Shavuot never had the marketing potential of the others Jewish holidays – no matzah, no colorful candles, no lulav, no shofar. As a result, it is the least known of the major Jewish holidays.
One of few customs we do have on Shavuot is staying up all night studying. The classic reason given for this is because on the morning of the revelation at Mount Sinai the Children of Israel overslept. God descended onto the mountain to give us His Torah but we hadn’t yet arrived! Moses had to rouse us from our tents to bring us to that climactic event. To make up for our failing, we stay up the first night of Shavuot every year to make absolutely certain we will be awake already in the morning.
When God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai, it was not just to overawe us with His power or instruct us in His commandments. It was a marriage. The Sages often describe the Revelation at Sinai as a wedding. God was the groom; we were the bride. The mountain held over our heads was the wedding canopy. God was not just giving us commandments to perform, a means of earning reward for our good behavior. He was offering us an eternal connection with Him. And at the time, the nation could not get enough. Mount Sinai had to be cordoned off so the people would not break forth in ecstasy, rushing up the mountainside in their burning desire to get closer to God. They had to be warned and warned again not to leave their stations (see Exodus 19:12-13 & 21-24).
Torah study is our way of gaining a connection with God, of forging that love-relationship. It is not just a law book, containing a list of dos and don’ts; it is God’s wisdom, His values. By studying Torah we gain a better understanding of our Creator and build a relationship with Him. The Torah is not only wisdom for living in this world – although it certainly is that as well. It is a means of transcending this world, of glimpsing the infinite, the myriad spiritual layers beyond the physical. Studying Torah is a reenactment of the revelation at Sinai, allowing us to once again connect with the Almighty, increasing both our love for Him and His for us. We thus study Torah as a means of building our love-relationship with God, to better know our God and understand His ways. And you know something? When people are in love they sometimes do crazy things. On Shavuot we are in love. Crazy, stupid love.
We stay up Shavuot night because one night a year we make precisely that assertion: God, You have granted us the ultimate gift of your Torah and we are crazy about it. We want to understand You and know Your ways. And we will go to every length to get there. The rest of the year we will be normal and live with the proper balance, but this one day of the year we cannot get enough.
This is why Shavuot contains no symbol, no special commandment to observe. On Shavuot we are not celebrating a specific concept which can be symbolized – such as the freedom of Passover or the shelter of Sukkot. We are celebrating us – our very relationship with God. We can understand our God and connect with Him. And we are overwhelmed by the opportunity God gave us for such true fulfillment.
On Shavuot we celebrate God’s ultimate gift to Israel, the very means He gave us for growing closer to Him. We recognize just how special that gift is, and how loving God was to have granted it to us. For on Shavuot we are in love. Crazy, stupid love.
Written by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld. For full article, visit www.aish.com