Holidays are not just commemorations of historic occurrences; they are actual milestones, ascents, in our annual spiritual growth. Being that Shavuot is only a day (or two), we must understand how to fully prepare for and behave during the holiday, and what we are hoping to achieve through it. Each minute of Shavuot increases our strength and elevates us to a higher level…

While the actual receiving of the Torah is contingent on G‑d's giving it, the preparations for receiving the Torah are totally dependent on the actions and efforts of the Jewish people. The night of Shavuot, is particularly crucial because it is connected to the single most important preparatory jump of consciousness required to receive the Torah. This is when the Jewish nation declared that we will first accept and do the commandments, before understanding them. "We will do and [then] we will hear…" - in Hebrew, "Na'aseh v'nishma". Each minute of Shavuot increases our strength and elevates us to a higher level - first in our ability to "do" the commandments, then in our ability to "understand" them, and finally in our ability to precede the doing before the understanding. How much we are prepared to fulfill the "doing" before the "hearing" is an indication of how well we will receive the Torah with joy and internalize it.

Many communities have the custom of learning Torah the entire night of Shavuot (1st night only). Don't just stay up. Maximize the time. Make certain in advance you have the right classes or individuals to learn with, and the texts you need to help you make the appropriate preparations for your own personal "receiving of the Torah". The actual moment of revelation is when the ten commandments are read Friday morning. It is important that everyone who can - men, women, and children - come to synagogue and hear them read.

The holiday of Shavuot, the reliving of the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, almost always falls in the week that we read the portion of Naso on Shabbat. Rabbi Avraham Sebba points out that there are also a couple of hints to the idea of receiving the Torah in parashat Naso. The Torah portion begins, "Also raise up the head of the Gershon clan" (Num. 4:22). The Midrash explains that this use of the word "also" means "in addition to" the prior discussion of the Kehot clan (in last week's portion), who were positioned first in the arrangement of Israelite camps because their service was to carry the holy Ark, which contained the Torah scroll and the tablets of the covenant. Torah also elevates one who learns it above the limitations of the world…

The Lubavitcher Rebbe adds that the last verse says, "And Moses came to the tent of meeting to speak to G‑d...." (Num. 7:89) Why did Moses enter the tent? In order to learn Torah directly from G‑d. Even the name of the portion hints to Torah. The word "naso" means to "raise up"; Torah also elevates one who learns it above the limitations of the world.

Naso teaches us that every Jew has to be "raised up" in the proper manner. Rather than becoming haughty, each of us has to proactively affect others in a positive way, not just to be a reactive recipient. Contrary to common perception, every person has an arena in which they excel and where they are capable of influencing others for the good. Just like a poor person is commanded to also give tzedaka, so too a spiritually poor person has an obligation to affect others for good. Even more, every Jew has to know that he is in a state of "naso" - elevated above the world and its obstacles. And when he desides to do something good, he will succeed.

The Torah reading continues with a discussion of the procedure followed when a woman is suspected by her husband of having committed adultery. This section begins with the verse "When a man's wife turns away..." (Num. 5:12). The word "turns" in Hebrew is derived from the same root as the word for "foolish". The Talmud (Sotah 3) refers to this verse as a hint to the statement that no one transgresses unless a "spirit of foolishness" enters them. Otherwise, no Jew would ever turn away from G‑d.

In fact, on a certain level we are incapable of separating from Him. We can see this historically. Jews have chosen to give up their lives rather than deny the existence of G‑d and the Torah. Nevertheless, every single negative act we do creates a separation and distance between us and G‑d. One would think that this knowledge alone would be enough to dissuade us from doing a sin. Obviously, this is not the case. So what is going on?

The reason is that a person is affected by a "spirit of folly", a strong desire to be involved in the world which overrules all other considerations; this cools a person from his natural desire not to be separated from G‑d. He does not feel bad when he transgresses because he believes that he is still totally connected. Unfortunately, the illusion is a lot like a virus. To be immune, you have to be healthy, with all systems working properly. Regular daily periods for studying Torah, praying with a minyan, and thinking Torah thoughts when out and about are especially potent for clearing the air of any "unhealthy" spirits. Each person…has to make a special effort to utilize all of his strengths…

Rebbe Yechiel Michal of Zlotshuv utilizes another verse in the portion to support this idea: "A man, when he gives to the priest, it will be his". (Num. 5:10) Why doesn't the verse state what exactly is being given? And since the Torah is eternal, how does this verse apply to us, now that we do not have active priests?

The simple answer is that we have to always be involved in doing teshuva. However, we see sometimes that although a person does make an effort - he learns and prays - it seems not to help; he is still drawn into negative actions. A person has to use his brains so that when he learns Torah, prays, and even when he eats, he is always questioning whether his behavior is effective in serving G‑d. So this is what the verse is telling us: "A man, when he gives…", i.e. his full attention, "…to the priest…", meaning "to serve", i.e. serve G‑d, "…it will be his", he will succeed.

The parasha ends with a description of the gifts that the princes of the twelve tribes gave to the Tabernacle. There is an interesting detail here: they gave altogether six wagons - that is, each prince only gave half of a wagon. The pieces of the Tabernacle were very heavy and large. Why did each prince only donate half a wagon? The Tabernacle, the place of the Divine Presence while the Jewish people were traveling in the desert, was made unstintingly, without neglecting any detail. Similarly, there was nothing superfluous. Every item had a purpose. Therefore, the wagons that were to transport the Tabernacle were provided in exactly the right number, size, and shape to fulfill the required need. It was forbidden that there should be more than was required.

In a similar way, the Talmud says that everything that G‑d created was made with a purpose. Just as the Tabernacle was made precisely with nothing extra and nothing lacking, so, too, each person, comparable to a small Tabernacle for G‑d, has to make a special effort to utilize all of his strengths. Nothing is to go to waste. Even time is an aspect of our lives that has to be utilized to the fullest. Even if we have used 23 hours and 59 minutes, we still have to try and use that last minute effectively.

Chag Samayach and Shabbat Shalom!


From the staff of KabbalaOnline — for more on the celebration of Shavuot, the Giving of the Torah, please link to: Festival of Shavuot.