Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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Shavuos–Reaching the Summit

by Reb Aharon Rubin, author of Eye to the Infinite, on Mystical Paths


After seven weeks of ‘counting the Omer’, we arrive at the Yom Tov of Shovuos. Like the Yom Tov of Shemini Atseres that comes after seven days of Succos, this Yom Tov has, essentially, only one day (in the Diaspora another day is added). It is the culmination, the peak, the summit of the mountain, reached after an arduous seven-week climb.

Or is it? Can I really say in all honesty that I’ve worked every day of the Omer, concentrated adequately on the counting of the Sephiroh, even aspired to correct myself as each day represents another aspect of the soul and psyche? Have I, personally, reached the summit?

The wonderful thing about Shovuos – indeed about every Yom Tov but especially about Shovuos - is that we come before G-d as one people: He gave the Torah to Israel as a whole unit - כאיש אחד. Whereas on Pesach each person has to eat Matsoh, each person has to be wary about Chomets and on Sukkos each person has to sit in the Sukkoh, etc, on Shovuos, the Torah is given to Yisroel as a unit. That’s why it’s called זמן מתן תורתינו - the time of the giving of the Torah, not זמן קבלת תורתינו – not ‘the time of receiving the Torah’.

The receiving of the Torah depends on our daily choices and can be renewed every day [see Rashi on אשר אנכי מצוך היום'’ in Krias Shema and in Parshas Yisro ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני - every day, we ‘receive’ the Torah anew]. It is not the receiving of the Torah that we celebrate on Shovuos, rather Shovuos is a time when we bind together and stand as a people before G-d, as He gives His Word to His people. We take part in that giving.

Though I may be far from what I should be, I can be present and take part in the giving of the Torah, taking my place within the unity of the people, because – I am one of them. Yisroel, as a unit, have counted the Omer. They have aspired to purify themselves. Each good deed, each thought or word, comes together to create a shining edifice of Knesses Yisroel. We are all part of that. We are the ‘collective bride’ and can all take part in G-d’s giving of the Torah.

What does that entail?

Shovuos is the culmination of fifty days after going out of Egypt. We find that fifty is a number associated with travelling. [See Zohar and Rabbeinu Bachye on וחמושים עלו בני ישראל מארץ מצרים.]  The letters that surround and divide the two pesukim that speak of the travelling and encamping of the Oron - ויהי בנסוע הארון and ובנחה יאמר - from the rest of the Torah [see Shabbos 116a] are nuns. Nun is gematria fifty. Yet, fifty also represents that which is removed from time or spatiality. The Gemoro [ibid.] says the inverted nuns indicate that these pesukim [- ויהי בנסוע הארון and ובנחה יאמר -]are not in their right place and עתיד – ‘in the future’ they we will be placed correctly. Yet we know that this Torah will never be changed! It’s almost as if these pesukim are in limbo, they have no place because they are ‘travelling’ pesukim, above space and time. This is the reason behind the two nuns that encircle them - to show that they are, as it were, עולם הבא pesukim. Fifty is often associated with Olom HaBo. This is what the Gemoro meant by עתיד – ‘in the future’ – a phrase that is often used to denote Olom HaBo. Olom Habo is above space and time; it is there that these pesukim have a ‘place’.

These two pesukim comprise an entire sefer of the Torah [ibid.][1] and speak primarily of the ארון ORON – the holy Ark. It did not take up any space (in the Kodesh HaKodoshim). ארון is made up of the letters אור ן' – i.e. the light of Nun.[2] It too represents that which transcends time and space – it is the ‘light of transcendence’.[3] And it is this Ohr Nun that is Shovuos at the culmination of the Sefiroh.

Thus we find that Shovuos is not defined by a specific date. It too is in limbo. It stands on a spiritual structure - of fifty days separated and sanctified individually and collectively through the Mitsvoh of Sefiroh that we have counted and thus created. It lies, as it were, above the normal cycle of time. It is here that G-d meets us. It is the manifestation of ‘לעולם לא ירדה שכינה למטה מעשרה טפחים’ – “The Shechinoh has never come down [revealed Itself] beneath ten handbreadths!”[4] On Shovuos we meet that Shechinoh that stands above ten tefochim. The same Shechinoh that spoke to Moshe from above the Oron, spoke – and speaks[5] - to all of us on Mt. Sinai.


Based on the writings of the Arizal, the Shaarei Teshuvoh says that during the last ten days of the Omer [not just on Shovuos, as is the prevalent custom], it is good to eat milk products. The reason lies in the metaphysical changes that are going on within the newly born people of Israel. Every year we go through a rebirth, starting with Yetsias Mitsrayim.

The seven weeks of the Omer counting correspond to various levels in the development of Bnei Yisroel: they are seen as the preparation of the bride [Israel] for its Groom [G-d], as the final ‘birth’ of Israel as a nation of G-d, and as the conclusion of seven cycles or ‘years’ of maturity, either from the ‘child’s birth or his Bar- Mitsvoh.

When the mother gives birth, the production of Prolactin causes her alveoli to take nutrients from her blood supply and turn them into milk, a process termed by Chazal as דם נעכר ונעשה חלב. This corresponds to the time of Matan Torah, of Shovuos, and the ten preceding days.

(Approximately ten days before Matan Torah, Israel asked היש ד' בקרבנו אם אין – “Is G-d in our midst or not?” The Zohar sees this as a critical time in Israel’s maturation. This was the חבלי לידה - the ‘birth-pangs’ - before the giving of the Torah. לידה is gematriah 49 – the birth takes place at the culmination of counting the 49 days. [The root of] חבלי has the same letters as חלב [milk]. Thus, during the last ten days, the time of חבלי לידה of the giving of the Torah, when the mother starts producing milk, the Ari says it is good to eat milk products.)

At birth, the child drinks his mother’s milk. This is (one mystically oriented explanation of) the common custom to eat milchigs on Shovuos, the spiritual birth of Yisroel as they became the עם סגולה, entering into the covenant of the Torah.

The Zohar and the Arizal say, that at the time of a Bris, a child gets his Nefesh Yisroel. Then follows 7 years of maturing, during which he starts to get greater ‘moichin’ culminating in the Bar-Mitsvoh, when he receives the level of Ruach. Then follow another 7 years of maturing, at the end of which, if he is untainted by sin, he will receive the level of Neshomoh. After that come even higher levels (Chayoh and Yechidoh). All this is hinted at when we wish a father who brings his son into the covenant of Avrohom Ovinu: כשם שנכנס לברית, כן יכנס לתורה ולחופה ולמעשים טובים. Bris is the first level, that of Nefesh. Afterwards is Bar-Mitsvoh where the boy accepts upon himself the yolk of the Torah and receives the Ruach: this is LeTorah. Then comes LeChupoh, where, hopefully he merits the stage of Neshomoh. And finally, Maasim Tovim, corresponding to higher levels still.

The Sefer Yetsiroh says all levels are repeated in עולם שנה נפש. Thus these stages are also played out through our Yomim Tovim. Pesach is the time of entering the covenant, the level of Nefesh Yisroel. That is why Pesach always has to be at the time of spring, signifying the beginning of life. The level of Nefesh is the primary level of entering into a covenant of Emunoh [faithfulness] to G-d. The seven weeks that follow signify the seven cycles or levels of maturation. At its culmination, we enter the level of Torah: this is Ruach.

After Shovuos, a purification process takes place, through which we enter ‘LeChupoh’ – this is the ‘canopy’ of the Sukkoh on Sukos, the level of Neshomoh. And finally, the level of מעשים טובים, on שמיני עצרת and שמחת תורה.

Shovuos then is when we collectively become Bar Mitsvoh. At this Bar Mitsvoh, as Israel becomes a man, G-d bestows upon us a gift that binds heaven to earth; that gift is Ruach, the level of Torah.

May we all merit to fulfill the Mitsvoh of Shovuos, have a fulfilling Shovuos through joy and may G-d bless each and every one of us with all our spiritual and physical needs. Omein.

Chag Samayach (Happy Holiday).

[1] See Rabbi Yitchok Isaaac Chover quoting the Gra that these pesukim represent the מדת יסוד of the Torah. See also פ' בהעלותך זרע קודש that they represent the whole Torah.

[2] זרע קודש ibid.

[3] The fact that it transcended time is indicated by the posuk at the end of Behalosecho - ובבא משה אל אהל מועד לדבר אתו וישמע את הקול מדבר אליו וכו'. The word Midaber indicates a constant talking. The talking was above time and revealed itself within time.

[4] See Succoh 5a that this refers to both the Shechinoh that was above the Oron and the Revelation on Mt Sinai.

[5] See פרקי אבות 6:2.


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