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Weekly Chizuk

Appreciating Shavuos

A Love Affair with Hashem

Some thoughts as we approach Shavuos.

You shall count until the day after the seventh week, [namely,] the fiftieth day, [on which] you shall bring a new meal offering to the Lord. (Vayikra 23:16)

The Holiday of Shavuos is unique among the Yomim Tovim. All the other festivals have a set date. Shavuos has no set date. Instead, it occurs after we finish counting the Omer.

There is a famous Kli Yakar on this possuk who writes that this new mincha offering is a hint to the holiday of Shavuos, which is the Yom Tov commemorating the giving of the Torah. The Torah specifically didn't mention a set date for Shavuos, the holiday of receiving the Torah. Torah should be new every day. When we receive a new present we are extremely happy and have a very special appreciation of it. After a while, the newness wears off, and so does our appreciation. Torah should be new to us each day. We have to renew our appreciation of it and feel sincere joy that we were granted this wonderful gift. Shavuos is generally celebrated as the day commemorating the Giving of the Torah. We renew our commitment to Torah and prepare to learn Torah with greater devotion, diligence, and depth.

But Shavuos is not only for the Lomdei Torah, it is for all of Klal Yisroel. Let us understand it in a more general light.

When one gets an Aliya to read the Torah he makes a bracha. And then another bracha afterwards.

The after bracha praises Hashem Who has given us the Torah of truth and planted eternal life within us. This bracha is made after we have read the Torah and know what is in it. Torah is the truth and the source of eternal life. However, before we read the Torah we don't know what is in it. So what praise can we give?

Blessed are You, L-rd our G d, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all the nations and given us His Torah.

We have been chosen by Hashem to receive His Torah. It is a special present that belongs to Hashem, and we are privileged to have been chosen as His nation to receive the Torah.

This concept of our being chosen is a very important one. It is so important that we emphasize it every day, only unfortunately many of us don't pay attention.

At Shacharis, after reciting the pesukei d'zimra, we make two brachos. First we recite the bracha of Yotzer Or, we praise Hashem for creating the light. This is really a very deep bracha. It is a praise for the entire Creation. Twice we recite, "Who in His goodness renews the act of Creation every day." Light is referring to very deep Kabbalistic concepts that the very fabric of the Universe is really very fine emanations of Hashem's Divinity which can only be described the light - the most delicate and fine creation which is almost nothing but is something. Then we switch over to describe the Malachim praising Hashem with the mystical declaration Kodosh Kodosh Kodosh.

Thus the first bracha is regarding all of Creation.

Then we come to the second bracha. After praising Hashem for the entire Creation, we zero in on His special people.

Whether you say Ahava Rabba ahavtanu (You have loved us a great love) or Ahavas Olam (an eternal love) this whole bracha describes Hashem's love for Klal Yisroel. Yes, that's right, He loves us. Our forefathers trusted in Him. We pray that He should grant us understanding in Torah, and through the Torah we will merit to be brought out of galus into our land. We conclude that He has chosen us from all the nations, and brought us close to Him. Baruch ata Hashem, Who has chosen His nation of Yisroel with Love!

Hashem love us.

And what do we respond? "And you shall love the L rd your G d with all your being!

He loves us, and we love Him.

Our relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the relationship of a choson and his kallah. It is a love affair.

There are three major holidays in the Jewish calendar: Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos. The commentaries regard them as a marriage ceremony. On Pesach Hakadosh Baruch chose us. He took us for his own and made Kiddushin. We were separated from all the other nations and became betrothed to Hashem.

And like a kallah who counts seven days of purity before the wedding, Hashem instructed us to count seven weeks of purity before the chupa - Shavuos.

Succos is the Sheva Brachos when we sit in the cheder yichud and rejoice with our Choson.

* * *

This love is a very deep love that Klal Yisroel has for Hakadosh Baruch Hu. It has withstood the test of time. In each generation the goyim stand up against us to break our bond with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, but they have always failed. Let me tell you a story (heard from Rav Ezriel Tauber).

During the Holocaust there were a group of Chassidishe Yungerleit led by Mattisyahu. He was born into an aristocratic assimilated family. However, he became a baal teshuva at a young age. One day as he made his way home from gymnasium (the name for high school in Poland) he saw a gathering of religious Jews. There was a reception for the Chortkover rebbe. He had never seen such black guys like these. He became very curious. He was a very determined boy, so he pushed his way in to the front. He saw the Rebbe and got a sudden urge to talk to him. He got in and spoke to the Rebbe for one hour. When he came home he told his parents, "I want to learn Torah." Of course his parents disagreed vehemently. But as we said he was a very determined boy. He ran away, joined a yeshiva and became a Talmid Chochom, a Gerer Chossid.

When the Germans occupied Poland they first made decrees: cut off your beard and peyos. He told his chaveirim, we're not going to capitulate. The Germans are not only out to take our bodies, they want our Neshamos, our Torah. We're going to die anyway. So let's die with our gemoras in our hands, and with our beards and peyos. So he and his friends went underground. They learned Torah in hiding. At first they were scorned, but eventually they were admired and became the pride of the communities.

After the War, they found a diary of one of these Mattisyovchik's in one of the last surviving houses of the Warsaw ghetto. The Germans methodically burned the houses down, one by one. There was fire, and suffocating smoke. Many jumped out of the windows into the fire with their gemaras in their hands shouting Shema Yisroel. This young bochur was the last one in his bunker. He wrote a diary and put it in a bottle and buried it. They found it after the war. "I'm the last one in the bunker. I'm swollen from starvation, unbearable pain, smoke is choking me. It's a matter of an hour or two. The fire is going to come to get me. Halachically I'm permitted to jump into the fire in order to save myself from the unbearable suffering. I have to decide." He writes that he's debating whether or not to commit suicide in order to save himself that hour or 2 of unbearable suffering.

"I decided I'm not going to jump." He reminded himself of a story of the Spanish Inquisition. When the Inquisition started many Jews left. But many Jews went underground and became Marranos. If the Inquisition found them practicing Yiddishkeit they would be burned alive at the stake. There was one wealthy aristocratic family who went underground. One day a friend told him, you had better escape. They smell a rat. They found out you're keeping mitzvos. If you don't run, they'll burn you alive. Without questions, he took his family, left everything behind and started running. It was days, weeks on the run. It was a terrible situation. They were starving, sick, and struggling just to keep alive and keep the mitzvos. Finally he reached Morocco and went into a refugee camp. The conditions were terrible. But at least he was alive. He could keep Shabbos, put on tefillin.

Then the camp was struck with a plague. People were dying right and left. One day a child didn't get up. He didn't say a word. לך דומיה תהילה. He kept quiet. Then another child, and another. He kept quiet. He kept fighting for life. He didn't let anything crush him. Finally his wife didn't get up. Now he spoke up.

"Ribono Shel Olam. What else is there left for you to test me with and try to crush me. You brought an Inquisition and hundreds of thousands of Yidden got expelled. You couldn't crush me. I went underground. And that was torture. I lived in constant fear of being discovered and burnt alive. I did it willingly to express my devotion to You. I got caught. But You didn't crush me. I ran just to serve You further. You took away a child, and then another child. You couldn't crush me. You took away my wife. But You still can't crush me. I sill love you. I still believe in You. What else is there left for You to try to crush me. I have only 2 things left. One is my life. The second thing is my emuna, my love for you. If you want to take away my life. Go ahead, it's not mine, it's yours. הנשמה לך והגוף פעלך.

But if you think you can take my emuna away, You're wrong. No. That's mine. It belongs to me alone. I'll prove it to you. Even if you take my life, I'm going to give it back to you with my full devotion. I will continue to love You with all my soul."

This Mattisyavchik writes. "I reminded myself of this story. I said to myself, am I a fool? I'm debating whether to commit suicide? These 1 or 2 hours are the most beautiful and precious moments in my life. I'm facing Hashem Himself. I can tell Hashem: I'm showing you my total and absolute devotion. I'm going to fight for even one extra moment so I can tell You, Hashem I love you.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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