title.jpg (23972 bytes) subscribe

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Shavuos - Everyone's Holiday

Everyone realizes that Passover and Sukkos are holidays for every Jew since all were part of the exodus form Egypt and all sat in sukkos in the desert. However, since Shavuos is the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah on Sinai, some may think that it is meant to be celebrated exclusively by Torah scholars. This is not true.

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3) relates an interesting story. Rabbi Yanai met an ignorant man in the street and, mistaking him for a talmid chacham (a Torah scholar), invited him to his house and gave him to eat and to drink. During the meal, Rabbi Yanai tried to converse with the man in words of Torah but found him to be totally void of any knowledge of the holy books. Finally, he suggested that the man at least recite the final blessing over the meal, but the man said, "May Yanai be blessed in his home." Disappointed, Rabbi Yanai insulted the fellow.

Suddenly, the guest jumped up and grabbed his host shouting, "My inheritance is by you and you are keeping it from me". Startled, the Rabbi asked him, "What do I have to do with your inheritance?" The man answered, "I once passed by a cheder (school for young children) and I heard the youngsters reciting, 'The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the Congregation of Ya'akov.' It doesn't say the inheritance of the Congregation of Yanai but of the Congregation of Ya'akov, which includes me!" Rabbi Yanai acknowledged his mistake and reprimanded himself for being too quick with his tongue.

Every single Jew has a part in the Torah; be it large or small. Every Jew is expected to learn some Torah daily. And every Jew may participate in the holidays related to the Torah.

I once heard an anecdote from Rabbi Warshavchik z"l.

On Simchas Torah, in a certain shul, the Rabbi and his students were singing and dancing enthusiastically. They, who spent most of their lives studying the holy books, felt great exultation on this day dedicated to rejoicing in the gift of the Torah. Suddenly, an ignoramus entered the synagogue, grabbed hold of a Torah scroll, and began dancing with great gusto. The scene was almost laughable and the Rabbi could not contain himself. He approached the man and asked him why he was celebrating so; since he had never even opened a holy book to study it, nor had he ever come to any of the Rabbi's classes.

There are two versions of what the man answered:

1) the American version:

Americans, as we know, are extremely lax in honoring their Rabbis. I once saw a book entitled, "How to handle your Rabbi." Among other impertinent things, it contained advice on how to deal with rebuke. "If your Rabbi chides you for doing such and such," it read, "ask him why he does such and such. That is guaranteed to get him off of your back."

According to this version, the man replied, "Rabbi, two weeks ago was Yom Kippur. On that awesome day, I came to shul and said everything it says in the machzor (Holiday prayer book). One of the lines of the vidui (confession) read, 'For the sins I committed by taking bribes.' Rabbi, let me ask you something: Do I take bribes? Why would anyone want to bribe me? Who takes bribes? The Rabbi who acts as a judge in the Jewish courtroom, that's who.

"So I figure like this. If I have to confess for your sins, then I may also dance with your Torah!"

2) the European version (the one told to us by Rabbi Warshavchik, which he appreciated very much):

The ignorant man replied respectfully to the Rabbi, "It's true that I, unfortunately, don't learn Torah; but don't I dance jubilantly when I attend my brother's wedding?

"You, Rabbi, are my brother, and you, certainly, have reason to rejoice. So I have come here to be a partner in your celebration!"

Actually, had the man known the Midrash we just cited, he would have given a better response. He would have replied just as the guest did, "It says, 'The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the Congregation of Ya'akov.' It doesn't say the inheritance of the Congregation of Yanai but of the Congregation of Ya'akov, which includes me! I have come to dance with the Torah since I, too, have a part in her - be it ever so small."

Shavuos is truly everyone's holiday and we should all pray for success in our learning; for us and for all of our generations after us.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel