Shavuos: The Day The Torah Was NOT Given
There's a story about a sweet young couple, who met in high school. He’s a year older, so he graduates a year before her. He makes his way to Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, where she joins him a year later.
They're incredibly cute; trying hard not to be too close, knowing they're too young to get married. But both sets of parents already know that they're meant for each other, and begin working towards making a life for them together.
They go off to college, and in short order the announce their engagement.
She’s an amazing girl. Smart, articulate, a ba'alas middos, from a great family, with a promising career ahead. He’s everyone’s favorite guy. Serious about his learning, good looking, mature, funny, and real mench.
Now, coming from well-to-do families, as they both did, their wedding was the most magical event that anyone could imagine. The kind of wedding that people would talk about for years. Classy, elegant, beautiful. Everyone from everywhere was there; and the dancing continued long into the night.
And as they got into their limo, leaving the wedding hall, their families smiled with the knowledge that their children's lives will simply be as perfect as possible.
But there's a reason that Disney sequels are never so successful. Fairy-tale life never the reality after credits the roll...
A year after finishing college, he is offered a significant and lucrative opportunity. But it comes with costs and trade offs. He stands to make some serious money, and jump start a great career, but the time investment is immense, and for the next two years, he'll be traveling weekly, spending little time at home.
The young couple go back and forth, debating the merits of this offer, finally agreeing to accept it “just to get us started for a few years.”
It is hard to predict what lies beyond the horizon.
As he spends time away from his wife, they begin to drift apart. It was difficult to notice the changes from day to day, but for the first time in years, they don’t always know each other’s schedules, their interests don’t always align. He meets new people, different people, in different places. She finds a group of friends to spend time with when he's not around. Slowly, the closeness that they once had begins to unravel.
We won't belabor the point, but months later, the unthinkable happens. The ultimate betrayal. Their magical, fairy tale life had finally fizzled and died.
A Get is arranged in short order.
They retreat to the quiet dark corner of their lives; people know not to ask too many questions. But the sadness, the failure is always present.
It had been two years since that fateful moment, and they still have not spoken to each other, or really, to anyone else. Both of them running on auto-pilot, unsure how to continue.
Deep down, each of them they missed the other. They missed the lives that they used to have, the love that they used to share. But how does one come back from such darkness?
But Hashem has plans.
Unexpectedly, with traffic, weather and delays all timed to Godly perfection, they find themselves seated next to each other on a six hour flight from New York to Los Angeles.
It's awkward and uncomfortable. What do you say? What can you say? Slowly, the silence is breached. They talk in hushed voices. Neither can forgive or forget, but it feels oddly comforting to be together again.
When the flight lands, they agree to maybe meet up for coffee.
They take it slow. Cautiously rebuilding their relationship, until a few months later, they decide to try again.
Gone is the magic, the sound and light show, the expensive dresses, wines and music. The second Wedding is a quiet, backyard event, with close family and friends.
And as they set up their home once again, they’re faced with the question, which benchers to put on the table, which photos to put up on the wall? The memories from the first wedding, or the second?
What would you do? Perhaps we might suggest to pack away the memories of that first wedding. The one that failed, as a reminder of how easy it is to fail. Perhaps we should as they proudly display the pictures and memories of the second wedding. The one that’ll last forever.
This question is not hypothetical. It is the paradigmatic question of Shavuos: Essentially, we are all celebrating the first wedding between God and the Jewish People. The wedding that failed. The kesuba that was shattered when Moshe came down the mountain and saw the Egel HaZahav.
Just forty days after Shavuos, at the foot of Mount Sinai, we had an affair, with another god.
Which begs the question: Today is not the day the Torah was given. It is not זמן מתן תורתנו. (See מגן אברהם ס׳ תצ״ד). That Torah was taken away, destroyed, shattered. What remained was a broken relationship, one that was only repaired months later on Yom Kippur when we received the Torah again.
So what are we celebrating?
The Bnei Yissaschar (חודש סיון מאמר ד׳) explains: We are not celebrating the Torah as we know it. That Torah was indeed taken away, shattered and hidden in the Aron. On Shavuos we are celebrating the covenantal relationship that enabled the Hashem to give us His Torah. Shavuos is the moment before the wedding. The relationship before the details. It’s the deepest part of our connection to Hashem God.
This is what Rabbi Chaim Vital refered to as Nishmas HaTorah – the inner most soul of the Torah (עץ חיים הקדמת מוהרח”ו על שער ההקדמות (ד”ה והנה דבריהם)).
But how do we achieve this relationship practically?
By constantly asking and seeking the answer to a singular profound question: What is the purpose of my life as a Jew?
How should I create a life of purpose, meaning and transcendence? What should my life achieve? With this in mind, Torah is far more than a collection of rules. It's much greater than the “do's” and “don'ts”. Those are manifestations of a greater truth.
Yes, it's true, that at Sinai, we committed to that great philosophy, and then promptly went off to desecrate one of the most basic rules. But the philosophy, the relationship, remained. It was damaged, but not irreparably.
That's our celebration this Yom Tov. We remember that we and Hashem share a vision, a goal, a covenant and a purpose. One that exists beyond all failure, all setbacks. Hashem should help us to feel Him in the Nishmas HaTorah, and to find our own Neshamas there as well.