It is well known that the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16b) teaches that every person is judged during the 10-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. What is not as well known is that the Arizal and the Shelah Hakadosh write that we are judged on Shavuos as well, and in a sense, this verdict has an even greater impact on our lives. On Rosh Hashanah Hashem decides our material success for the next 12 months, while on Shavuos, He determines how much success we will experience in our Torah studies in the year ahead.
Harav Yissocher Frand notes that we are taught to prepare for Rosh Hashanah by repenting our misdeeds, praying and dispensing charity, which will positively influence the judgment that we receive. However, we are not given any comparable guidance on how to get ourselves ready for Shavuos so that we should be blessed with a year of accomplishment in our Torah study.
Rav Frand posits that the means by which Hashem evaluates each of us on Shavuos is our cheshek (desire) for learning Torah. The more that we show Hashem how central Torah is to our existence, the more He will bless us with opportunities to make it so.
Accordingly, our primary focus in preparing for Shavuos should be reflecting on the role that Torah plays in our lives and inculcating within ourselves an appreciation of how vital it is to our survival, which will in turn create a cheshek to delve into it even more deeply.
As a convenient means of doing so, Rav Frand suggests that we strive in the days leading up to Shavuos to have extra kavanah in the brachah that we say each morning just before Shema called Ahavah Rabbah, in which we beseech Hashem, “Instill in our hearts the ability to understand, elucidate, listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah’s teaching with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, and attach our hearts to Your commandments.” The intentions with which we invest these words demonstrate to Hashem how important these concepts are to us.
Additionally, the Chazon Ish advised that when davening Shemoneh Esrei, a person should ask for Divine assistance in his Torah study in the brachah of Atah chonen l’adam daas — You endow man with wisdom. Just as we beseech Hashem with tremendous intensity for our medical needs in the blessing of Refa’einu and for material sustenance in the brachah of Barech aleinu, so too must we pray with equal fervor for Heavenly aid in our spiritual pursuits.
Harav Gedaliah Schorr adds that the key to cheshek for Torah study isn’t found when we open a sefer, but in our preparations for learning. When the Jewish people arrived at Har Sinai, the Torah (Shemos 19:1) records that they came “on this day.”
Rashi writes that this expression is intended to teach us that the Torah should always be so fresh in our eyes that we feel as if it were just given to us that day. However, Rav Schorr points out that although they arrived at Har Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the Torah wasn’t given until several days later. If so, the use of the phrase “on this day” to teach us that divrei Torah should be new in our eyes seems misplaced. Why is it used in conjunction with the arrival at Har Sinai instead of the actual giving of the Torah on Shavuos?
Rav Schorr explains that the Torah is teaching us that the concept of “on this day” applies to the eager anticipation of Torah study, before any sefer has actually been opened. Even if we are planning to study a sugya or listen to a shiur on a topic with which we are already familiar, we should still approach it with enthusiasm.
Harav Yisroel Reisman adds that when we look forward to something, we imbue it with value and import. The key to meriting a verdict on Shavuos for a year of reaching new heights in our learning depends on our attitude in the days prior to Yom Tov to eagerly yearn to reaccept the Torah.
As we prepare for Shavuos, let us all resolve to internalize the recognition that ki hem chayeinu v’orech yameinu — words of Torah are our life and the length of our days, and in the merit of demonstrating our love of Torah to Hashem, may we all be found worthy for a year of tremendous growth and accomplishment in our Torah study and spiritual pursuits.
Q: The Torah emphasizes (Bamidbar 1:1) that the giving of the Torah at Sinai, which is celebrated on the upcoming Yom Tov of Shavuos, took place in the wilderness. Why did Hashem specifically choose to give the Torah in such a barren location?
A: The Darkei Mussar explains that when one finds himself in the wilderness, he realizes that he is completely dependent upon Hashem for his survival and places all of his trust in Him. In exchange, he merits learning and understanding the Torah, as we say each morning before Shema, “ba’avur avoseinu she’batchu becha vatelamdem chukei chaim — for the sake of our ancestors, who trusted in You, and whom You taught the decrees of life. Additionally, the Midrash explains that the wilderness is a place that is completely hefker — ownerless — which is a hint that to succeed in Torah study, one must be humble and “ownerless.”
He points out that a number of the 48 traits by which the Torah is acquired (Avos 6:6), such as love of other people, compassion and empathy for others, and humility — can only exist in a person who has removed from himself all feelings of arrogance and personal entitlement and views himself like an ownerless desert.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.