Rabbi Motti Hadar
Johannesburg Sephardi Hebrew Congregation
On that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall not do any laborious work. This is a decree for all time in all your dwelling places, throughout the generations.
וּקְרָאתֶם בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ חֻקַּת עוֹלָם בְּכָל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם.
Most of our chaggim have a unique mitzvah associated with them, which is intrinsically bound with the theme and energy of the Yom Tov.
In fact they all do, except Shavuot.
On Pesach we eat matzah, we sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, and throughout Sukkot, we actually fulfil two unique commandments – dwelling in the sukkah and taking the four species.
Yet on Shavuot, while we all enjoy the custom of eating tasty milk delicacies, and we make every effort to hear the Torah reading of the Ten Commandments, there is no distinct biblical commandment exclusive to the Festival of Harvest.
Every Yom Tov is special, significant and momentous, and Shavuot no less than any other. Surely the day G-d chose us as His people, and gifted us the most precious gift of His Torah, warrants a distinctive mode of commemoration to honour and highlight the awesomeness of the moment?
Shavuot essentially embodies the foundation of our relationship with Hashem – why then is it bereft of its own symbolic mitzvah?
In truth, though, the ultimate expression of the relationship between G-d and His people, the most honest demonstration of our bond with Hashem, is through the mitzvah-less festival.
Hashem chose us.
Not for what we do, but for who we are.
He chose us as His people, because He wanted us.
And He loves us for who we are.
We didn’t earn Hashem’s love and we don’t need to do anything to receive it.
G-d loves us unconditionally, like a parent loves their child.
Sure, He wants us to follow His commandments, and fulfilling His will gives Him great joy and endears us to Him.
But His love for us, and loyalty towards us, His intrinsic bond with us and ours with Him, supersedes any action, deed and conduct.
On Shavuot our mere existence, as the children of Hashem and His chosen nation – beyond any performance, ritual or practice – epitomise our unbreakable relationship with our Father.
This in no way absolves us of our duty to follow Hashem’s Torah and fulfil His mitzvot.
On the contrary, contemplating G-d’s unconditional love and affection for us, His faith and confidence in us, and His loyalty and devotion to us, should inspire and empower us to reciprocate in kind, and do everything in our power to live up to His expectations of us.
Hashem believes in us.
Time for us to believe in ourselves.
This Shavuot, let’s appreciate the gift we have, and recommit ourselves to it.
May we all receive the Torah joyfully and internally.