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Shavuot: Torah Study, Humility, and Unity (Dvar Torah) by Rabbi Yisroel Levy

The story goes that when a junior accountant in one of the top accounting firms asked his manager for two days off for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Shavuot, his request was met with some skepticism. Having already granted multiple days off recently for the Passover holiday, the manager approached a Jewish colleague to verify if this was a genuine request. The Jewish colleague instantly gave his verdict: “Your Junior is pulling a fast one. I’m Jewish and I’ve never heard of such a holiday!”

While the story may be apocryphal, the truth is that Shavuot remains the least observed of all Jewish holidays. The fact that Shavuot celebrates the seminal event defining the unique path of the Jew, the Revelation at Mount Sinai, makes it even more perplexing.

How then should we, who have the privilege of the knowledge and observance of Shavuot, prepare ourselves for the holiday? Is it all about cheesecake?

In the Torah’s account of the Revelation at Mount Sinai in Sefer Shemot, the pasuk says:

פידים ויבאו מדבר סיני ויחנו במדבר ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההרויסעו מר

To paraphrase, “They left “Refidim, they came to the desert and camped…”

The Or HaChaim comments that this pasuk contains a three-faceted formula for readying ourselves for Shavuot and Kabbalat HaTorah.

Drawing on the words of our sages, he says that רפידים can be read as רפו ידיהם מדברי תורה, suggesting that they first abandoned this laxity in study, מרפידים ויסעו, and committed themselves to Torah learning. Additionally, the mention of the desert, as in other texts, denotes humility. Finally, the use of the singular form, ויחן, for the mass encampment of all of Israel reveals their unity.

Rabbi Osher Weiss suggests that the “Three Days of Preparation before Shavuot – שלושת ימי הגבלה” is the perfect time to embrace these three ideas.

By emulating our forebears, recommitting ourselves to Torah study, behaving with humility, and avoiding strife by focusing on unity, we will be ready to, once again, receive the Torah on Shavuot.

And may we merit to see the day when all Jews are blessed with the knowledge to share the joy of celebrating Shavuot and all Jewish holidays!

Chag Sameach!

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