"Making Torah Ours" (The Perfect Shavuot Read)
While enjoying a spring weather walk, I was listening to a panel discussion on Chazak Inspiration line. Mrs. Miryam Swerdlov was encouraging younger women to take care of their health, because she wished she had done that earlier in life so she could presently benefit. She speaks, teaches, and leads a summer camp (visiting Czechoslovakia), yet she admitted, “I am paying for it now; I cannot enjoy as much.”
It made me think alternatively of the soul, to apply that lesson spiritually, because that same day I had attended a Jewish funeral. Many of the speakers spoke positively of the deceased man's happy and friendly personality, his actions of chesed, and his middos of simchas hachayim. A theme that recurred throughout each eulogy was an emphasis on his enjoyment of sports, nature, and food. His family surely feels a great loss of their loved one, and it will take a while to heal from his sudden passing. I left wondering what message I could take?
I wondered, while focusing on hobbies like sports, great food, and beautiful nature are things each of us have every right to enjoy for happiness and mental health, we must also pay a little more attention to our soul health when we're younger. Obviously, we must live with a balance, and constantly tug that war of body and soul. I thought back to Mrs. Swerdlov’s message. Maybe we can afford to pay more attention to our soul health so we can enjoy it more later and for eternity, too?
Now we approach the Yom Tov of Shavuos, of receiving the Torah. We are not just commemorating the time it happened. Each person gets to accept Torah for oneself, individually, day by day, week by week, (as we have counted) while we stand together. We are living that acceptance. And we can run with it (and the month of Sivan’s ‘faculty’ is actually the legs/walking)!
I heard Rebbetzin Tehila Jaeger teach that for the Torah to take root in human circles, Hashem chose Am Yisroel, and it was first directed specifically to women. It is not in our nature to ‘toil’ in Torah. In order to connect with it we don’t need to toil. We are more naturally inclined to learn it with joy, without any obstructions or restlessness. We are also not on “cruise control,” she says.
I love how she describes our responsibility as women, that we need to “understand the awesome responsibility we have to cherish Torah, to grow in Torah, and to [vivify] the atmosphere of our homes with love of Torah, appreciation of Torah and support of Torah. It outweighs all other mitzvot.”
How do we do this? Bring it in, feel the joy, do it with gratitude. What’s your choice of modality? Partners in Torah? Parsha with Rashi? Phone Chavrusa? Teleconference? Zoom class? Tehillim group? Local Shabbos shiur? Get a topic, choose a sefer, find a partner, choose your method.
Not your “type”? Do you think you can’t start now? Be like Rus (as in Megillas Rus, which is read on Shavuos), she chose a new start, and she believed in her ability to make a new start. She began again, right in the moment.
Maybe it is our nature as women to more easily access spirituality, or to more peacefully connect with Torah learning, but you’re not “the type.” Not your nature? Prior to getting all the way here, to Har Sinai, to receive the Torah, the Yam Suf split. Rabbi Wallerstein zt’l pointed out that the sea split when it saw the atzmos (the bones of) Yosef (that the Jews were carrying) Why? Because here was a group of people who brought the bones of a deceased father with them---bones of someone who rose above his nature. So, Rabbi Wallerstein said (I am not sure which source he was quoting), the sea saw this and rose above its nature, too, and split for the Jews.
When you or I make the effort, Hashem gives the help to make it happen! This type of potential is inherent in this Yom Tov of Shavuos. You can feel it personally. Accept it for yourself. Treasure it, and your personal relationship with Hashem and the Torah is yours for the taking. It’s such a personal yom tov, without a lot of outer trappings and physical preparations like other holidays.
I have so much admiration for an old friend whom I recently met up with. She has had quite her share of life challenges. While she struggles with a certain mitzvah, she just told me today that she started keeping that mitzvah ‘here and there’ (sometimes doing it, following a lapse) since our recent discussion. She is an amazing example of someone rising above her nature! And she shines!
Rabbi Wallerstein says, “We’re not Greeks; It’s not the finish line. It’s not about winning the race—it’s how you got there.” He described one marathon many years ago that included a racer, an amputee, who ran on two fake legs. He said we live in such a culture that the majority of the cameras were focused on whomever got to that finish line first. One man took sixteen hours to finish that race- the man with the prosthetic legs. Yet there was only one camera man waiting to film the moment that runner finished the marathon! How backwards? It’s not about if he made it, it’s how he made it. There should have been a whole crew of cameras if the world valued what we value.
So let’s do it in our own way, finding a personal connection to Torah, taking care of our soul health, at whatever pace we need to take it, and see how every drop of effort energizes our lives and the lives of those in our midst, with or without the fanfare, within our nature, or above it, and run with it!
Gut Yom Tov
Julie’s brand new book Making It Mine: Tools to Chisel a Personal Pathway and Mine the Torah’s Wellsprings is available here on Amazon.
Julie is the author of Pesach While You Sleep, and other books found here.