Putting It Together–Taking Stock of Shavuot

I tried to fill myself with Torah this Shavuot. I recited the bulk of the traditional Tikkun, a “sampling” of the entire Torah which not only includes selections from the beginning and end of every parsha and every book of נך (Nach, Nevi’im and Ketuvim), the Prophets and the other Writings, it also brings mishnayot from every mesechta (tractate) of Talmud, the 613 Mitzvot (commandments) and a large reading from the Zohar. I also spent time over the two-day chag with the two Gemara tractates I’m currently learning, now including the Yerushalmi on Berachot, with the Tikkunei Zohar I’m slowly making my way through, with my new Siddur based on the Kavvanot (intentions/mystical meditations) of the Ramchal, the Rambam’s “Guide for the Perplexed”, the Ramchal’s commentaries on the previous Shabbat Torah reading, BaMidbar, the chassidut of the Rebbe RaShab (fifth Lubavitch Rebbe) and more. I imagined myself a pitcher beneath the kitchen tap with the water on full-pressure.

And, yet, I wondered what I had really done, what was the value, what, if any beyond exhaustion, was the actual effect on me? Yes, I was astounded, filled with ideas and inspirations and, maybe, a couple real insights. But, beyond the thrill of those couple days, was I really changed? (I detailed the seforim I studied not to brag–many of my friends regularly learn far more than I so–but to make the point that even this quantity and quality of Torah-learning left me still feeling empty.)

Rabbi Nachman Kahana, writing about Parshat BaMidbar, talks about love, the love God has for His people, Israel, and the love we’re supposed to feel for Him and His Torah. While I’m not sure that I completely agree with him, his point that the best a Jew who remains in galut, exiled in the diaspora, can manage is to to “have an acquaintance with Judaism…… even like Judaism, but…… not love being Jewish” deeply resonated within me. He describes as a necessary aspect of love the insatiable passion to be near the one you love. Regardless of how we might fool ourselves, reciting מלא כל הארץ כבודו (M’lo kol ha’aretz kvodo), “He fills the entire world with His Presence” (which itself is, manifestly true), that we can be just as close to God wherever we are as in Eretz Yisrael, it’s just not so. There are persuasive opinions (including both Rashi and Ramban, based on Sifrei (Devarim 11:17-18)) that mitzvot performed outside Eretz Yisrael are, in effect, no more than practice for when we are able to perform them in Eretz Yisrael. And in our day, that is something all of us, after two millennia, can do.

So, I feel despair that, despite the Torah I learned that Yom Tov, I’m a pretty poor lover, sitting here half-a-world away from The Beloved.

And then I remember that we’re all, myself included, embraced in God’s love for us, whether or not we’re fully, or even slightly aware of it.

This week, as we read Birkat Kohanim in the Torah (Parshat Naso), I recall the bracha that the Kohanim make before they recite that blessing to the community,  אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בִּקְדֻשָּׁתוֹ שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן, וְצִוָּנוּ לְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאַהֲבָה, Who made us holy with the holiness of Aharon, and commanded us (the Kohanim) to bless His Nation, Yisrael, in/with love.

So, having tried to fill myself with Torah, even from this great distance, I hope to become a better lover this coming year.

Shabbat Shalom

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2 Responses to Putting It Together–Taking Stock of Shavuot

  1. Jacques Ruda says:

    I think what we desire is expressed in the song we sing on erev Shabbat, “Yedid Nefesh.” I agree with you that in Israel it is easier and perhaps natural to feel spiritual and closer to the source. On the other hand, the fact that one is in Israel sometimes is a rationalization to do nothing to try and add to one’s spirituality. How many Israelis do we know that say its enough that I am in arutz. We, who are not in Israel (yet), can prepare ourselves so that if we are privileged to go we do not take the miracle that has been given to our generation for granted. Shabbat Shalom.

  2. Yes, we want to combine the best of both modalities.
    Shabbat Shalom and thanks for being part of the conversation.

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