The Soul of Shavuot

“Celebrating Shavuos with Reb Shlomo was not only immensely inspirational for me because he would relate beautiful teachings on the deeper content of receiving the Torah but he also offered a taste of its transcendental experience. Through teachings, singing, dancing, davening and storytelling Reb Shlomo sought to recreate not just the meaning of Mt Sinai but it’s spirit as well. Truth be said in almost any Reb Shlomo learning or Shabbat experience all these elements were present. Indeed the Chidushei Harim the first Gurer Rebbe said that Matan Torah the giving of the Torah was a one time occurence but Kabbalat Hatorah the receiving of the Torah is part of a daily ongoing process. So channeling an energy that takes us to what

Reb Shlomo sometimes called “beyond the beyond” is how a true Mt Sinai Jew is suppose to engage in Torah study. This approach is not reserved for the mystics but is meant for all. The Ishbitzer Rebbe told one of his prize pupils Reb Zodak Hachoen, after the two met for the first time and engaged in Torah study, that “one who studies Torah must feel that he is standing at the foot of Mt Sinai and he is hearing the Torah from the mouth of the all powerful one.”

The fact however is that for most of us a transcendental approach is not the norm in Torah study and so commemorating Mt Sinai annually serves as yearly reminder on how true Torah study needs to be learned and experienced . The busyness of life with its daily deadlines along with all our practical pressing needs do not allow us to easily enter into such a consciousness most of the time. It is important however to remember that learning Torah is not just about a process of imparting or receiving information, but it must touch and challenge one deeply enough to find a take away from it that can alter or enhance our life.

Radical outside of the box thinking that awakens something deep within us permeates many of Reb Shlomo’s teachings. It figures that on a holiday like Shavuos the spiritual expansiveness with which he taught would requires us to broaden our vessels to receive a transcendental all inclusive consciousness. I want to share a Shavuos teaching of his that I came across a few years ago that illustrates important lessons that I feel, reveals the broadness of his perspective of what the essences of a Mr Sinai Jew truly is."

As related by R’ Sam Intrator who was Reb Shlomo's manager and student for many years. He was the rabbi of the Carlebach Shul in Manhattan after Reb Shlomo's passing and is currently a rabbi in Miami Beach Florida.

Reb Shlomo on Ruth

House of Love and Prayer, San Francisco. Sivan, 5732. (1977)

Shavuos, the revelation on Mt. Sinai, is also the day of the passing away of King David. On that day we read the story of Ruth, his grandmother, Elimelech, a descendant of our father Judah, and a very rich Jew, was the high judge during a famine in Israel. He took his wife Naomi, and his two sons, Nahlon and Chilion, and went to Moab. There Nahlon and Chilion married the two daughters of the king of Moab, Ruth and Orpah. Then Elimelech, Mahon, and Chilion all died and the family lost all their money, so Naomi decided to go back to Israel, where the famine had already ended. Her two daughters' in-law walked with her, and both of them said, "I want to go with you, but Ruth meant it, and Orpah just said it. So Orpah stayed behind, and Ruth went with Naomi.

In Israel, in former good days, the four corners of the field belonged to the poor. The law is very strong; it's not that you cut off the corners of the field and give it to the poor, because then it is yours, and you are giving it away. You can't cut the four comers; they don't belong to you. It is the poor man's field. Another law is when you gather from the field, if you forget something you are not allowed to go back. If something falls it also doesn't belong to you. So, when Ruth and Naomi came back to Israel Ruth went to gather food, and by divine providence she went to the field of Boaz, who was actually a cousin to her husband. Boaz came to look at his field, and he saw a very, very beautiful woman; not just beautiful, in every way shining. He asked who she was, and his workers told him she was a princess of Moab who came to Israel, poor now. He said to the workers, Please make sure that a lot is forgotten, and a lot falls down, and during lunchtime, when you eat, give her some olives, some bread. The Torah says that the Moabite is not to be accepted into the congregation of Israel. Only if a Moabite converts, then after three generations he can become part of Israel. Why? It says because he did not bring you bread and water when you went into the desert." Who was the tribe of Moab? Moab was the son of the daughter of Lot. Lot was the nephew of Abraham. Abraham rescued Lot from Sodom by his prayers. That means Moab owed its whole existence to Abraham. Moab had a chance to pay back to the Jews what they owed them, what they owed father Abraham, by bringing them bread and water in the desert. In those days, who was to bring bread and water? Only the men. In those days women wouldn't go out of the house to bring bread end water to the desert. Suddenly, on the very day, the very instant that Ruth and Naomi crossed the border, the high court in Jerusalem started discussing the law which says a Moabite cannot come into the congregation of Israel. They said this means the male Moabite not the female, because she cannot be accused of not bringing bread and water. This became the new law.

In former good days the law was that if someone died, leaving a wife without children, someone in the family had to marry her. The day after the court decision Boaz said, "Someone has to do something for this girl. Someone has to marry her." There was one man who was a closer relative than Boaz, but that man was super-holy, and he said, "No, I couldn't marry a girl who was converted. I know the holy court decided the woman Moabite is O.K. but I am not so sure about the holy court." Boaz said, "O.K. then, I am next." Boaz married her, but the very sad thing is that Boaz died the next morning. That means he was married to Ruth for only one night. The Zohar says the reason Boaz came into the world was for just that one night. Ruth had a son, Obed; Obed had a son Yeshai, and Yeshai had a son David, the king of Israel, the ancestor of Messiach.

O.K. now, who was this woman, Ruth? Our father Abraham had two star pupils. One was Lot, his nephew, and the other was Chedorlaomer. Abraham was really giving; that was his message to the world. Suddenly his star pupil, Chedorlaomer, turns around and becomes the king of Sodom, where the law was that if you were caught giving something to the poor you were killed. If you killed someone, you were rewarded. If you hit someone you got paid. Everything completely perverted ... and Chedorlaomer became the king! A few months later the second star pupil of Abraham, Lot, took off also and became the high judge of Sodom. This was the end for Abraham. The Zohar says that after Lot left was the first time that Abraham really prayed for a son, because all the time he had thought, "I have two sons, maybe not physically my sons, but they are spiritually my sons. After they left he realized he had to have a son who would really continue. Listen to this. Who was the real star pupil of Abraham? The real star pupil of Abraham was a little girl, the daughter of Lot. She really absorbed all of Abraham's teaching. When her father went to Sodom she didn't want to go along, but what could she do? After she came to Sodom the most horrible thing happened. The poor wouldn't die in the streets anymore. The Sodomites couldn't find who was feeding them. This went on for a long time. If you remember the story, two angels came to Abraham and one of them said, "God sends word to you: Her crying reaches Me, and I am going to destroy Sodom." The other angel told Abraham he would have a son, Isaac. The Zohar asks what "her" crying is, who is this "she"? The answer is that day in Sodom the little girl was caught giving a piece of broad to a poor man. The Sodomites poured honey all over her and they put her on the roof, and she was eaten by the bees. This is the most painful death anyone can be subjected to. When the time is right, God works fast. The next day Sodom was destroyed, and Abraham needs another star pupil, Isaac. Although Isaac was very holy, be was ready to die for G-d, he doesn't compare to that girl. That girl died for giving a poor man a piece of bread. The Zohar Kodesh says that the soul of that girl came back to the world, and she was Ruth. So Messiach is the descendant of those two star pupils, Isaac, who was ready to die for G-d, and Ruth, the soul that really died for people. That's the story.

Reb Shlomo- The Holiness of Shavout Night


by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, New York, 1988.

On the night of Shavuot, Jews stay up all night learning the Torah. One of the reasons we stay up all night is because on the night prior to the revelation on Mount Sinai all the Jews went to sleep and had to be awakened by Moshe Rabbeinu. In remembrance of this event, we remain awake all Shavuot night.

The Alexandrer Rebbe asks a very interesting question. "How is it possible," he wonders, "that the Jewish people went to sleep on the night before revelation? After all, we learn from other sources that for forty nine days they prepared themselves spiritually in the deepest possible ways, counting the Omer every night so that they would be ready to receive the Torah. After working so hard to prepare themselves, why should they suddenly falter?”

"They slept that night," the Alexandrer Rebbe answered, "because of their great humility. They had learned humility from Moses who was the most humble man on Earth. On the night before the revelation each family member thought to himself, "G-d will reveal Himself to all the Jews but not to me and my family because we really don't deserve it" All the parents told their children on the night of Shavuot, "let's not go tomorrow morning to the revelation we will be the only ones who will be sent home by Moses, telling us that we are not ready yet."

The Alexandrer Rebbe then asks a second question. "Why do we behave as if their decision to sleep that night requires correction? After all, we have just said that their decision to sleep was based on humility, which would seem praiseworthy. Yet we commemorate their action by staying awake as if we were correcting an old mistake. Why should we stay awake if their sleep had such holy meaning?"

The Alexandrer Rebbe explains that what our forefathers did not understand is that no one can prepare himself well enough to actually deserve the Torah. It is solely a gift from heaven. We stay awake all Shavuot night in order to tell ourselves and our children, "It's true we have not prepared ourselves properly and it's true that we don't deserve to receive the Torah but G-d wants to give me a gift and I'd better be there on time."

Some of our sages explain their decision to sleep in a slightly different way. They say that we can compare our ancestors to a bride and groom. When do a bride and groom most feel like calling off a wedding? A few minutes before the wedding is when a bride and groom suddenly realize how awesome a marriage is and they become frightened. In the same way our ancestors became frightened that the Torah would be too much for them.

When we stay up all Shavuot night and learn Torah we give ourselves the strength to be fearless and to face everything that G-d puts in front of us. Let this Shavuot mark a new beginning to give us strength to begin our Yiddishkeit all over again. Let us not flinch from the responsibilities which this gift carries with it. Let us remember that the precious gift of the Torah is given to us not because we deserve it, but because it is indicative of G-d's great love for us.

With thanks to all the unnamed Chevra who transcribed and preserved these Torahs.