Shavuos. The most important holiday that nobody has ever heard of.
Shavuos has a bit of middle child syndrome going on. It’s between the much longer holidays of Passover and Succos, and it certainly gets less fanfare than Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There isn’t even much you really do on Shavuos, besides explain to your boss that it’s still important that you take the day off so you can eat cheesecake.
So besides for my convincing myself that I’m religiously obligated to eat half of the cheesecake in one sitting, what is Shavuos actually about?
It commemorates the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Which is pretty important. Not just because we base our entire religion on that document, but because they made movies about it.
Being that, according to Jewish tradition, that was the most important event of world history since, well, The Creation of the World, it stands to reason that it’s holiday should be a correspondingly massive deal. So why does it seem instead to be a mere footnote on the list of Jewish holidays?
Well, the original Shavuos was anything but a footnote. “These words, God spoke to your whole congregation on the mountain, from the midst of the fire, the smoke, and the cloud, a great voice, never to be repeated, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.” (Du 5:19) It’s not every day that God directly speaks to thousands of people.
Also this: “The entire nation saw the thunder and the flames, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain; the nation saw and trembled and stood from afar.” (Ex 20:15) I’m just gonna highlight a bit here “saw the thunder.” According to my handy dandy dictionary, lightning is something you see, while thunder is the sound that you hear. You don’t usually see thunder unless you have superpowers or something. So God really pulled some strings to make this event extra awesome.
You don’t usually see thunder, unless you are this guy.
But what happened just after that monumental occasion? People worshipped a golden calf. They were lead to believe that spirituality is all glam and glitter, so after sitting in relative silence of a desert for 40 days, they built a big flashy golden idol to access that excitement again.
To make a long story short, this was a problem.
Upon seeing the idol, Moses shattered the tablets holding the ten commandments. When God eventually forgave us, He gave us a new set of tablets, but this time He did it differently. There was no flaming mountain or visible thunder, Moses just quietly walked down the mountain with them. The Jews didn’t immediately worship idols after that second set.
The lesson here is that if you expect spirituality to come with glitz and glamour, you may end up just chasing the glitz instead of Truth. So it’s better still to have one of our most important moments (Shavuos) be a quiet thing. It reminds us that the most important things in life are the subtle truths that might slip right under your radar if you aren’t paying attention…
Rabbi A and the JET Team