Sermon for Shavuos
— From the Rebbe’s Torah —
Humor to begin with:
There is a well known Midrash about how God offered the Law to a number of nations, which all refused it, before He offered it to the Jews at Mt. Sinai. What isn't known very well is the inside story.
G-d first went to one nation and asked them if they would like a commandment.
"What's a commandment?" they asked.
"Well, one of them goes, “Thou shalt not steal,” replied G-d.
They thought about it and then said, “No way. That would ruin our economy.”
So then G-d went to a second nation and asked them if they would like a commandment.
They also asked, "What's a commandment?"
"Well," said G-d, "one says, ‘Thou shalt respect your father and mother.'"
They immediately replied, “Not today. How about on Fathers and mothers day?”
So finally, G-d went to the Jews and asked them if they wanted a commandment.
They asked, "How much?"
G-d said, "They're free."
The Jews said, "Great! We'll take ten."
On a serious note: Which of the following is a more spiritual holiday?
Shavuos, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah, or Pesach when we weren’t slaves anymore? The answer seems obvious; Shavuos of course! But the answer may change a bit by the time we’re done this sermon.
About other Jewish holidays, there are disagreements between the sages about whether one must eat a festive meal under all circumstances. Some sages hold that if you had a really bad dream, and you really want to fast to annul the evil in your dream, and fasting is a spiritual pleasure for you, you may celebrate the holiday in that way. Others say, “No. You must celebrate the holiday in the usual form of celebration;” i.e. you must eat good food and drink good drink.
However, regarding Shavuos, all the sages hold that even if you had a really bad dream — you may not fast.
They all agree, because we must show “that we are happy that we’ve received the Torah”.
Why is this the way we should show that we’re happy about receiving the Torah — of all things?
It would actually seem that Shavuos should be the most spiritual holiday of all, for we are celebrating something spiritual — our receiving a book. A book from G-d.
On Pesach, we left Egypt, and were no longer slaves; that should call for more physical guidelines for celebrating. On Sukkos, we celebrate G-d’s protection in the desert, when he shaded us with clouds. And yet, on those holidays, we are not absolutely obligated to celebrate physically; and on Shavuos, when we are celebrating spirituality, we must show our enthusiasm through eating food…
It seems like things got a bit confused.
[Humor on the subject of being confused:
Being confused reminds me about a corny one:
Why was the ant so confused?
Because all of his uncles were ants.]
[Answer to above question:]
When Hashem gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, “Birds did not chirp, birds did not fly, cows did not sigh… no one in the world spoke… the world was completely silent” — the entire world held its breath. “And the voice was heard: “I am Hashem, your G-d…”
The Ten Commandments were heard the entire world over; and yet, there was no echo from the sound of the Ten Commandments — for the sound became absorbed within each and every piece of matter.
Matan Torah — the giving of the Torah — permeated each and every physical being. None could resist its effects.
This is actually the goal of the Torah — to permeate the physical and transform it so that it doesn’t remain only physical, but gains spiritual undertones, feeling and purpose.
If G-d wanted just spirituality, he could have given the Torah to the angels. But G-d did not want that. G-d wanted the Torah to affect regular people like you and me, and the things we are involved in.
That reminds me about a nice story:
Dr. Yitzchak Block was a chossid who had a PhD in philosophy from Harvard, which he got by the Rebbe’s instruction. Yet he was a chossid: he derived his main pleasure from learning and teaching Torah.
Dr. Yitzchak Block was once in yechidus — a private audience — with the Rebbe, and the Rebbe was pushing him to write a book on philosophy. He was not very interested. The Rebbe explained to him that if he would write a book and then approach a student with an offer to lay tefillin, there was a greater chance that the student would agree. “You will have more prestige,” the Rebbe said.
The Rebbe was telling him to take the mundane concept of “prestige” and use it to bring more spirituality to the world — the goal of Matan Torah.
At the giving of the Torah, G-d showed his essence.
When G-d shows his essence, nothing can remain idle. All feel and realize that they are creations of his hand.
When this happened during Matan Torah, the world held its breath. This was serious business.
G-d is speaking and the only reason they exist is for him — they stood still.
After the Torah was given, G-d concealed himself once more. But, that one-time grand revelation when the Torah was given, gives us the ability to channel that unique power, to transform the physical and reveal its true purpose; through the Torah, which remains in our hands.
That’s what we do with the Torah going forward. We use it to uplift physical to spiritual.
At first Chassidim were wary of using modern technology to promote Judaism. The Rebbe told them that they’d got it all wrong: Who created the radio and television? G-d. G-d created the ability in nature for this technology to be possible, and G-d put the idea for these inventions into the minds of the inventors. “Do you think G-d created something that cannot be used for his glory?” the Rebbe asked. We’ve got to lift up the physical through using it for spirituality.
We can all think of areas in our lives where we can bring more spirituality. Be it making blessings over the food we eat, acknowledging and thanking G-d for creating and providing us with this food. Using business connection to encourage others in their Judaism. Saying a prayer when we go to sleep and wake up, setting the tone and purpose for our sleep and day. And there are certainly many more ways to channel this power.
[Spelling out the answer:]
So, if it's Sukkos or Pesach, it’s okay if you have some spiritual pleasure through fasting.
But on Shavuos! The day the Torah was given! You must eat food you enjoy and gain physical pleasure. Your spiritual joy from the Torah’s giving should be so strong, that it permeates your physical self and pleasures.
That’s what the Torah is all about.
* * *
לעילוי נשמת החסיד התמים יצחק ליב ב"ר חיים אהרן ע"ה
ומרת לאה בת הרה"ח ר' אליהו נחום ע"ה
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Written by: Eli Baron, Crown Heights