A unique aspect of the holiday of Shavuous struck me as I as explaining the
customs of the holidays to some beginners. They began to review the various
holiday laws with me. "OK," began one young man. "So on Pesach you've got
the matzoh, and the mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus."
"Correct," I nodded. "And on Sukkos you've got the lulav, esrog and eating
the entire holiday in a sukkah right." Again I gave an approving nod and
smiled. The student continued. "And what special observance does the Torah
tell us to do on Shavuos?" I hesitated. Sacrifices aside, what special
mitzvah observance do we do to commemorate the receiving of the Torah?
I was reluctant to respond with, "we stay up all night and learn" or "we
eat cheesecake at the holiday meal," --beautiful customs that are in no way
comparable to the level of a Torah-ordained command. In fact, the Torah
tells us in Parshas Re'eh how we celebrate the holiday. "You shall count
seven weeks for yourselves…Then you shall observe the holiday of Shavuos
for Hashem. You shall rejoice before Hashem, your son your daughter, your
servant your maidservant, the Levite in your cities, the proselyte, the
orphan and the widow who are among you" (Deuteronomy 116:13-15).
Why is there no physical act in commemoration of the Yom Tov? There is no
Torah-prescribed requirement to blow Shofar, read a special Torah portion
(the reading of the 10 Commandments is Rabbinically ordained), or special
ritual to commemorate the event. There is only all-inclusive rejoicing.
Why is joy the only way to celebrate? And why is every type of citizen
mentioned? Aren't the poor and rich, widowed and orphaned included in
every command? My grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, of blessed memory,
passed away 13 years ago. At the end of the shloshim period of mourning,
his student, Rabbi Yitzchok Chinn, Rabbi of Gemilas Chesed Congregation of
McKeesport, Pennsylania, eulogized him. He related the following story:
Reb Yaakov spent his summers at in Camp Ohr Shraga in Ellenville, NY. One
summer, a young boy asked Reb Yaakov a most difficult question, "Rebbe," he
inquired, "where is my neshama (soul)?" Reb Yaakov turned to the boy and
asked him, "Where is your arm?" The boy stuck out his arm. "Good!" said Reb
Yaakov. "I want you to shake it." The boy began to shake his arm up and
down. Reb Yaakov smiled, "Good, now shake your other arm." The boy began
flapping his arms. "Wonderful! Now show me your leg. " The boy lifted his
foot. "Now shake it!" While flapping his arms, the boy shook his leg. Then
Reb Yaakov smiled. "Now your other leg!" The boy began to jump and shake
and rock and sway. And as he watched the youngster move with every part of
his very essence, Reb Yaakov gave him a tremendous smile and exclaimed,
"That is your neshama!"
The only way to commemorate the receiving of the Torah is to celebrate the
receipt of our nation's soul. We cannot celebrate the soul with a physical
commemoration. The soul of the nation celebrates by shaking every one of
its parts: poor or rich, wealthy or poor, free or slave, son or daughter
with unmitigated joy. The only way to capture the essence of our very being
and our gratitude for the gift that infused us with boundless spirituality
is through a rejoicing that permeates every part of the Jewish body; its
arms, legs, and torso --- The Torah. The observance is not relegated to
eating an item, telling a story, hearing a shofar or sitting in a booth.
Like the Torah we received, the celebration encompasses every aspect of our
lives. And that is done thorough joyous simcha.
Dedicated by Ruth and Lionel Fisch in honor of the birth of their
grandaughter Jillian Emily Fisch to their children Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Fisch