flash, a torch lights up for a long time, so long as there’s fuel. Before we received the Torah there were flashes of light but after we accepted the Torah with the words “We will do and we will listen” that light became a sustained light like a burning torch. In this same manner our accepting of even the smallest resolution will bring us a sustained light of blessing which will remain with us.
The Rashbam, a commentator approximately 800 years ago wrote that every Shabbat we get an additional soul and after Shabbat it leaves, and therefore we sniff spices in the havdalah ceremony after Shabbat to revive ourselves from that loss. But why don’t we sniff spices after the holidays? The Rashbam says that the additional soul we get on the holiday stays with us and doesn’t leave so we don’t sense any loss.
During Challah separation events I do with women, people ask me to exhort them to accept resolutions; to keep Shabbat, or not speak evil speech, family purity; but I refuse to ask the women to accept resolutions then. Do you know why? Because a resolution needs to be something well thought out in order for it to be a genuine commitment that will stick. At a Challah separating event the women are enthusiastic and may accept things they won’t be able to follow through after giving it some thought. Better sink a lot of thought into what you realistically can accept upon yourself, and make it something small rather than promising G-d the world and not being able to deliver!
You set aside time for thought and you also ask G-d to make it clearly apparent which resolution you should accept upon yourself. When you usher in the Holiday wearing your holiday best standing opposite your candles you just lit you can consider a small-small resolution which will be a big gift to G-d. This resolution will be the conduit through which G-d can pour all His gifts into you.
Here are some small things to do before or during the holiday:
Decorate the house with flowers
Festive holiday foods
A Dairy meal (also a meaty one)
Say the Psalms
Read Megillat Ruth
Listen to the Reading of the Ten Commandments
All these things are not obligatory but they are full of merit and doing them shows a love for G-d’s commandments and send G-d a lot of love.
May you have an amazing Shavuot full of G-d’s gifts!