Dayenu on Shavuot
We just celebrated Shavuot this week, with so many friends and in such a great community atmosphere. It reminded me of how the Jewish unity was described at the time we received the Torah.
Let me take a step back. During the Passover Seder we sing the famous Dayenu song where we express our gratitude to G-d for taking us out of Egypt and making us a free people to serve Him.
Rather than focusing on the hardships we experienced and any grievances, the song is full of praise and gratitude. In a series of stanzas we say things like "had G-d only taken us out, but not punished the Egyptians, Dayenu - that would have been sufficient." And on and on.
But there is one curious stanza where we say "had He brought us to Mt. Sinai and not giving us the Torah - Dayenu - that would have been sufficient."
What does that mean? Of what value is there to come to Mt. Sinai without receiving the Torah there?
The answer lies in the Torah's description of the Israelites camping at Mt. Sinai. "And Israel encamped there opposite the mountain," the verse says, surprisingly using a singular term when describing the plurality of the Israelites.
This is precisely the point; when we came to the mountain we were "like one person with one heart." There was such a great feeling of love and brotherhood, that we can sing Dayenu - it was worth coming to Sinai, just to experience that unity. And it was that great sense of unity that enabled us to receive the Torah.
In our beautiful community we are blessed to have different Jews of very different backgrounds all coming together to learn, pray and celebrate in unity. It's something very unique to our small Jewish community and I cherish it.
Who Will Be the Guarantors?
This evening we will be starting the two day holiday of Shavuos, celebrating the giving of the Torah by G-d, to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, 3332 years ago.
Since that day when we all stood at Sinai, we have studied and cherished this greatest gift. The Torah is everlasting, and as our guide for life it provides us each with clear meaning and purpose. Each year on Shavuos we accept the Torah once again.
When G-d was about to give the Torah, He wanted to know who would be its guarantors? Who would ensure that it would be studied and fulfilled, and transmitted from generation to generation and not just lost and forgotten. The Sages, the Priests, the scholars and wise men, all committed to ensuring its eternity. But G-d was not convinced. Not until Moses said that the children would guarantee its fulfillment and continuation.
So as we celebrate Shavuos from home this year, and re-accept this greatest gift from G-d, let us each commit to studying a bit more Torah, and ensuring its continuation for further generations. If we study and teach it, our children will guarantee it.
A Personal Anniversary Date
You know those holidays that take over the town? They’re in the news and in stores; public officesclose and public officials make celebratory statements.
But what about a special day on your personal calendar? It could be a private anniversary or the day you overcame a personal struggle. You look forward to the day, your heart swells with joy and pride, yet to the world it’s just another random day.
The Jewish people have such a day. In fact, it is the day on which we became a people. The day is Shavuot, on which, 3,332 years ago, G-d came down onto Mount Sinai and gave us His holiest gift, the Torah, His master plan for the universe, the purpose of creation, and our purpose in this world was given to us on that day.
In these challenging times, with the world as we know it so suddenly changed and shaken up, tuning in to these personal moments and private celebrations become more important than ever.
This Shavuot will be celebrated differently than any we have ever had. There will be no gatherings to hear the Torah reading, no communal studying until dawn, and no cheesecake parties. But it is still Shavuot, and the essence of the holiday remains as true as ever.
Our lives on a public scale have been slowed down, and those private interactions and deeply personal events take on new meaning as we each learn to celebrate and be thankful for the blessings in our lives.
Let’s each take the time to truly celebrate Shavuot this year, to tune into our relationship with G-d and feel the greatest of blessings He’s given us, the ability to connect with Him and feel His presence in our day-to-day lives, no matter how turbulent. And let us pray that G-d quickly brings as end to this global pandemic, healing all those suffering, and protecting the wonderful doctors and nurses standing on the front lines.
Wishing you a Happy Shavuot, and a Happy “Receiving of the Torah.”
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.