04 Jun How Should Shavuos Impact Us?
Well, another Shavuos is already upon us. With pleasant thoughts of sweet blintzes and scented flowers, Shavuos 5769 is almost here! But, it is imperative for the thinking Jew to walk away from the Festival of Torah with more than just memories of cheesecake and other dairy delights.
The thrust of this Yom Tov is two-fold: A renewed commitment to Torah study and a renewed commitment to Torah observance. Let’s dwell upon Torah study first.
In Pirkei Avos, we are taught that one should not be full of himself if he learned much Torah for this is why we were created. Do you hear those final words? This is why we were created! It’s important to ponder this powerful statement. For, if we let days go by without opening a sefer it means that during those days we were missing out from life’s true meaning. In the same vein, we should bear in mind the Gemora in Sanhedrin which teaches us that, when we get to the next world, we will first be judged concerning our commitment to Torah learning. Once again – stop to consider! Our eternal status will be determined, to a very great extent, by how much time and effort we expend on Torah study.
We are further taught that there are three types of people Hashem cries over every day. The first type are those that could have learned Torah – but didn’t. What a potent message! Of all the human failings ranging from anger to greed, jealousy to lust, G-d cries first over one who does not avail himself of the great gift of Torah study. When Rabbi Akiva taught Papus that a Jew without Torah can be compared to a fish outside of water, Rabbi Akiva was emphasizing to us that Torah is the very life-breath of a Jew. And indeed, just like a fish is in throes of agony the moment it is plucked out of the water, so too our soul is in spiritual anguish when we keep it away from Torah study.
Besides the urgent expectations upon us to study Torah, and the eternal rewards of study, there are many other incentives. Proper study of Torah rewards a person with life, as it says, “Orech yomim b’yamina,” with wealth and honor, as it further says, “B’smola osher v’chavod,” with good health, as it states, “Ul’chol b’soro marpei,” and with the blessing of peace, as it says, “V’chol nesivoseha Shalom.”
It is therefore important that, as we leave Shavous, we take a new look at how much of a daily dosage of Torah we have in our lives. In Shulchan Orech, which has the final say about how to govern our lives, we are taught that every Jewish male must study Torah every day and every night. This means that we should never allow twelve hours to elapse without some Torah learning.
In order to succeed at this, we must make plans. One might want to embark on the study of Kitzur Shulchan Orech, whereby he could learn just a few short sections every day. Perhaps one could carry around an English Siddur with him in order to better learn some of the prayer’s meanings, or maybe he might want to make a goal to (finally) study those summer Torah parshas he has never yet learned.
The prophet tells us, “Teach us how to count our days and this will bring us a heart of wisdom.” The simple meaning of this is that, if we learn to realize that life is quickly passing us by, and that our days on this world are very finite, we will stir ourselves to begin a career of obtaining wisdom. It is related that Rav Elya Lopian, Zt”l, used to stop in the middle of a drasha, pick up his beard and muse that he has some gray hairs which means that half of his life has already passed by. Many of us in mid-age would do well to take stock and ask ourselves as life is passing, ‘Are we well accomplished in the main arena of life – in the study of Torah?’
The Orchos Chaim L’haRosh makes a very clever suggestion. He proposes we schedule a bit of time to study just before we eat. I believe that his reasoning is as follows: No matter how busy we are, we still find time to eat. Thus, if we link our Torah study to our eating times, we will ensure that we have to learn as well. This linkage is not merely one of convenience. Actually, learning is just as essential as is eating! We require a diet of food and beverage for the body; we require a diet of Torah for our soul.
So, in order to make our Shavuos lasting, let us see if, especially as we head into the long summer months, we can make a commitment to learning some Torah every twelve hours of our life.
Now, let’s talk a moment about part two: A commitment to elevated Torah observance. Tosefos in Berachos asks a powerful question, “Why is it that every time we enter the sukkah after some lapse of time, we make a new bracha? Yet, when it comes to Torah, we make one series of blessings in the morning – and that’s it for the entire day. Why is that? After all, if we don’t open our Gemora again until the evening Daf, why shouldn’t we make a new bracha since many things intervened between our nightly Torah time and our morning blessings!?
Tosefos answers that a good Jew is never distracted from Torah. At first this sounds very lofty for we know that the average person goes to work and gets busy with clients, faxes, e-mails and the like, and his mind is unfortunately far from Abaya and Rava, Rashi and Tosefos. How can you say that, when it becomes night time, there have not been hours of distraction?
What Tosefos means is that, although in the morning a man might close his Gemora and not open it again until the evening, he never ceases from living a Torah lifestyle. Remember, the blessing is, “La’asok b’divrei Torah — To be involved in words of Torah.” This, he is doing the entire day. When he leaves Shul and greets his wife sweetly, he fulfills “V’simach es ishto.” He does the rabbinical commands of washing his hands before eating, making a blessing, washing after eating, and then Biblically blesses after his meal. He reminds his children before they depart to school, to be kind to classmates, and thus fulfills, “V’shinantom l’vanecha.” He then goes to work where he speaks truthfully, fulfilling the mitzvah of “M’dvar sheker tirchak.” His business practices and methods of dealing with others are filled with integrity, and thus he follows the directive “Nosatah v’nasatah b’emunah.” He goes home on the bus and stands up for the elderly, fulfilling “M’pnei seiva takum,” and he smiles at Jew and Gentile alike, careful to make a Kiddush Hashem. Such a person – when he opens the Gemora in the evening – has not been distracted from Torah, for he has been occupied in Torah the whole day. And thus, he does not need to make a new blessing.
This is the heightened sense of Torah commitment we should take away with us as we leave Shavuos: The state of mind of “B’chol d’rachecha da’eihu – to acknowledge Hashem in all our ways.”
May Hashem help us to succeed, both in consistent Torah study and heightened Torah observance, and in that merit may Hashem bless us with good health, happiness and everything wonderful.