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Shavuot: Seeking the Light of Torah

We gathered at Karen and Bill Harris’ home for Shavuot. It was an evening of talking Torah, chowing on cheesecake and receiving the gift of the light of Torah.

Greeted by Karen’s delicious homemade cheesecake, we recounted the tradition of eating dairy on Shavuot. Some explain that Jews were given the laws of kashrut (kosher dietary laws) when we were given the Torah on Mount Sinai. Before the Israelites received the Torah, we did not keep kosher. After we received the Torah, we began to keep kosher but we did not have the utensils needed to prepare kosher meat. Thus, we initially ate dairy food. Others argue that Shavuot is linked to the Exodus and the journey to the Promised Land. It is written in the Bible, “From the misery of Egypt to a country flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:8-17) Still others drash (interpret) that eating dairy food, rather than meat, shows restraint. When the Jewish People accepted the Torah and committed ourselves to follow the commandments from God in it, we committed ourselves to leading lives with restraints. However, my favorite explanation is that of the not-so-sage-like RiPiK (that’s me: Rabbi Paul Kipnes) who teaches, based on the insights of his father Kenny: “You need an excuse to eat great cheesecake?!?”

We learned Torah. The Sefat Emet – 19th century Polish chassidic Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib of Ger – taught: The light of the Torah is garbed in the enactment of the mitzvot as they are in this world… It is within the power of a Jew – when one engages in Torah and mitzvot – to arouse the inwardness of Torah… For when people do not engage in Torah, then the light (hidden within) is not revealed, and it remains concealed within the outer garment… Similarly, the person who engages in Torah is a ben-horin (a free person)…

What a discussion ensued! Hidden within each person is a light – of understanding, of full comprehension, of truth. It is the same light from that first day of creation, when one would have been able to see everything, everywhere. It is the light of Torah with which existence came into being. And it is there, hidden within each one of us, awaiting those moments when we peel away the layers that hide our reality.

We received Torah again in a ceremony Kabbalat Matanat Torah (Receiving the Gift of Torah). Standing in a circle, listening to the shofar sound more and more loudly, we passed Torah from arm to arm. Holding Torah, often like a baby, sometimes with tears flowing, each participant spoke poignantly about how Torah is/was/will be a light for them. And then, na’aseh v’nishmah (we will do and we will learn), we put arms around each other, singing Shehecheyanu, thanking the Holy One for the unique sacred opportunity to again take the light of Torah into our arms and hearts and minds.

Chag Shavuot Sameiach!

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