> Holidays > Shavuot > Shavuot Themes

We’re Not Doing God Any Favors

June 5, 2016 | by Debbie Gutfreund

All this time that I thought I was giving I was really receiving.

"I'm not going to the party," I told my friend as we walked back from class.

She stopped short and spun around. "You're joking, right? Of course you're coming! You would never do that to me."

I stared down at the textbooks in my arms, momentarily flustered. "It's not that I don't want to's just that it's Friday night..."

My voice trailed off as I watched my new friend impatiently shift her knapsack over her shoulder.

"Yeah, it's Friday night. So?"

I looked around at the hundreds of students spilling out of classrooms into the courtyard around us and thought about the first week of school when this friend had helped me find my English lit class, when she had introduced me to our entire dorm floor, when she had walked with me to the bookstore to pick up my books even though she had already bought all of her books. And I told her I would go with her to the party, but I had assumed that the party was on Saturday night. And now, I was going to have to explain that I was a Sabbath-observant Jew, and she would never understand. I took a deep breath and studied the brick sidewalk beneath us.

"The thing is I'm Jewish and Friday night is our Sabbath. So I'm not ever going to be going to any parties on Friday nights."

My friend squinted up at me in the afternoon sun. "So what about the football game on Saturday?" she asked.

"Nope, our Sabbath doesn't end until Saturday night so no football games for me either."

My friend looked at me and shook her head. "Why? I mean I know it's something you did at home but why is it so important now? Now you're in college. You can do whatever you want."

"Actually it's not just something I did at home. It's something that I believe in. It's my connection to God and to my heritage. It's what I live for," I found myself saying.

"Wow," she said, and she walked away, leaving me standing by myself outside the library. I stood there, apart from the crowd, wondering if I had just lost a friend. I held my books tighter and thought this is what it really means to stand alone. This is what it means to have something so precious that no one and nothing is worth letting it go for.

What was worth more than friendships, more than parties, more than football games, more than the reviews for my organic chemistry final? It was having a purpose in my life that went far beyond myself and my own achievements. It was thousands of years of Torah wisdom that had been passed on from my great grandparents, who had somehow bequeathed to me this courage that I didn't even know was inside of me. This courage to stand alone in a crowd. This courage to hold onto my beliefs and live my values.

I gave Shabbos my time, but Shabbos gave me the gift of living beyond time.

I gave up my own fashion ideas for the value of modesty, but modesty gave me back myself and my inner dignity.

I gave up my doubts to have faith in a Creator who I couldn't see, but God gave me back a vision full of unlimited possibilities.

I traded my complaints for gratitude, but gratitude gave me an even greater gift by opening my eyes to the beauty all around me.

I gave up my apathy for awe, but awe brought me to places within me that I never even knew were there.

I switched my focus from myself to loving others and found that love pays back far more than I could ever give.

I gave up assumptions to learn more but the learning gave me back new perspectives.

All this time that I thought I was giving I was really receiving.

And this is still what I live for. As Shavuot approaches and we celebrate the gift of the Torah, I tell my children, “Many years before you were born, I stood up for Shabbos. I stood up for the incredible gift of our Torah. And I thought I was giving something up, but I was really receiving more than I could ever imagine.

“I thought that this is what I was living for, but in truth this is what gives life to me. I thought I had been standing alone in front of that library with my friend's footsteps echoing away from me, but I really wasn't alone at all. I was being held. Held by the whispered prayers of those who came before me, by the voices of the children who I would one day bless beside my own Shabbos candles and by the Creator who gave me the gift that gives me life.”


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