Shavuot - Stories & Inspiration

Shavout : Torah Stories and Story Torahs

Dear Friends,

Shalom uvracha mi'Yerushalayim!

Blessings of the sweetest Torah to all. The most important thing is to ready ourselves to receive Hashem and His Torah. We need to open our hearts to receive it. Our minds serve to digest and ingest its words into our beings, but we receive it with our hearts. Tonight we celebrate the great wedding of Hashem and Am Yisrael and all are invited. We will get dressed nicely and we will have a festive meal with song and dance; but most important is that we enter into the Chuppah [some synagogues actually set up a wedding canopy] willingly and sincerely. May Hashem give all of us the strength to pray and celebrate this holiday with joy, and may Hashem answer all of our prayers.

From the Festival Amidah

"Bestow upon us Hashem, our G-d, the blessings of Your festivals, for good life and peace, for joy and gladness, as You desired and promised to bless us. Sanctify us with Your commandments and grant us our share in Your Torah; satiate us with Your goodness, gladden our soul with Your salvation, and make our heart pure to serve You in truth. Grant us our heritage Lord our G-d, with joy and gladness, Your holy Festivals, and may all Israel who sanctify Your Name rejoice in You. Blessed are You Lord, who sanctifies Israel and the [festive] seasons."

We will be reading Parshat Naso this Shabbos. Today we have a number of teachings from various sources. The story about Zalman's new shirt was written in 2001, when it actually occurred. There is an excerpt from one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's sichos on Shavuot and a Shavuot letter from Reb Shlomo Carlebach zt"l, as well as a teaching from Reb Shlomo on Ruth.

We wish you a Good Yom Tov! May we all merit to receive the Torah b'simcha! Always - every day of our lives.

Have a wonderful Shavout!!, b'ahavah ubivracha Sholom

▪ Reb Shlomo on Ruth ▪ Zalman The Holy Beggar Gets A New Shirt ▪ From the Lubavitcher Rebbe ▪ Reb Shlomo- The Holiness of Shavout Night ▪ PARSHAT NASO CHAG SHAVUOT - ZMAN MATAN TORATEINU

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.

Zalman The Holy Beggar Gets A New Shirt

This morning I had the opportunity to go to a 'vassikin minyan' in my neighborhood. {A 'vassikin minyan' starts the morning service about 30 minutes before sunrise, so that the Amiddah prayer is begun exactly at sunrise. This ancient tradition is mentioned in the Talmud: ...Rebbe Yochanan has said: the [holy] ancients would conclude the reading of the Shma Yisrael, just as the sun rose, sot hat the prayer of redemption should be followed immediately by the Amiddah prayer. Thus the Amiddah would be recited right at the start of the day. Said Rebbe Zeyrah: where do we find an allusion to this in the Scriptures? In Psalms 72:5 we read: "So that they will fear You as long as the sun is upon them, and as long as the moon is before them, throughout all generations." (B'rachot 9b) ['they will fear You as long as the sun is upon them', is understood as- they will stand in prayer before You as soon as the sun rises.]

[The obligation to pray the morning 'Amiddah' [the 'shmoneh - esreh' prayer that is said standing, therefore it is called the Amiddah prayer] begins at the very beginning of the day, at the moment of sunrise. Therefore the 'vassikin' [or 'vatikkin'], the holy people of ancient times would start their morning prayers about thirty to forty minutes before sunrise so that they could conclude the first part of the morning prayers and the Shma Yisrael right before sunrise, and they would start the Amiddah prayer exactly at sunrise.] It was a most wonderful experience to be praying with these holy yiddelech who have been praying together everyday for probably more than fifty years. Though most of them are elderly, they arise very early each morning b'ezrat Hashem to pray and continue this holy tradition of the 'vassikin'. Reb Shlomo ztz"l often spoke lovingly about the holy beggars of Jerusalem. This morning I had the privilege to be in the company of some of them, and to pray and learn from them. Presently we are busy getting ready to celebrate Shavuot, the holiday that is "zman mattan Torateinu" the time of the giving of our Torah. Everyone is asking, "Why is this aspect of the Shavuot holiday not mentioned explicitly in the Torah?" In the Torah we find that there were two specific mitzvot that were done on Shavuot: the offering of the "two breads", and the bringing of the "first fruits", but it does not say to celebrate Shavuot as a remembrance of the giving of the Torah! Why not? One of the well known answers to this question is that Hashem did not designate any one particular day in remembrance of "mattan Torah" because we have to "receive the Torah" every single day of our lives, just as Hashem is "notein HaTorah", giving us the Torah every single day. In the "Shma Yisrael" prayer it says 'veha-yu hadevarim ha-eyleh asher anochi metzavcha hayom al leva-vecha', and these words that I am commanding you TODAY shall be upon your heart. "TODAY"? The Rabbis ask! We had received the Torah almost forty years before Moshe Rabbeinu said "Shma Yisrael," so what did he mean when he said "that I am commanding you today"? From "TODAY" the Rabbis learn that: "they shall be new in your eyes as if you received them TODAY!" This explains why we say "Baruch attah Hashem NOTEIN haTorah" in the present tense, because Hashem is constantly giving us the Torah. That is why Hashem did not command us to remember the giving of the Torah on one specific day of the year only. In the Torah this holiday is called by the name Shavuot - 'weeks' commemorating the seven weeks of 'sfirat ha-omer', the seven weeks of our spiritual preparation for receiving the Torah. Hashem has named the holiday Shavuot in honor of the work that we did in order to receive the Torah; nevertheless, we refer to it as "zman mattan Torateinu" the time of the giving of our Torah, in honor of Hashem for the gift of His Torah that He gave us. As we neared the end of the morning prayers, [we're back in the shul] I noticed Zalman, one of the more colorful elderly and poorly dressed holy beggars go into the cloakroom, and I see him taking his shirt off. There's a sink in the cloakroom, maybe he's taking a sponge bath, I thought to myself. I continued with my prayers. A few minutes later with a very happy and beaming face Zalman steps out from the cloakroom wearing a brand new white shirt and he's doing up his tie. With a big smile he came over so that I should help him button up his cuffs. He looked at me and said, "mishehu natan lee mattanah"... someone gave me a present... he was so happy! He happily walked all around the shul showing everyone his new shirt. Quickly I realized what Zalman was 'doing'. He was reminding all of us, all of us... 'You see how happy and how appreciative I am for this gift, it is just a shirt, yes it is a nice new shirt in honor of Yom Tov, but it feels especially good because someone has remembered me and has shown me his love! You and me too, all of us should feel this happy and joyous right now, for tonight we are celebrating the giving and the receiving of the greatest gift of all, Hashem's Torah, the greatest act of Hashem's love for Bnei Yisrael!" There is a 'halacha' that we should get something new, a new garment or something else special in honor of the holiday. Receiving something new, arouses a sense of appreciation and joy in us, it feels good. Then we take that good feeling and associate it with the receiving of the Torah. [Spiritual judo]

From the Lubavitcher Rebbe


The purpose of the giving of the Torah was indeed unity. But what is a true unity?

When a person recognizes the One in the many, then he perceives unity in the midst of diversity. If he knows only one kind of existence, we do not know what his response will be when he discovers another kind. Perhaps he will then say: There are two realities, G-d and the world. It is only when he has encountered more than one form of existence and still maintains that G-d is the only reality that he has seen the true Oneness of G-d.

There is a traditional analogy. If we want to know how close is the bond between a prince and his father, the king, we will not discover it in the palace but only by taking him from it and setting him amongst ordinary men. If he still behaves like a prince, he is a true son of his father.

So with a Jew, it is not within the Sanctuary but within the diversity of the world that his sense of G-d's unity is proved. And he can preserve it in two ways. He can suppress his awareness of other things besides G-d. Or he can be fully aware of other things of the world and in them discover G-d. It is the latter which is the deeper response.

The person who suppresses his senses and closes his eyes to the ways of the world, believes that they form something apart from and in opposition to G-d, and must be kept at a distance. The unity of his religious life is neither deep nor secure.


There are, as we can see, three phases in the growth towards the sense of the unity of G-d. And they correspond to the three months from Pesach to Shavuot.

Nissan is the month of the Exodus itself, when G-d was revealed to the Israelites. They "fled" from Egypt, both literally and metaphorically - fled from the knowledge of the world and were filled only with the revelation from above.

Their understanding of Hashem's unity was of the world-denying kind. G-d was One because they knew only one thing, whereas the world had ceased to have reality in their eyes.

Iyar, the second month, is the month wholly taken up with the Counting of the Omer, and preparing ourselves for the coming events at Sinai. We are aware of ourselves and our world as something apart from G-d which had to be suppressed. Like the chariot and its rider, G-d and the world were one will but two things.

Sivan, the third month, was the time when the Torah was given, when G-d and the world became one thing. This was the moment of genuine unity, when what had seemed two things became a third, including and going beyond both.

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.


Cycles and Spirals: Each Spin Returning Stronger

Tomorrow we will be completing a cycle of seven weeks, which began the second night of Pessach. For the last 49 days we have been counting the days and weeks, 7X7. And so Tuesday evening, as the 49th day will come to an end, and the 50th day begins, we will celebrate the holiday of the "giving of our Torah".

There are many cycles, within cycles which we live in. There are cycles of seconds, minutes, days, 7 days, 30 days, 40 days, 49 days, 40 weeks..... 354 days....365 days..... 7 years...40 years.....49 years ....etc. etc.. Why do we live in cycles, on spirals and what do i need to know when i’m moving from one cycle to the next? This is a large question, but i would like to share a few thoughts.

In general, since we do live in cycles and spirals, we need to be aware of what happens during the transition periods. Each cycle has its own identity and particular qualities. Each transition period requires its own special attention. Some cycles are ‘stronger’ than others, and therefore require particular attention.

There is a Midrash which says that Hashem, before giving the Torah, alluded to Moshe Rabbeinu, that our commitment of na'asseh v'nishma" -- we will do and we will listen", was only going to last for 40 days. (As we all sadly know, 40 days after receiving the Torah we made a golden calf.) Yet Hashem gave us the Torah! What does that mean?

One way of putting it is as follows. As sincere as the commitment which you are making right now, may be, you will have to renew it in forty days. Otherwise you might end up making an idol. The all important structure which you need to accomplish your goals, including your spiritual goals, could also become your prison. You could get trapped, ‘chas v’shalom’! Breaking the structure is not the answer. However, not providing the structure with self-renewal, could be its death warrant. At the end of 40 days, we need a particularly strong renewal. We need to ask ourselves to examine how we have been living with the Torah. We need to go back to the place oneness and trust where we can with one heart say again, na-asseh v'nishma -- we will do and we will listen. We need to return to the place where the vitality of Hashem’s words are vividly nourishing us both physically and spiritually. We need to return to the place where our words to one another are healing and loving, where the exchange of our breaths warms the world.

Another interesting point which can be derived from the Midrash is that Hashem is giving the Torah, giving us Himself, completely, even though our commitments are basically of short term....and hopefully we will keep on renewing our commitment.

In the Talmud we learn that Hashem is always saying : 'no matter what please don’t stop studying my Torah. Hashem is always there, waiting to be with each one of us in the learning of Torah. And even if instead of moving up the spiral, we sometimes move down, Hashem is still there. All we need to do is seek and find Him... to continue studying the Torah, no matter what. There is Hashem's Light in it. There is Hashem's Voice in it. You can see it and you can hear it. Just as today you can hear everyone’s cry for unity. It is Hashem's cry!

In this week’s parsha we learn that Hashem gave Aharon and his sons, the mitzvah of blessing the children of Israel, with the three blessings of Birkat Cohanim

"Hashem shall bless you and protect you. Hashem shall shine His face to you and give you grace. Hashem will raise up His Face to you and will give you shalom-peace”

The Rabbis explain that the first blessing is for material wealth. The second blessing is to receive the light of the Torah, and the third blessing is to know that when we make a mistake, Hashem is waiting to forgive us and is promising us that everything can become whole again. Reb Shlomo ztz"l taught; what does it mean that 'Hashem will give you grace'? One can learn Torah and know lots of Torah, but it is a special blessing to give over Torah in a way which is beautiful. One needs to pray for that, and one needs to really have 'ahavat Yisrael' to learn Torah in a beautiful way which restores the soul.

We wish all of you a joyous Chag Sameyach, be blessed with a joyous receiving of the Torah and may it enlighten our eyes and gladden our hearts in good health. May we welcome Moshiach ben David quickly in our days.

Shalom al Yisrael B'ahavah U'Bivracha