2018-05-09 / Voice at the Shore

Shavuot gave us true freedom

Special to Voice at the Shore

RABBI YAAKOV ORIMLAND RABBI YAAKOV ORIMLAND If the purpose of Pesach was to bring us to Mount Sinai to accept the Torah, then Shavuot must be the grand finale in our journey to freedom.

Pesach is referred to in our prayers as ‘Zman Cherutenu’ (the time of our freedom), but because Pesach and Shavuot are inextricably linked in our narrative as a people of Torah, and because Shavuot is the day on which we received the Torah, our rejoicing of freedom on Pesach must surely culminate on Shavuot. We had no Torah in Egypt, so our exodus from there made us physically free, but our true freedom, our spiritual freedom, was only realized at Sinai, on Shavuot. As explained in Pirke Avot (6:2), “Only someone involved with Torah is free.”

Each of us is a body and a ‘neshama’ (soul). We feed our body with food and exercise. Most of us do not struggle to sit down to a meal, to take a stroll, or workout at the gym. We feed our bodies to remain alive, and we exercise to remain healthy. We feed our ‘neshama’ (soul) with Torah and mitzvot, and, while we would all agree that our soul (spiritual health) is more important than its casing or home, our body, most of us struggle far more with feeding our soul, or spirit, than we do with feeding our body.

This is why we have no problem getting up early to head to the gym, and yet struggle to make it to morning minyan or Shabbat morning services. Why is it easier for us to feed our bodies than to feed our souls?

Our bodies speak to us louder than do our souls. Our bodies tell us when they are hungry. Our bodily aches and pains tell us it is time to move around, to exercise. It is easier to listen to our body than to our soul because our bodies speak louder and more often. Changing this is only possible with Torah.

Each of us must seek out Torah and mitzvot in order to feed our soul, and we must do so often enough to balance the spiritual with the physical. This is why the Torah was given to us in a desert. We were together at Sinai when we received the Torah, as a people, as a community, without distraction.

We can pray on our own, and there are many mitzvot we can perform individually, but the true essence of Torah, of freedom, is when we join together to celebrate Torah and mitzvot. This is why we pray with a minyan. This is why we celebrate the holidays (chagim) as a community. This is why we give tzedekah collectively, to a communal campaign. When we do so, we give life to Torah. We celebrate our freedom by choice. The choices we make individually and collectively to connect with Torah and mitzvoth, to actively participate in the life of synagogue and community, are what feed our souls. The more we do so, the louder our soul speaks to us.

We each need to be in greater touch with our ‘neshama’ (soul). While body and soul may frequently be at odds with each other, the Rambam tells us that feeding our soul gives it liberty. Liberty of the soul is our true freedom. Only through Torah learning, the performance of mitzvoth, and participating in communal activity do we free ourselves from the physical to experience true autonomy. This is why Shavuot is the culmination of the freedom that began on Pesach, and this is why only a person who connects to Torah is truly free. 

Rabbi Yaakov Orimland is spiritual leader of Young Israel of Margate (Orthodox), and serves on Jewish Federation’s Celebrate Community and Israel@70 committees.

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