Instead of in our shuls, with our communities, learning from our rabbis, we’re at home, with our families – learning with our families.
It’s probably not what we would have chosen, if we had the choice. But there’s an opportunity here. An opportunity to fulfill, perhaps like no generation before us, the great directive in Pirkei Avot:1
“Let your home be a meeting place for the sages.”
The literal interpretation is that our home should be a place where great Torah Sages gather to teach Torah and discuss the affairs of the day – so that we may “drink thirstily from their words” of those who embody the values they learn and teach, absorbing their ideals, ethics and character.
However, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, in his commentary on Pirkei Avot, offers another interpretation. He says that this mishna isn’t just referring to sages of flesh and blood, but also to the Torah books and commentaries authored by the sages.
He explains that when we learn Torah at home, we invite the sages throughout the thousands of years of Jewish history into our home. Delve into a page of Mishna, and Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir walk through the door. Open up a Rashi, and suddenly there’s the great French medieval commentator on the couch beside us taking us through the simple meaning of the verse. Read in the Chumash about Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and they become personalities tangibly involved in our lives.
The thinking behind this – our first ever South African Shavuot Companion – is to make our home a meeting place for the sages in precisely this way.
We can’t be in shul, we can’t attend their shiurim – but with this compendium of beautiful Torah insights and ideas, we’re bringing our amazing rabbis and rebbetzins into our homes.
This year’s Shavuot is an opportunity to transform our home into a house of learning – a bona fide beit midrash bustling with energy, inspiration and active engagement.
A “meeting place” is typically a site of robust discussion and debate, of lively conversation. When we learn Torah, we are not passively receiving a one-way monologue, but are instead active participants in a dynamic exchange. When the whole family gets involved, our children become active partners in our awesome Divine legacy. Learning its teachings can be transformational in a way that permeates our homes, and inspires and guides us to become better people.
That is why this publication is not just a learning companion. It is a symbol, a clarion call, that our Torah learning should not be confined to our shuls and batei midrash, but be brought into our homes and transform our families. It is a potent reminder that the home, itself, can be the most powerful beit midrash of all.
I’m so excited to present this, the inaugural South African Shavuot Companion. After the warm and enthusiastic feedback we received from the Haggadah Companion, which brought inspiration to our Seders at a challenging time, and exemplified the unity and togetherness of our community, I invited the talented and dedicated rabbis and rebbetzins of our community, to write a counterpart for Shavuot. This collaboration of our remarkable rabbinic leadership expresses so beautifully and powerful the precious unity of community. The outcome is a treasure filled with inspirational Torah ideas to learn and share with each other, and to uplift and enrich your experience of the chag.
I wish you all a Chag Sameach. May our homes be filled with the light and warmth of Torah. And may G-d bring health and healing to our community, to our country and to our world.
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein