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Shavuot: Removing the Packaging and Reading the Instruction Manual

Understanding how G-d governs His world is key for anyone who takes their “tafkid” or calling in life seriously. This primordial or divine system of governance has been in place since creation. G-d then called the Jewish people to become partners with Him.

What better example than to use the dynamic of a clock. Time plays a pivotal part in the way we run and order our lives; we would be quite lost without it. So as the world keeps an eye on the clock, the Jewish people can be likened to the clock maker. We have to keep and maintain the cycles that are intricately connected one to another like the clock work of a watch. The Jewish people over the ages were the Keepers of Time, maintaining and sanctifying it through keeping the festivals as commanded by G-d in the Bible. Slowly but surely there is a rising awareness of these festivals in the world. Just more proof that the divine order is being restored and that we are ever moving closer to the time when G-d’s governance will be fully evident, understood, appreciated and maintained in the world.

Time management

More and more people realize that mismanaged time in the workplace has slowly eroded our quality of life. People spend a disproportionate time at work not being able to disconnect from the demand for immediate answers and solutions brought about by the high-tech age. Depression and anxiety is spiking and burnout is now an official medical condition. King David remedies this in Psalm 23:3 :

He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.

Let's try to understand this. The English translation here is a bit misleading. King David uses the work “ma-aglei tzdek”. The word’s primary meaning is a circle, circuit or cycle. The “repetitive” motion resulting from this then leads to cutting a path, an entrenchment of sorts. Look carefully at what precedes this idea - the restoration of the soul. It’s not just waters of rest or the lush pastures. It’s when we click into and start moving with G-d’s timing that He can affect the restoration of our souls.

Continuing with the idea of a path, the Hebrew word “Derech” refers to the way we need to conduct ourselves. G-d says in Jeremiah 6:16:

This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls”

There it is again, an ancient path, something that’s been established and set in place during creation that plays a pivotal part in the well-being of our souls.

When travelling on a road or “path”, we are obliged to keep a safe distance from those in front of us. This gives us the ability to respond instead of to react. In the same way we need to learn how to apply it in the sphere of time. With the constant demand of immediate answers to emails and WhatsApp messages, we’ve lost the ability and responsibility to respond from a place of calm and strength. Instead we are frantically trying to clear our inboxes to keep head above water. But there is a better way (pun intended). There is a set path, one that G-d established in the beginning of time. It’s time that we learn the rules of the road again. It’s time to learn how to go with the (divine) flow.

To better align ourselves with this principle and start applying it to our walk in life, we need to gain a better understanding of how this works, which brings me back to the Jewish or Biblical Feasts. After assembling all the elements of the our spiritual "radio" during the Seder meal on Pesach, we have now meticulously calibrated ourselves through the counting of the Omer, matching all the attributes, one with the other to make sure we are tuned-in to hear G-d's voice. This is Shavuot. When the Jewish People received G-d's Word on Mount Sinai.

The word "Shavuot" means weeks. That is why the festival is called the Feast of Weeks. It is connected to the seven weeks of the counting of the Omer. The festival is also called the Festival of Reaping as the wheat is now ready for reaping. Up till now it was the reaping of the Barley harvest. Another name for this festival is the Day of Bikkurim or First Fruits as it marks the beginning of the time period in which the offerings of the first fruits (of the seven species) are brought to the Temple. Lastly, it is also called Atzeret. The root of the word Atzeret means to refrain or stop. Shavuot in effect concludes the process that started during Pesach.

There are three ways to understand the giving of the Torah, two can be found in the story of Ruth and Boaz that we read on the morning of Shavuot.

The Ketubah: A Marital Contract and Covenant

The first is the story of Boaz, the Redeemer who married Ruth. The Torah is the eternal marriage covenant (Brit in Hebrew) or contract (Ketubah in Hebrew) between G-d and the Jewish people. On Shavuot G-d entered into a marital contract with the Jewish People, G-d as the groom and the Jewish People as His bride. Mount Sinai was the Chuppah (Wedding Canopy). There are tremendous depths to this subject, something that we will delve into, G-d willing, at a later stage.

The Threshing Floor

The threshing floor dynamic is very important for where we find ourselves at present. Over the last year or so, after Israel turned 70, a lot of people moved out of older-, set structures and establishments, and made brave leaps into the unknown. Some were even moved without a choice of their own. It comes as no surprise that the Government of Israel could not move forward after the elections. Something bigger is happening and it’s as if everything is in stasis, waiting for a more conducive time. Former Minister of Justice, Ayalet Shaked echoed it this week when she said that G-d intervened in the elections. Israel after 70 marks the beginning of a time of correction or what I like to call the restoration of the Primordial order. The Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato) speaks of it as the restoration of the Divine order which refers to the way G-d governs His world. A lot of this has to do with the role of the Jewish people in the land of Israel, and the world is slowly becoming more aware of this dynamic.

What happens at a threshing floor?

The whole organic structure that carried and brought about the ripening of the kernels is being removed. This separation process entails a stage of discomfort and friction. In ancient times they would beat the stalks or get oxen to tread upon the stalks to separate the kernel from the chaff.

Afterwards they would toss the stalks into the air for the wind to blow away the chaff, as the chaff is evidently much lighter in weight than the kernels itself. The kernels, the weighty substance carrying the future, will fall back on the floor where it is then gathered.

In modern day terms, after purchasing your household appliance, once you’ve transported it from the shop to your house, your remove all the packaging – the box, the foamalite and bubble wrap. All the packaging, that ensured that your product reaches its destination intact in order to now do its job, is being discarded. It has no intrinsic value.

Another example would be that of a spacecraft being launched into space. It is a big commotion with lots of smoke and noise, and it takes a lot of energy to propel a massive static object into space. But once it breaks through the resistance of our atmosphere, it seems to effortlessly glide through space. It is at this critical time that the team needs to disconnect the massive fuel tanks from the small remaining spacecraft. If they fail to do this procedure, the whole endeavor becomes counterproductive.

The very thing that carried you to this point, will hold you back, even incapacitate you, if you don’t let go at this critical moment.

The Almighty in His wisdom created it this way and there is no point in trying to get around it. You will waste time and energy that could and should be used for moving forward. This is part of the process. What helps is that we can become aware of the process, knowing that this too shall pass, and that the process itself will bring us to the place where we can ultimately fulfill the task He made us for.

The Instruction Manual

Seeing that G-d, the Creator of this world, knows what is necessary for this world to exist, He gave us in His wisdom and love the manual that goes with it and guides us through it. Again, every product comes with an instruction manual, written by its manufacturer. After all the packaging has been removed, every year, at Shavuot, within this faithful cycle, we recommit ourselves to His eternal life-giving Torah. And every year we glean more from its depths in order to restore and strengthen our souls and direct us on the road ahead.

Between Shavuot and Sukkot

The time between Shavuot and Sukkot is still part of the in-gathering of the grain. The next steps ahead will steadily become clearer. If we keep at it, ready to let go of the comfort zones of the “known”, bravely moving forward and making sure that we are aligned and positioned with G-d’s heart and plan, then I believe we will be able to make great strides ahead in the years to come.

Wishing all a Chag Shavuot Sameach, Zman Matan Torateinu.

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