Category Archives: Shavuot Teachings
MESSAGE FOR SHEVOUOS 5771 ( 2011)
Based on “Shamati”, sayings of the Baal HaSulam recorded by his son HaRav Baruch Shalom Ashlag
This Tuesday night begins the two day Holiday of Shavouos. The first night of Shevous marks “Zman mattan Toraseynu” “the time of the giving of our Torah”.
As we know, Jewish Holidays are not meant just to remember something significant that once happened on a specific day in the past, but rather to signify that whatever special spiritual “ore” “light” shined on that day, shines every year on that day.
The Baal HaSulam points out, that as a matter of fact, not only was the giving of the Torah to us the Jewish Nation on Mount Sinai something that happened one time on the first Shavouos, but that the “light” of the “giving of the Torah” is an ongoing eternal concept, which started on the first Shavouos.
The only change today since then, is not regarding the “light”, but rather regarding us having the proper “Kailim” vessels to receive this “light”. Therefore then on Shavouos this “light” was revealed, as apposed to now when even though the same light continues it is never the less concealed.
At the time of “Matan Torah” “the giving of the Torah” the entire Jewish Nation was at its peak level of Holiness, and stood by Mount Sinai “keish echad belaiv echad” “like one man, with one heart”!! This means they all were at the level of doing for each other, totally 100% “al manas lahashpia” “for the sake of bestowing“. It was this level of pure “kavanah” “intent” which enabled them to have the proper vessels to receive the Torah, thus enabling the “light” to be
Therefore we see that although the giving of the Torah which took place on Shavouos by Mount Sinai never ceased, it is never the less incumbent upon us to make the proper kailim to receive the Torah! Of coarse when we feel that the Torah and/or the observance of it is too distant (difficult) from us, we tend to “blame” that on the Torah itself, when in reality it is us that are lacking of having the proper kailim to receive the Torah!
I once heard a Talmid Chacham explain the following thought; We see that every Jewish calendar year has a cycle of Holidays, Pesach, Shavouos, etc. We need to view this yearly cycle not only two dimensionally as the same repetitive cycle every year, but rather we should view it three dimensionally like a spiral staircase. That means to say, that yes indeed the same Holidays come on the same Jewish dates every year, but we should not anticipate to experience an upcoming Holiday in a new year just like we did the year before, but rather we should make the preparations within ourselves to greet the upcoming Holiday on a higher “madreygah” “level” than the previous year. So too with all the Holidays. Every Shevouos gives us the potential to boost our level of “receiving” the Torah! We therefore need to prepare ourselves for this monumental occasion of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
May we all, through our Torah study and observance, with the help of HaShem, merit to transform our “Ratzon” “will” to be on a higher level of “al manas lahashpia” than the year before, and thus “tap in” to the “Ore” of “Matan Torah” which not only then began to shine, but was also revealed by having been received and comprehended in its totality at Mount Sinai on Shevouos.
Kabbalists regard the Mount Sinai Revelation as the climax of human history, as on this day we were given the opportunity to manifest everything that we wanted and everything that we might ever want. Since then, humanity has been trying to regain what we had on Mount Sinai. The Torah with all its commentaries has only one goal, which is to bring humanity to the state that it had achieved on Mount Sinai.
The Revolution in Human Consciousness
The Revelation on Mount Sinai has three messages that have affected human history and is still behind the drive that we humans have, for a better future, for all of us:
1. The quantum leap from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light
The journey to Mount Sinai symbolizes more than anything, the road every person should take in order to become a real human, a being created in the image of God. The consciousness of the slaves in Egypt represents the state of mind of desperation and helplessness. The one who is busy blaming others for all his troubles, aches and pains, is a slave to despair and to his mistakes of the past. He would also be an eternal slave to the stupidity and/or tyranny of others. The slave cannot see any option for a different reality; he’s enslaved to his state of mind of hopelessness. The Exodus and the counting of the Omer symbolize every person’s ability to leap and jump beyond the 49 gates of impurity, beyond despair and darkness and transform his reality to the exact opposite. That exact opposite is being represented by the holiday of Shavuot. It is said that, during the Mount Sinai Revelation, the nation of Israel stood under the Mountain, united as one person. It was a real unity of love and caring among all the individuals of the entire nation. Therefore, when the tablets where given (Exodus 32:16), the sages say that there was “freedom” on the tablets.
“Freedom” is a state of mind whereby a person is connected to his real essence, the image of God. A person who’s in touch with the concept of being created in the image of God understands that freedom means taking total responsibility for his destiny, for his actions and for his emotions, feelings and thoughts. Freedom is the ability to navigate upwards. Mount Sinai Revelation gave us hope, the ability to believe that a solution is around the corner, that we have the power to create a new, better reality. We only have to keep on having faith and keep on trying. Mount Sinai Revelation gave us a great gift, the ability to experience true love. True authentic love can be found only among free people, those well-connected to their own essence – the image of God. This is not the love that most people experience which is really a form of dependency that brings the person to despair, anguish and misery.
2. Having faith in goodness and honesty
The Ten Utterances known better, by mistake, as The Ten Commandments, and the consciousness they represent, signify the biggest revolution in the history of human consciousness. The Zohar sees The Ten Utterances as the manifestations of the Ten Sefirot of The Tree of Life, emanations of goodness and bliss from The Creator to His beloved Creations. This is also a manifestation of the rule that teaches that “The purpose of The Creation is to give His bliss and goodness to His created beings”. It was the first time in the history of mankind that a system of rules was revealed that explained the system of “cause and effect”, in a way that had the ability to take humanity out of the darkness. The Torah is teaching that moral behavior, taking responsibility, and faith in goodness will be rewarded with success in all walks of life, especially fulfillment in this world and in the world to come. The rules of the Torah are not temporary, man-made rules; these are universal laws that are also the covenant between a person and his creator, above the limitations of time, space and human logic. Statistics of the last few decades show that there is a direct relation between the social and economic status of a society and their faith and belief in the rules of “cause and effect” and the laws of The Ten Utterances.
3. The Journey towards Immortality
The Zohar is teaching us that one of the greatest gifts given on Mount Sinai was the gift of immortality. The sin of Adam brought to the world, the curse of death and the Mount Sinai Revelation is a symbol for the correction of Adam’s Sin. According to the Kabbalists, the spiritual consciousness of the holiday of Shavuot would bring humanity to the understanding, that death and aging are not a decree from heaven, but are curable conditions. It is known that happy and spiritual people get less sick and their ability to recuperate is much better than other people. According to many Kabbalists, we are facing the times in which human consciousness will internalize the message that true freedom is at hand, and freedom from the angel of death (known in Jewish tradition as the Resurrection of the Dead) will be a true possibility. It is not by coincidence that the anti-aging industry grew so much during the last few years.
How can we connect to all of this during Shavuot?
It is written in the Zohar and in the writings of Rabbi Isaac Luria that during the counting of the Omer we are building our ability to escape from slavery, to become free. As the holiday of Shavuot enters, at sundown, a very powerful metaphysical force descends to our world; this force is called in the language of the Kabbalists the “Sefira of Keter”. This force is what can connect us to all the concepts and understandings that have been mentioned above. We can compare it to a downloading of a very highly advanced computer program. The downloading continues throughout the night. The way to tap into this gift is by reading a text as per the instructions of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai and Rabbi Isaac Luria. This text is called the “Tikun of Shavuot” and it is made of selected verses from each Parasha (The Five Books of Moses are devided to more that 50 parts, called Parasha) in the Torah (three verses from the beginning and from the end of each Parasha), the prophets and from all the other books of the Tanakh, The Bible (all 24 of them). The reading continues with different texts from the Mishna, Sefer Tetsira (The Book of Formation) and the Zohar. The reading goes on through the whole night. In the morning, after the Morning Prayer, The Mount Sinai Revelation story is being read from the book ofExodus. The Zohar and The Midrash teach that the events of Mount Sinai Revelation can be called the wedding between The Holy Blessed Be He and the nation of Israel. Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai teaches us in the Zohar, that the all night study is like the preparation of the garments and adornments of the bride, and the ones who prepare the bride for the wedding, will be her best men during the great moment. The power of this night and the morning following is so great, says the Zohar, that whoever follows the above instructions is guaranteed that he won’t die that year and no harm can find him, physically or spiritually. Shavuot’s power is greater than that of Yom Kippur’s, since whoever was sentenced to death on Yom Kippur can reverse the decree on Shavuot. And this is how the holiday of Shavuot connects us to the dreams and hopes of humanity, since the dawn of its history, the hope for true love, unity, immortality and the freedom from The Angel of Death and from all pain and suffering.
For additional study on Shavuot and other holidays enter Live Kabbalah University
The holiday of Shavuot is a celebration of the ‘Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai’— when infinite Divine intelligence was revealed within the finite world of time and space.
When this intelligence first entered the world, it was an utterly simple seed: the entire Torah was encapsulated within theAlef, the first letter of the first word revealed at Sinai. This is called the klal of the Torah, its original ‘generality’ or unified state. From this original klal, the Torah began to flower into ‘many-ness’: the first word became the first sentence, known as the first “Commandment”, which expanded into two sentences and then ten. These ten sentences were then articulated as the 613 mitzvot, then the thousands of words in the five books of the Chumash, and the countless meanings, lessons, applications, complexities and details—‘pratim’—of Torah wisdom.
FROM KLAL TO PRATIM
The pattern of ‘one evolving into many’ is found throughout Creation: the klal, like a seed, sprouts and flowers as pratim—diverse expressions of the original package.
All organisms, including our own bodies, begin with a single cell. This cell divides innumerable times, differentiating according to innumerable needs and functions. As babies, our lives are very simple. As we mature, we begin to form more and more complex preferences and opinions. Similarly, the Jewish People began as one person— the first Jew-by-birth being Yitzchak—and eventually became a diverse group of tribes each with different characteristics and paths.
Creation itself began in utter simplicity: the Torah calls the first day of Creation “Yom Echad”, a ‘Day of Oneness’. On subsequent days, this ‘oneness’ began to unfold itself as ‘the many’. Even Divinity itself seems to have ‘evolved’ according to this pattern. Prior to the Tzim-tzum, the Divine Self-contraction, the Infinite Light existed without boundaries, gradations, or attributes. After the Tzim-tzum, vastly diverse vessels, worlds, and levels of Divinity came into being.
After Sinai, the People of Israel naturally began to fashion Torah-pratim, because it was too hard to understand or internalize the original klal*. Perhaps the experience of revelation was too overwhelming. Perhaps too much information was packaged in the seed-like words to make sense to the limited human mind. The Talmud, Tractate Shabbos 88a, discusses this, interpreting the verse, And they stood under the mount…: “This 2 teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an inverted casket, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, good. If not, this will be your burial.’ This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah.” In other words, the direct revelation was imposed from above. One can’t fully internalize information without consciously choosing it or participating in it. Therefore the people had to become creative with the Torah, and apply it to the details of their lives.
PRATIM RETURNING TO THE KLAL
This is not the end of the story, however. The Talmud continues: “Said Raba, ‘Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Achashveirosh, for it is written, They confirmed, and took upon themselves… They confirmed what they had accepted long before.’” In order to fully internalize the revelation, the community had to re-accept it many centuries later, during the events of the Purim story.
In the era of Purim, the Jewish People had fallen away from the practice of Torah, and the last generation of Prophecy had ended. They were living in exile, and finally, anti- semites had decided to wipe them out. This threat stimulated the Jews to band together. When, as one, they re-accepted the Torah, a great salvation occurred. Queen Ester asked that the story of this extraordinary salvation be written as a sacred text, that it be considered part of the Torah, and that a new Yom Tov be created. Her innovations were unprecedented, for what human being can create Divine words or commandments?
However, the power to co-create Divine wisdom comes from the Torah itself. The Jerusalem Talmud says that every chidush, every authentic innovation in Torah created by human beings throughout history, was actually given to Moshe at Sinai. This seems paradoxical: if it is an innovation, how can it be “given”? And if the insight was really given on Sinai originally, how is it a chidush? At Sinai, the Torah was revealed as a klal, but the p’ratim were not yet fully revealed. When we employ our creative process of innovation, and stay true to the original klal, our innovation can become an actual part of the Divine revelation. With Queen Ester, a new era had begun, in which human and Divine can co-create Torah.
Woven into the fabric of the pratim, the ‘many’, is the memory of a klal, an all-inclusive source. Everything and everyone yearns to return to its klal. We may long for our own childlike simplicity and innocence, or for wholeness, or to be included within the klal of a group identity. The deeper spiritual instinct behind this yearning is to embrace ourselves and others in non-dual awareness. Ultimately, we seek to bring all of Creation back with us to the One. The means to this ultimate accomplishment is the Divine intelligence transmitted through the Torah.
Tikkun, repair, is to return something to its original wholeness and unity. On Shavuos night, when we recite the Tikkun Layl Shavuos—the Kabbalistic compilation of verses from the Five Books, the Prophets, the Writings, and the seminal books of divine inspiration—we are not literally ‘studying’ Torah. Rather, we are sweeping through the texts, and gathering together the Torah’s pratim into a simple wholeness. We thus return the Torah to its source. By remaining awake all night, immersed in words of Torah, we become highly receptive, and thus able to internalize something of the klal. We re-live the experience of Sinai, each year bringing more of the klal down into the human mind and heart.
When Abraham first encountered the Divine, he heard the words, “I will make you into a great nation (Genesis 12:2).” Hundreds of years later, when his descendents stood at Sinai, they indeed became a singular nation, “like one person with one heart”. However, this unity didn’t erase the uniqueness of any individual: the Midrash says that at Sinai, each person heard the Divine voice (klal) speaking as his or her own unique, personal voice (pratim).
Similarly, while the first seed of Torah was prior to any differentiation, it did contain the potentiality of all Torah-details. After the process of differentiation, the pratim of Torah can be gathered into the klal through tikkun. However the pratim don’t then merge back into an undifferentiated state—this wholeness includes differentiation. ‘Oneness’ and ‘many-ness’,klal and pratim, are now simultaneous. This is the difference between the original klal of Sinai, and the klal created through the ingathering ofpratim.
Again, we can understand this pattern in our own lives. At first, when we were babies, we had no separate ego—everything was just an extension of our bodies. When we grew, we began to develop an individual ego, an identity separate from everyone else. In a state of spiritual maturity, however, our ego becomes transparent: ‘I exist, and so do you.’ As an example, in this phase of inclusivity, spouses are able to meet and co-create new babies.
REVELATION, INNOVATION, REVELATION
Now we can appreciate a diagram of the process of revelation. The Zohar teaches that there’s an underlying unity between the Divine Source, the Torah, and its practitioners—like three links in a chain.
When Hashem reveals to us Divine wisdom from above, at first we experience overwhelm. However, as we begin to internalize and integrate the experience, our love for the Divine awakens from below, and we seek to re-unite with Hashem. With gratitude we bring our innovations back to their Source, making a tikkun by enfolding our pratim into the klal.
In unity with our Source, our innovations are Hashem’s innovations, so-to-speak. Then the chain of revelation forms a continuous cycle: oneness flows into many-ness, many-ness into Oneness and back into many-ness. This is the flow of light that we can access on the holiday of Shavuos, and every day.
May we merit to be open to receive the Torah; “May You enlighten our eyes with Your Torah, and attach our hearts to Your mitzvot, and unite our hearts to be in love and in awe of Your name,” amein.
*Note: The sages hold various opinions about what the community actually heard, and were able to internalize, on Sinai. Eben Ezra says (commenting on Shemos, 20:1) that the people heard and understood each of the Ten Commandments. Ramban says all Ten Commandments were heard, and to some extent internalized, by the whole congregation. However, only the first two Commandments were clear to them, and Moshe had to repeat and explain the latter eight (see Shemos, 20:7). Rashi suggests (commenting on Shemos, 19:19), that only the first two Commandments were directly transmitted to the people, whereas the subsequent eight Commandments had to be transmitted through Moshe. Rambam says they heard the Divine voice and experienced the revelation, but couldn’t make any sense out of any of it (Morah, 2:33). Therefore, the majority of these major commentators indicate that the original klal of the Torah was not understood or internalized by the people.
Pesach (Passover) is considered a holiday of grace… The Sons of Jacob, not yet the “Jewish People”, are put in slavery and then liberated because of a promise G!d made with Abraham, not due to their own deeds. It was an undeserved liberation of grace with great signs and awesome miracles. The Sons of Jacob were then taken into the desert where they traveled for 49 days (Exodus 19:1) until reaching Mt Sinai where they received the Torah (Ten Commandments/Utterances) and became a nation, The Jewish People. After receiving these holy guidelines for living in alignment with G!d they continued on their way to the “Land of Israel”, a land/place where they could fully live out their new found connection with G!d (The Ultimate/Heaven) in this world (the relative/earth/creation).
This story is continuing to be lived out to day and as well can be a metaphor for the spiritual path. Let me explain: Pesach is still a holiday of grace and liberation… Through telling the story of exodus and engaging in the process of the seder we can reach great heights… through 4 cups of wine, asking many questions, participating in guided meditations, the doors of liberation can be opened. After staying up all night contemplating slavery and freedom we find ourselves in an altered state/reality. This is the grace of Pesach and it leads us into the journey towards Sinai and Shavuot through the desert – the struggle, avodah (spiritual work) of the omer (counting the days till Shavuot). The omer provides us with a framework within which we can start to earn our way to the mass revelation on Sinai (or in other words – the mass revelation of Divine Will on Earth). Through our own work and struggle we prepare our selves to be vessels to receive the Torah (The blueprint or guidelines for living a Divine life on earth). This is done by using the omer and its corresponding sefirot to begin to purify all the different aspects of our selves/identities from the second night of Pesach until the night before Shavuot.
The work of the omer and this period of 7 weeks now gives us the chance to create and forge a personal relationship with G!d based on our own actions, struggles and hard inner work. After receiving a revelation and liberation of Divine Grace we now work our way up through the purification process of the omer to a well deserved revelation of the Torah (Way to live Heaven on Earth).
And that’s exactly what the Torah is… It’s Divine guidelines for how to live a Shamayim (heaven) based life on Aretz (earth)… As it says at the end of the 2nd paragraph of shema (so that you and your children’s lives can be lived out on the face of the ground/earth that G!d swore to your to your for fathers to give to them, like heaven on earth).
So, Shavuot is like Earth/Aretz, for on Shavuot we learn how to live a G!d centered reality on Earth… We take the heaven-like experience and revelation/liberation of Pesach and bring it down to Earth.