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Shavuot: The Bare Bones Holiday

May 10, 2018 | by Tzvi Nightingale

Dust off the wedding album and go back to the chuppah when you looked into each other's eyes and saw only love, potential and meaning.

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Unfortunately, despite its great importance and seminal place in the Jewish calendar, Shavuot has become the orphan of Jewish holidays. Chanukah, a relatively minor holiday, gets much more attention. How can you compete against what many perceive as the Jewish Christmas with all those great presents and parties? Passover? Great family time. High Holidays? Have to go to synagogue and expunge those sins and get written in the book of life for another year.

But Shavuot – that's for the real religious. Nothing too exciting about this holiday, no fun in the sun, I mean shade of Sukkot here.

And this is tremendously sad, because there is probably no more important holiday when it comes to defining who we Jews are and what we have taught humanity. After all, it was this document, this constitution that created most of the greatest concepts that have shaped, changed and altered world history. It is from our Torah where the world is first introduced to the idea that all humans are created in the image of God and hence have innate worth irrespective of their religion, creed or accident of birth. The king has no greater merit than the slave and all are equal in the eyes of God. "Love your neighbor as yourself" does not apply only to important people or those born into a higher class, but to every human on the face of the earth.

Peace on earth, universal education, liberty and freedom for all, do not murder, do not steal, take care of the orphan, widow and the less fortunate – all of these crucial concepts and ideals began in our revolutionary Torah in an age when the world was a lot more barbaric than it is today.

Shavuot is a bare bones holiday; it doesn’t have any specific mitzvot other than learning Torah, and that’s for a reason. It is about Torah, plain and simple, nothing more and nothing less. No Passover cleaning to distract you, nor any specifics of how much matzah to eat to fulfill the mitzvah; no finding a flawless lulav and etrog; no perfect Chanukah gift; no getting to shul early so you get a good seat for Yom Kippur.

No, none of that; just a return to the very essence of who and what we are, why we are here and what our greater obligation is to the world to make it a better place with the fundamental truths that we have given it. Shavuot is dusting off the wedding album and going back to the chuppah – the marriage canopy where you looked into each other's eyes and only saw love, potential and meaning. Shavuot is about returning to that place where it all started and reminding ourselves of the true purpose of Torah and why God brought us to Sinai.

It’s about staying up all night as you lose yourself in the depth and meaning of Torah learning, recommitting yourself to the marriage the Jewish people entered with God at Mount Sinai.

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