Years back, as I was beginning to become more observant, I had the opportunity to learn for a few months at a Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. I was fortunate to have found a chavrusah who was a great guy and at a similar stage in life; becoming more observant, thirsting for growth while struggling to maintain balance. We would learn Hilchos Brochos together, play soccer and trade our inchoate philosophical insights late into the night.
We both returned home to the States shortly before Succos that year. Not long after, he called to ask me to join him for the last days of yom tov at a family friend in Monsey. I gladly agreed.
As newly minted Baalei Teshuvah, we were quite concerned that our lulavim be well protected during the long bus ride from Port Authority in Manhattan to Monsey. We gingerly wrapped our respective lulavim in a manner that we hoped would provide proper cushioning. We cringed at each jostling of the crowd and we silently prayed that our carefully selected specimen would not be damaged or, worse, rendered unusable. Upon reaching Monsey, we carefully disembarked with our precious cargo and when we finally reached our host’s home we were both proud and relieved that we had protected our lulavim throughout the journey.
Immediately after our host graciously greeted us at the door, he took possession of our lulavim explaining “You won’t be needing these, they aren’t used on the last days of the yom tov.”
Sometimes we get so caught up in our physical acoutrements that we fail to perceive what’s actually going on around us. That is perhaps why Shemini Atzeres, as opposed to succos itself, has no distinct mitzva of its own. Shemini Atzeres then is “absolute Yom Tov,” defined not in terms of its own individual mitzvos, but rather on re-focusing our attention on our direct relationship with G-d.
Shavuos is also called Atzeres. It is unique amongst the shalosh regalim (three pilgrimage holidays) in that it is the only Yom Tov that is not centered around physical items. Matzah and the various symbols of the Seder form the focus of Pesach. The Succah and the Lulav ane Esrog form the focus of Succos. On Shavuos, there’s no matzah, no lulav and esrog, no physical object with which to direct our focus (and no, cheescake doesn’t count).
It is a time of pure intimacy with Hashem and his Torah. There is no physical interface because none is needed. Pure, direct connection and a bit of cheesecake to boot. Good Yom Tov.
Originally Published on June 1, 2006
Wonderful post David! I wonder if this lack of a physical focus is the reason why this Yom Tov is possibly the least observed of them all. Without a physical devotional center it become rather heady and abstract. People do well when they have tangible things to focus on but shavuot is different in this regard- no channukiah, no matzah as you mentioned- not even the Torah to venerate in a special way as we do on Simchat Torah- I have some other thoughts brewing on this but they aren’t formed yet. Thanks for making me think!
A beautiful thought and excellent story. I weaved it into my Shavuos night shiur.
For thematicly congruent idea applied to the every-day ritual of birchos haTorah, and the need to connect not only to Torah – all its beauty and splendor – but to forge a relationship of appreciation, closeness and connection with the nosein haTorah (the Giver of Torah)… see the introduction to Maharal Tiferes Yisrael. It is key source in my shiur for tikkun leil Shavuos.
Keep up good work with the blog…
David Linn awesome holiday perspective post. The parts about holidays in general that I never understood r the parts where some individuals get so hung up on the externals and literals that the internals/ spiritual and figuretive stuff gets lost in the shuffle . Obviously both are important but maintaining the emotional equilibrium /focusing on the forest and not getting hung up on the trees is difficult to say the least.Shavous is a pretty awesome holiday if you think about it.And theres tons of flowers everywhere too especially roses .There must be some sort of threading and connection between the timing on the roses bushes burstin forth in bloom and the Shavous holiday .New York has roses blooming out of every nook and cranny my area just started this week its ethereal and utterly awesome.Thanks sooo much for the awesome spiritual insights into holiday living .
very nice thought for Shavuos..