Chag HaShavuos 5757

This is the language of the Holy Zohar (Preface 8a):

Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his students were learning Torah without sleeping on the night of Shavuos. Each one was expounding previously unrevealed ideas. Rebbi Shimon delighted in each new idea, as did the rest of the students.

Rebbi Shimon said to them, "My sons, joyous are you with your portion. Since this night, you are (with your Torah learning), preparing the adornments for the bride, and rejoicing with her. Tomorrow she will go underneath the Chuppah only with you. All of you will be inscribed in the King's book, and he will bless you with unlimited blessing from above."

The Gemarrah tells us, how before the giving of the Torah, Hashem held the mountain (Sinai), over our heads, warning us to accept the Torah, or risk being buried alive on the spot. Nevertheless, our sages understood the incident another way. The mountain above our heads was actually a Chuppah, a marriage canopy, and that the acceptance of the Torah was akin to the wedding ceremony. By accepting the Torah, Hashem and the Community of Israel became wedded to each other.

This is the description of the wedding preparation in the Zohar. (Emor 98a)

"It (Shavuos night), is like a King who is marrying his son to a distinguished princess. The night before the wedding, he spent the whole night in his treasure houses, selecting the garments for the groom. He brought out silken robes, a crown studded with seventy precious jewels and all of the other trappings of a King.

Then he went to the home of the Princess. He observed her maidens preparing her exquisite jewelry, the finest garments and her crown. He told them, "I have prepared for the Princess a special chamber of purification. Its source is a place of flowing waters, and the rarest and most sublime spices and fragrance surround it to increase and complete her purification. Come my daughter, the bride of my son. Come you with your maidens to the place of purification that I have prepared for you." "Tomorrow, when the time arrives you will enter underneath the Chuppah with my son and I will prepare a palace to be your home. In this home will also be a chamber for me so that I can dwell with you for eternity."

This is how Hashem unites with Israel on the night of Shavuos.

Tefilla (Prayer) on Shavuos

Although the custom of most people is to stay awake all night learning Torah and to daven at sunrise, the custom of many Chassidim is different.

According to the Zohar, one is to immerse himself in the mikveh, besides Erev Shavuos, an additional time just before dawn on Shavuos morning. The reason stated in the Zohar is to bring upon oneself an extra measure of Holiness (before the "wedding"). At this point in time, when most people are getting ready for Shavuos davening, the Chassidim go to sleep for a few hours. Most people doze off during the prayers, longing for the end, and missing the most beautiful service of the year. The Chassidim though, awake refreshed after a few hours of sleep and pray with energy and fervor throughout the whole service.

On Chag HaShavuos, the Chassidim have a custom to draw out the saying of the "Ahavah Rabbah" prayer which comes just before the recitation of the Shema. This custom is in accordance with the Ba'al Shem Tov who said that it was revealed to him that the reason for the delay of the coming of the Moshiach is because the Jews don't draw out the recitation of this prayer. And if one should pray like this the whole year long, then all the more so on Shavuos!! It is written in the Tikkunei Zohar concerning Shavuos, "On the Chag of Shavuos, we will come out of Exile!!"

How beautiful are words said at the appropriate time.

Shavuos is the culmination of the Rectification of the Quality of Kindness

It says in the Torah (Ex. 19:2) that the Jews came to Mt. Sinai and they camped at the foot of the mountain. The word camped is expressed in its singular form as opposed to the expected plural form referring to whole Nation. Rashi, on the spot, says that this shows us that they people were united, one man, with one heart. The very next verse says, "And Moshe ascended to Heaven and G-d called to him from the mountain. . .". Moshe is to prepare himself for receiving the Torah. The 15th century Italian commentator, Rebbi Ovadia Sporno, says here, "This teaches us that Yisrael set themselves to the task of preparing the camp, and Moshe ascended to prepare himself for his approaching prophecy."

HaRav Chayim Shmuelevitz, the former Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Mir Yeshiva of Poland and then later Jerusalem, once pointed out the seemingly contrary intent of the comments of the Sporno. How is it possible to describe the activities of Moshe and the people in one breath?! Moshe Rabbenu is preparing for the worlds greatest revelation, and the people are digging latrines and pounding in tent pegs.

He answers that when they pitched camp, each one was concerned not with his own place, rather he took the time to worry about his neighbor; was his camp in order, did he need some help. Because they were doing chesed one with the other, they showed that they were indeed a nation that was fitting to receive the Torah. Moshe's going up was made possible by the Nation's pitching camp.

I found a similar idea in the Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez. It quotes a Midrash which implies that the most distressing aspect of the Jews' enslavement in Egypt was, that due to the strenuousness of the work, they didn't have enough physical and emotional strength to do Kindness (chesed), with one another. The minute that they had the opportunity , they immediately started to do Chesed again. Each one was making sure that his neighbor had a good place to camp and that all of his needs were taken care of. That being the case, Moshe Rabbenu was enabled to ascend to Hashem to get the Torah. The had demonstrated their true nature.

May we always be a nation that does Chesed, and each and every day be able to receive the Torah anew.


A Ba'al Shem Tov Story

Once, the Besht was thinking about how great his faith in Hashem was. A heavenly voice called out, "Reb Yisroel, don't become proud. Yankel the Innkeper has more faith than you."

The Ba'al Shem Tov decided to go to visit Yankel the Innkeper. He stays there several weeks.

Nothing seems special about Yankel. One Shabbos, in the middle of a meal, a local peasant comes in and bangs three times on the table with his stick, and then leaves. Reb Yankel explains that it is a sign that he must soon pay the rent--5000 rubles. Reb Yankel admits that he doesn't have the money, nor is he planning on borrowing any. G-d will help, as He always has. The next Shabbos, the peasant does the same thing. Reb Yankel yells at him, "Don't come back until tomorrow." The peasant says, "Jew, if you don't get the money, we are going to feed you to the dogs!"

The next day, Reb Yankel goes about his business. In the morning, three businessmen come by and ask him if he can buy wheat for them for the Czar, and they will pay him 2000 rubles for the effort. Yankel demands 5000, they offer 2500, even 3000. They don't come to an agreement, and the men leave. Around 2:00 in the afternoon, the peasant comes back. He bangs on the door and screams, "Jew, pay up!" "Get out! I have until nightfall". A half hour before nightfall, the peasant comes back. He just opens the door and comes in. Reb Yankel is completely unperturbed. He says, "Just a minute," takes his hat and walking stick and walks out to the road. At that moment, the three purchasers comes riding over the hill. They agree to his price, and they all go inside and close the deal.

That, the Ba'al Shem Tov later remarked, is true Faith in Hashem.

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