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D'var Torah - Perashat Bamidbar & Shavuot

05/17/2018 05:05:00 PM


Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla


In a little town near Safed there lived an elderly couple. The husband was a farmer and he tilled, plowed and worked on the soil the whole year. He was too poor to employ someone else to help him with his hard work, and so he carried on himself, doing all that was necessary, and there was always a lot to be done on the farm.

One day a letter arrived for him, but as his eyes had grown weak through old age he was unable to read it. His wife could not read either, so he put the letter aside hoping that one day somebody would come and visit him and then he would ask for the letter to be read to him.

Time passed, but nobody called on him. Meanwhile, he forgot about the letter and thus it remained unopened and unread for quite a long time. He continued to till the ground until his feeble health gave in and he became bedridden.

It was then that his relatives came together to be with him for a little while. They stayed to keep him company, to keep his spirit up, and to help him to recover. They also helped with the cleaning of the house, and so it happened that the letter, tucked carefully away, was discovered.

The letter was opened and was read to him, and it was found that it contained very good news. He had been left a fortune by a relation living very far away. Had he only known about it many years before, he would not have had to work so hard in his old age, and he would have been able to preserve his energy and strength.

The farmer meekly remarked that he had always prayed and hoped that he might be helped not to have to work so hard in his old age. He prayed to be given a gift but he said he should have asked to receive the gift. For indeed, although the legacy had been given to him, he had not received it – at least, not in good time.

The festival of Shavuot is known as "the giving of the law". It was on the sixth day of Sivan, this year Sunday, May 20th, the day we celebrate Shavuot, that God descended upon Mt. Sinai to give the Jewish people the Torah His Holy law. Every year we celebrate Shavuot as the anniversary of "the giving of the law".

But what about receiving the law? That should not be done once a year, but must take place every day of our lives and every hour of our day. 

"And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart." We say twice every day in the Shema. Although the Torah was given once in our history, it behooves us to receive it every day. Today as much as yesterday, and tomorrow no less than today.

In fact, with every passing day, we must receive more and more of our Jewish heritage and the Jewish treasure contained in our Torah. Every day we grow older, stronger, and wiser, and that is why every day we must be able to fulfill more and more of the Torah, become more observant of our Jewish laws, customs, and traditions.

We will rejoice in the words of thy law, in thy commandments forever, for the life and length of our days", we say in our prayers every evening, but what is the use of that precious gift if it is given to us, but we have not the sense to receive it? What, for instance, would be the use of possessing good books from which we could learn a great deal if we never opened them in order to receive their teachings? Or what benefit would we derive from a medicine which the doctor has prescribed and which we have in our home, but do not take? Could we be cured that way? Indeed, no good purpose is served by anything we possess if we make no effort to use our possessions with understanding, with interest and keenness.

This Saturday night, Sunday, and Monday on Shavuot, we are receiving the most precious gift people can possess, and that is the Torah, "the length of our days".

But Shavuot will have no meaning, and our celebrations no purpose if we do not pay attention to the significance of the festival. What good is there in celebrating "the giving of the law" if we are not prepared to receive it at the same time?

May we all open our hearts and minds to the wisdom and beauty that is our Torah and receive all the glory it has to give. Amen

Shabbat Shalom, Moadim Lesimhah

Mon, August 20 2018 9 Elul 5778