Appreciating My Jewishness
Recognizing the gift of Torah.
Every year on Shavuot, my main reaction is the feeling of gratitude. I can’t believe I’m living this life. I can’t believe what a gift the Torah is.
Now, of course everyone is supposed to feel this way. From a young age, our children are taught a song that begins “God gave us a present; do you know what it was? He gave us that Torah so we can keep His laws.” The idea that the Torah is a gift is inculcated from the start. But that doesn’t mean we always live with that recognition.
Shavuot is the time when that recognition, that appreciation is at the forefront, and as someone who wasn’t raised with Torah observance, my gratitude is intense. It seems so long ago that I stumbled upon a life of Torah (it actually is long ago – over 40 years!) but I can still remember the excitement of that discovery. I can still access the joy of the learning, the pleasure in the growing – and I can still even experience those same things sometimes! And I still pinch myself sometimes because I can’t believe the wonderful direction my life took and I can’t imagine where I would be without this gift.
I remember vividly the sneering reaction to a friend who was on the same journey as me. “I think she was searching for something,” sniffed an acquaintance, in a clear derogatory manner. I was confused. Shouldn’t we all be searching for something? Didn’t we all want meaning, direction, a sense of purpose?
Not only did I discover all that in becoming observant, but something more important and completely unanticipated: a relationship with God. I have a long way to go, it’s a (hopefully) continual process, one that is forever deepening and growing. But I can’t imagine life without it. It enhances the joys and makes it possible to cope with the sorrows. It gives me strength and courage and the ability to move forward every day, especially in the more challenging moments.
So while I may not always walk around with a sense of awe and gratitude, and I may even complain just a little, on Shavuot I’m focused only on the positive. On Shavuot I feel only appreciation and want to say thank you.
Thank you to my teachers. Thank you to my community. Thank you to my family. And thank you to the Almighty for pointing me in the right direction and showing me this gift. Like all gifts, we sometimes take them for granted. I plead guilty. It’s too easy to be that person I never thought I would be – the one who prays and does mitzvot by rote, forgetting their intrinsic meaning, not focused on the most important opportunity they provide – that of connecting to God.
But at least on Shavuot I stop and remember. I stop and focus. I pray with intention and concentration. I work on intensifying my relationship with my Creator and on gratitude for the fact that He has made such a thing possible. I hope to carry the lessons of Shavuot into the year. But the reason we can write the same article every year is because it’s so hard to do that. So I’m starting small (yet again) and just trying to use the holiday to once again experience gratitude for the path the Almighty has led me on, to count by blessings in the deepest of ways (usually we do it a little like small children!) and to really feel thankful for all the gifts in my life, but most especially the gift of Torah and the intimacy with the Almighty that it provides.