Running On Empty: Thoughts For Shavuot

שיר השירים ה:טו) שׁוֹקָיו עַמּוּדֵי שֵׁשׁ)

His legs are pillars of marble (Shir HaShirim 5:15)

The Rebbe Rashab (Shalom DovBer Schneerson), the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, refers to the Midrash (Midrash Rabba 10:1) which plays on the words שוק (shok), leg/thigh and תשוקה (t’shuka), desire, to introduce God’s Desire as a primary/foundational force in creating the universe.

The Torah teaches, וִהְיִיתֶם לִי קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי, And you should be holy to Me since I am holy (Vayikra 20:26), from where we learn the mandate to imitate God (Just as He is graceful and merciful, you should be graceful and merciful (Bavli Shabbat 133b)).

Thus, although of course we can know absolutely nothing of the true nature of God, in so far as He reveals Himself by the ways He relates to our world, we should follow His lead and live and act, especially in our spiritual lives, with passionate desire.

How often do any of us actually learn Torah or perform any mitzva with true, unbridled passion? I’m not talking about a good sing-a-long in shul, but with the passion we exhibit when we want to please and to savor the one we truly love. How many of us follow the lead of the Shulchan Aruch whose very first instruction for each day (Orach Chayim 1:1) יתגבר כארי לעמוד בבוקר לעבודת בוראו, is “Fortify yourself like a lion to rise in the morning to serve your Creator”? I confess that I rarely do.

Our Jewish day, week and year are often mis-described as circular; rather they are, or should be, spiral. As we reencounter Shavuot each year (as well as all the other holy days), we should be be substantially different, more developed and refined, people than we were the previous year. We should enter this chag in a full-out run, starved to re-experience, this time at a higher level of understanding, experience and passion than ever before, the massive “download” of all reality which was the original (and, really, is the ongoing) Matan Torah, the gifting of Torah at Sinai.

Similarly, each Shabbat we enter should have the novelty and excitement of that first, purest experience in Eden, but deeper and deeper each and every week. My Shacharit tomorrow should far outshine my Shacharit of today which should have far outshone my Shacharit of just yesterday.

The reality, on the other hand, for most of us most of the time, is that we’re happy we davened at all, observed Shabbat at all, observed the chag at all.

We’re, all of us, running on empty. And much worse than that, we’re usually not even aware that our tank has run dry. Nor aware that we’re no longer moving.

Shavuot is, by definition, the occasion to fill up our tanks with Torah to fuel us for a full year!

But it’s impossible to fill when you don’t realize you’re empty. So I propose a new and deeper level of observing the mitzva of counting the Omer, the days between Pesach and Shavuot. It’s become increasingly popular and widespread, even (especially?) in non-orthodox circles, to follow the kavvana (intention, pre-observance meditation) in many siddurim, ….יְתֻקַּן מַה שֶׁפָּגַמְתִּי בִּסְפִירָה (y’tukan mah sh’pegamti b’sphira….), “to repair what I damaged in the sephira…..” (in this context, one of 49 systematically examined personality traits, one for each day).

I propose that rather than trying to self-analyze, given that most of us are not trained psychologists or therapists and probably not that effective in actual healing (we also have another Torah teaching that a prisoner cannot free himself), we at least begin by examining that part our our personality to see just how starved it has become. In other words, we check each of our 49 sub-tanks over this seven-week period and note just how desperately we need the nourishment, wisdom and energy of Torah to ever become effective again.

This way, rather than entering Shavuot having fooled ourselves into thinking we’re finally whole, we enter this day painfully aware of our emptiness, passionate like never before for Torah.

Moadim l’Simcha

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3 Responses to Running On Empty: Thoughts For Shavuot

  1. Thank you for this. I agree that it is critical that we are not “full” of ourselves. I like the potential imagery of looking at each sub-tank, checking its gauge. The festivals, in this sense, are filling stations on our journey — and Shavuos is especially delicious in this regard – we are not dreading our judgement – we are not running from Pharaoh — we are coming into the land of milk and honey – Torah…. It seems like we are filling our tank with ice cream!

  2. Jacques Ruda says:

    When the Torah is put back in the ark part of the prayer we say contains the words “chadesh yomenu kekedem.” This usually translates to renew ours days as in times past. I think a better explanation is renew our days as when we were young. In other words, allow us to approach our lives with the enthusiasm we had when we were first learning. I think this is especially true of studying Torah.

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