Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Shavuos: Choosing To Be Chosen

Written by the Rebbe, Harav Michel Twerski, shlit"a, in 1987/5747
(Turning Pages, pgs. 109-110)

The following paragraph may read like a paid commercial, but it is intended to be a serious exercise, and I would urge that we deal with it candidly.

Do we feel put upon by our religion? Are there times that we resent having been “chosen" by G-d to bear the responsibility of Torah and its demanding disciplines? Do we sometimes find ourselves thinking, feeling, or actually saying what Tevye expounds in Fiddler, “Dear G-d, I know we’re the chosen people, but every once in a while, couldn’t you choose somebody else?" Is Jewish "guilt" getting to us? Can we discern part of us saying, "Oy! S'iz shver tzu zein a yid (Oy, it's hard to be a Jew)"?

Lest you think the above akin to speculating about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, let me remind you that respected observers of the Jewish scene trace a major share of today's galloping assimilation to the phenomenon of Jewish conflictedness and self-resentment. We desperately need an approach to lead us out of our resentment. The following is an attempt in this direction.

For American Jews who have grown up within the Protestant work ethic, the following question should be easy. What's the difference between getting paid for the work you do (wages) and receiving a gift from a loved one? Well, let's see now – wages you earn, you get something for something (usually toil for money), whereas gifts you get something for nothing. But is that completely true? Is it not the case that a gift is generally given to someone with whom you share special feelings that go far beyond a mere barter of goods and energy? Don't most people who receive gifts earn their gifts in other, more meaningful ways? Certainly, presents are not without cause, and are invariably well deserved.

More correctly, the difference between them is along the following lines: wages represent a formal understanding between two parties involving the exchange of goods or services for payment of some kind. Not being emotionally invested, such payment is extrinsic to the payer, and once discharged, whatever relationship existed, ends. Gifts, on the other hand, represent a personal statement of how one person feels about the next. As such, it is intrinsic to the giver, and testifies to a continuous and enduring far beyond the moment of the gift itself. Thus, few people get excited or uplifted about a wage check, whereas, most people are deeply moved by a present which speaks to a special relationship.

The aforementioned is especially relevant to the forthcoming holiday of Shavuos, and ultimately to the resolution of the questions with which this article began. Shavuos is celebrated as "Yom Matan Torah," the day on which the Torah was given. It is important to note the word "Matan" which refers to the given-ness of the Torah. Similarly, we are reminded of the benedictions which are recited over the Torah scroll on the occasion of an Aliyah, which conclude with the words, “Nosain HaTorah,” where G-d is thanked for being the giver of the Torah. Again, to be stressed is the verb “Nosain,” which signifies giving, in the sense of giving a gift. From the frame of reference drawn earlier, we can begin to appreciate the significance of the Torah’s given-ness in our relationship to Judaism as a whole. It is the “Matan” and the “Nosain” which teaches us that Torah was not meant to be seen as an imposition or a burden. Its author wished it to be perceived as a present, a gift, something precious, an expression of love and caring. It speaks no to something extrinsic and formal, an unfeeling contract, but to something personal and intrinsic: a relationship. In Torah, the Master of the Universe gave us of Himself, and what greater gift could we dream of receiving? Is it thus possible to view as onerous or burdensome that which is Divine, perfect, infinite, excellent and sublime?

It is truly unforgivable to be insensitive to the awesome privilege "Matan Torah" signifies. To be granted the opportunity to enter into a relationship (through Torah – its study and observance) which is an interactive and reciprocal relationship with the Infinite Source of all things is an unprecedented and historic opportunity. How fortunate is the Jew, not only for his "once-upon-a-time-chosen-ness," but for the annually repeated "chosen-ness'" that Shavuos, in its essence, represents.

Putting everything into perspective, this Shavuos provides us with the privilege and opportunity to step forward to receive a gift of boundless love; nothing less than G-d giving His people of Himself. Will we mistakenly discern this as a burden to be borne and turn our backs on it, or will we join the thunderous affirmation of the Jews at Sinai as they exclaimed, "We shall observe and we shall hear!" Given the tragic harvest of Jewish souls by the scourge of assimilation, it is the future and the destiny of Israel that hangs in the balance. Let us not fail.

Enjoyed this post? Get free updates by email or RSS.

No comments: