Sunday, June 08, 2008

Why We Stay Awake on Shavuot.

I love this piece from Michael Rosenak (from his article, "The Mitzvot, The Messiah and The Territories", Tradition Spring 1969.)

The Torah is both a yoke and a joy. Shavuot is the day of the giving, more than of the accepting of the Torah, and we celebrate this festival with a wearying all-night vigil of study. Mount Sinai was raised over our heads and we were offered the choice of death or submission. For the Jewish people there is thus no life without it, but our history records how difficult we found it to live with the Torah. From the days in the desert when our forefathers nostalgically recalled the fish that they ate free in Egypt “free of mitzvot,” explains the Sifre, until the various movements of assimilation of our day, we encounter, again and again, the desire of Jews to be freed from the burden of their Jewish tasks. For the Torah is an ever-present task; it makes immediate demands at every moment of our lives, never relaxing its hold — and we are often sorely tempted to seek meaning in nostalgic romanticisms of the past or in future utopias (such as those of our revolutionary assimilationists) rather than in the present situation which demands, first and foremost, not the dream but the halakhah.

And yet, even while it is a burden, the Torah is a joy and a light. Once we bind ourselves to it wholly, it brings the eternal and Divine into our everyday existence. Through the Torah, we find the spiritual stamina to perform prosaic tasks unprosaically. In the knowledge that God is to be found and obeyed in the everyday, the routine becomes sacred. When we live by the mitzvot, we realize that we have been blessed with a Torah of truth, through which everlasting life has been planted in our midst. This is the Torah that was given as though today, to give meaning and a redemptive quality to today’s act. And then we recall that the Torah was not only imposed upon but also freely accepted by our forefathers and that the covenant was made not with our fathers alone but with each of us who is alive this day. And having realized this, we make God’s Torah our own, never tiring of constant repetition, rejoicing on Simkhat Torah that we are privileged to begin it anew at the moment we have completed it.

1 comment:

rebecca said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.