The festival of Shavuot is an enigma. Its name, ‘weeks’, refers to the period of time that precedes it, rather than the day itself. While on Pesach we rid our homes and hearts from any trace of Chametz, on Shavuot we are obligated to bring Chametz loaves into the Temple (a place where meal offerings were almost always matza) and, of course, what would Shavuot be like without cheesecake?!
The Talmud (Pesachim 68b) tells of a certain Rav Yoseph, who would always throw a party on Shavuot, exclaiming: “Were it not for this day, I would be like any other Joe in the market place.” Shavuot, the day that commemorates the giving of the Torah, is not just an anniversary; it is a reaffirmation of our relationship with the Torah.
While we achieve our freedom on Pesach, it takes time to learn how to integrate that into our personalities and into our lives. On Pesach, we abstain to a certain extent from the physical world, but during the next seven weeks we prepare to engage with it in a meaningful way. The festival of Shavuot is the culmination of that. We enjoy our Chametz, secure in the knowledge we have a guidebook, the Torah, that teaches us how to enjoy this world.
When we receive a gift from a friend or relative, the best way to show our thanks is to use it. The way to show our appreciation for the Torah is to open and learn it, hence the custom of staying up all night on Shavuot learning.
Shavuot is thus a twofold celebration. Enjoy both!
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