Every morning a Jew should wake up and feel fortunate to have the Torah and the opportunity to observe its commandments. We remember this even more so on Shavuot.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
There is a beautiful teaching that connects the holiday of Shavuot with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony. A Bar Mitzvah of course, is the celebration when a boy turns 13, and the Bat Mitzvah is the celebration when a girl turns 12. At that point in life according to Jewish thought, these children become full adult members of the community. From this age onward, they are obligated to observe the mitzvot (commandments of the Torah) just like everyone else.
It is noted, however, that the entire topic or Bar/Bat Mitzvah is nowhere to be found in the Torah. The Torah itself doesn’t tell us when a person is obligated to begin observing the mitzvot. Maybe a person should begin fasting on Yom Kippur at four years old? Or at 11 years old? Where do the ages of 12/13 come from? How was it decided? Hold that thought…
So, too, nowhere is it written that Torah was given on the holiday of Shavuot. The Torah doesn’t even tell us on what date it was given. Shavuot is simply presented as an agricultural holiday. Nor is there any date given in the Torah for when to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. We are simply told that we are to count 50 days from Passover and then celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. And what if someone crosses the international dateline during this time? It can be chaotic and confusing!
So, let’s summarize: No mention when the Torah was given. No mention that the holiday of Shavuot is connected to the giving of the Torah. No mention about Bar/Bat Mitzvah or the age when one becomes obligated to observe the Torah. What’s going on over here?
One of the highlights of the Shavuot holiday was the offering of the “First Fruits.” A farmer’s first fruits were brought to the Holy Temple among great fanfare and ceremony. What is the symbolysm of the mitzvah of the First Fruits? It is because a farmer is always very nervous about his crops. He is always worried about the bounty his fields will produce: the quantity, the quality, the diversity. A farmer plants his fields not knowing what will be at the end of the season. A farmer never knows how much he will earn that year because everything depends on the crops.
When the farmer sees the ‘fruits’ of his labor, he is overjoyed. He knows that he will make sales. He knows that he will have income. It is during this time, especially when seeing success, that he has to acknowledge Who is in charge. God is the one who blesses the farmer’s effort. Sure, the farmer put in much effort and hard work, but success is entirely the blessing of God. The farmer musn’t forget that.
To ensure that the farmer doesn’t forget God, he must mark his first blossoming fruits and bring them as an offering when they are ready to be picked.
It is explained that when it comes to Shavuot and the giving of the Torah, we should not need a reminder or commandment to celebrate. It is something we should be inspired on our own to do, “marking down” for ourselves when the Torah was given and celebrating that day each year. If God had commanded us to celebrate the giving of the Torah, we would be doing so because we have to, not necessarily because we want to. Sometimes it is good to do things for God unsolicited.
And this may also be the reason why there is no mention of the Bar/Bar Mitzvah in the Torah. A Bar/bat Mitzvah is a time when a young man or woman becomes obligated in observing the mitzvot. Although the task might be daunting, these young men and women should feel joy and excitement that they are full members of the Jewish community even if means greater responsibility. Perhaps God didn’t command the Bar Mitzvah ceremony because He wanted it to come naturally. It is simply an oral tradition that 12/13 is the age of maturity in Judaism.
It is noted that Shavuot is referred to in the liturgy as “the time when the Torah was given” and not ”the day when the Torah Was given.” This is because the giving of the Torah was not a one-day event. It is a daily event. Every morning a Jew should wake up and feel fortunate to have the Torah and the opportunity to observe its commandments.