Rabbi Aharon Zulberg
Rabbi Elazar said, “All agree that Atzeret [Shavuot] requires that it be also “for you,” (Numbers 29:35) [ie. it is a mitzvah to eat, drink, and rejoice on that day]. What is the reason? It is the day on which the Torah was given.
(Talmud, Pesachim 68b)
אמר רבי אלעזר הכל מודים בעצרת דבעינן נמי לכם מאי טעמא יום שניתנה בו תורה הוא.
One of the unique aspects of Shavuos is that the Torah does not give it a specific date. Rather, we are told to bring the Omer offering on Pesach, then to count seven weeks, and then at the end of seven weeks, to offer two loaves and celebrate that day as a holiday.
The Talmud teaches:1 “Rabbi Eliezer holds that a festival can be entirely dedicated to food and drink or entirely dedicated to learning Torah. Rabbi Yehoshua holds that each festival should be dedicated equally half for you and half for Hashem”. Rabbi Elazar says that Shavuos needs the materialistic component because it is the day the Torah was given.
The irony is that of all the festivals, one might think that Shavuos is the one which should be dedicated in its entirety to Torah. Yet it is the one Yom Tov which all agree needs the materialistic component.
Rav Soloveitchik explains that what we are celebrating on Shavuos is our liberation from slavery. After all, if not for the giving of Torah, we would still be enslaved. The purpose of the Exodus was to give us the Torah. Shavuos therefore is the ultimate celebration of what we celebrate on Pesach. We should rejoice over our physical redemption by expressing our freedom through food and drink. Thus we realize that Shavuos is the culmination of the redemption experience.
Festivals generally have their own intrinsic Holiness which then obligates us. However, Shavuos requires our action to initiate its Holiness. That is why it has no specific date itself. Rather, it is dependent on our counting of the days leading up to it.
The Mishna2 says: “there is no freer person than one who engages in Torah study” - The Sfas Emes3 elaborates that only by integrating the lessons of the Torah into one’s personality can one
truly be “free”. It is therefore appropriate to say that Shavuos could also be called “the time of our freedom”.
Freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want to do, whenever, however. From a Torah perspective freedom is the ability to fulfil the potential found in each of us and to be able to properly utilize the tremendous opportunity of life itself. This requires an authentic context from which to work and an understanding of our role in the bigger picture. In this light, we realize that indeed every person matters and that every person’s actions matter.
Especially during lockdown when so many aspects of “freedom” have been removed, it is most appropriate to give real thought to our own subjective definitions of freedom, purpose and meaning. We need to remind ourselves of the ultimate definition of freedom - within the context of the Torah and the Jewish People.
As important as freedom itself is, it is what we do with our freedom that really gives it value.
Talmud, Pesachim 68b
Sefat Emet, Leviticus, Behar 9:3