The Meaning of Shavuot
The holiday of Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah (Matan Torah), symbolizes the reception, revelation and possibility to use the supreme force of love and bestowal for humanity’s common good and spiritual elevation, where everyone feels the upper world: eternity and perfection.
Contact with the upper world is a gift of connection that we can use for ours and others’ benefit. This is on condition that we will continually seek contact and direction from the higher force of love and bestowal, and guide humanity to perfection with its help. This is the mission of the group of people who received the Torah (i.e. Torah stemming from two words, “Ohr” [Light] and “Hora’ah” [instruction], i.e. contact and instruction from the Light).
During a short historical period this group realized the spiritual method without spreading it to other people. Today, however, the world needs this method. According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, we have reached the state of the “last generation,” meaning the last generation that can feel only a limited material world.
As it was in the original story of the reception of the Torah, if we unite in order to discover the upper light within us, in the center of our unity, according to the law “Love your neighbor as yourself,” then this force will start spreading around the world. It will be manifested within us from the depths of the universe, and will change the entire world.
The light is ready to spread its positive influence to everybody. In order to let the light expand, those who have a spiritual tendency need to achieve a state where the Torah can be given to humanity, so that we will begin to feel ourselves existing in the quality of love, kindness, and mutual connection and will rise to the next level of the universe, above life and death, above our world’s limitations and problems. This is the giving of the Torah, meaning the upper light, upper force, and our receiving it.
- The Meaning of Shavuot: The Holiday of the Giving of the Torah
- The Spiritual Meaning of Shavuot
- The Meaning of Shavuot Customs and Concepts According to Kabbalah
- The Meaning of Consuming Dairy Products and Wearing White Clothing on Shavuot
- he Meaning of the Correction of the Night of Shavuot (Tikkun Leil Shavuot)
- The Meaning of the Time Between Passover and Shavuot
- The Meaning of Celebrating the Holiday of the Giving of the Light
- The Meaning of the Bride and the Sons of the King’s Palace
- Further Reading on Shavuot
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the whole of the Torah. We have forgotten this and instead treat letters as totems.
The holiday of Shavuot is the festival of the giving of the Torah. To non-observing Jews, the height of the festival, if they even celebrate it, is a meal with plentiful sweet dairy foods. Most Jews also know that on this day, thousands of years ago, the Torah was given to the people of Israel.
Yet, what most people do not know is what the Torah really is. As a result, very few understand the reason for celebrating the reception of the Torah. If we knew what the Torah was really about—which has nothing to do with the traditional explanation of a set of rules we must observe in order to appease a fearsome God—we would understand many things about our lives that currently baffle us. In truth, nothing is more pertinent to our lives than the Torah. Nothing can bring us greater benefit than understanding the Torah, what it is for, and how we can use it. When we understand this, we will see that Shavuot is not merely a festival, but an extremely important point in our quest for happiness.
It Ain’t Necessarily So
“It ain’t necessarily so,” sang Sportin’ Life in the opera Porgy and Bess, and meant that “The things that you’re liable to read in the Bible—it ain’t necessarily so.” This, indeed, is our problem. We are taught that the stories in the Torah teach morals and behavioral codes, and may or may not be historically correct.
But relating to the Torah in this way completely misses its essence. The Talmud writes (Masechet Shabbat, 31a) that when a convert asked about the meaning of the Torah, Old Hillel told him point blank: “That which you hate, do not do unto your friend; this is the whole of the Torah.” Likewise, Rabbi Akiva—from whom we have both The Book of Zohar and the Mishnah—said, “Love your neighbor as yourself is the great rule of the Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim, Chapter 9, p 30b).
When Israel received the Torah, they did not receive a book. They united “as one man with one heart” (RASHI—Commentary on Exodus, 19:2) and thereby received a power that elevated them above their egoism and made them love each other as themselves. The book Avnei Miluim (Introduction) writes, “This is what our sages meant when they said, ‘And Israel encamped there before the mount,’ all of them ‘as one man with one heart.’ They wish to say that the entire nation united into one man, after which the Giver was compelled to give them the Torah.”
Our sages throughout the ages have called the transformative power in the Torah “light.” They stated countless times that the light in the Torah reforms, meaning transforms a person from egoism to love of others. The book Mesilat Yesharim (Chapter 5) writes, “This is the meaning of what our sages said (Midrash Rabbah, Eicha, Preface), ‘I wish they left Me but kept My law (Torah),’ for the light in it reforms it (the evil inclination).” The book Maor Eynaim (Parashat Tzav) writes likewise: “With the Torah, a person can struggle with the evil inclination and subdue it because the light in it reforms it.”
The Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) writes that the Creator said, “My sons, I have created the evil inclination, and I have created for it the Torah as a spice.” Similarly, the book Metzudat David (Commentary on Jeremiah, 9:12) explains that Israel lost their land because they fell into the evil inclination once they stopped engaging in the Torah because “the light in it reforms it.” And just so we do not misunderstand the meaning of “evil inclination,” the Holy Shlah writes (in Ten Utterances, “Utterance no. 6”), “The most evil qualities are envy, hatred, greed, and lust, which are the qualities of the evil inclination,” namely everything that constitutes our ego.
Engaging in Torah Means Strengthening Our Unity
Approximately two millennia ago, the people of Israel succumbed to the evil inclination and fell into unfounded hatred. What was left of the reforming light, the Torah, was only words, without their connection to love of others, brotherhood, mutual responsibility, and unity—everything that defined the people of Israel.
Just as our ancestors received the reforming light and became a nation only after they pledged to unite “as one man with one heart,” we must now begin to nurture our unity. Precisely because our mistrust and animosity toward each other are so profound, we must not wait. Any further hesitation can cost us heavily in human lives and torments as our world is nearing a tipping point where it will be too immersed in hatred and suspicion to turn back.
It must be clear: Engaging in the Torah does not mean delving into the words of a written book. It means enhancing our unity so that it rises above our hatred and covers it with love, as King Solomon put it (Proverbs, 10:12): “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.”
In that regard, the book Maor Vashemesh (Parashat Yitro) writes, “Obtainment of the Torah is primarily through unity, as in the verse, ‘And Israel encamped there before the mount,’ ‘as one man with one heart,’ and there their filth (evil inclination) ceased.” In Parashat Emor, the book continues, “During the days of the [omer] count, a person should correct the quality of unity, and by this one is rewarded with obtainment of the Torah on the festival of Shavuot, as it is written, ‘And they journeyed from Refidim and came to the Sinai desert, and Israel encamped there before the mount.’ RASHI interpreted that they were all in one heart as one man and this is why they were rewarded with the Torah.”
The book Likutey Halachot (Assorted Rules) writes in the chapter Hilchot Arev (“Rules of Guarantee”): “The root of mutual responsibility extends primarily from the reception of the Torah, when all of Israel were responsible for one another. This is so because at the root, the souls of Israel are regarded as one, for they derive from the origin of the unity. For this reason, all of Israel were responsible for one another upon the reception of the Torah,” namely the reforming light.
In the chapter Hoshen Mishpat, the book writes (Rule no. 3), “It is impossible to observe Torah and Mitzvot (commandments),” meaning receive the light that transforms egoism into love of others, “unless through mutual responsibility, when each one is responsible for his friend. For this reason, each one should include himself with the whole of Israel in great unity. Hence, at the time of the reception of the Torah, they immediately became responsible for one another, for as soon as they want to receive the Torah they must merge as one in order to be included in the desire. …Thus, specifically by each being responsible for his friend, they can observe the Torah. Without this, it would have been impossible to receive the Torah whatsoever.”
The Key to Our Success
In today’s uncertain times, engaging in Torah, meaning nurturing our unity, is our key to success. Moreover, it is the key to our survival—on the personal level, as Jews, and the survival and prosperity of the State of Israel.
Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah, reminds us that only if we unite we will succeed. If not, the Talmud warns in two separate places (Shabbat 88a, Avoda Zarah 2b): “There will it be your burial.”
We must not rely on foreign rulers and the trumpets they sound. Our weapon is unique and cannot be taken away. It hurts no one, but it makes us indestructible. This is the power of our unity, and the festival of the giving of the Torah is approaching at the perfect time to remind us that now is the time to use our secret power—the reforming light—that abides in our unity, which is our law, our Torah.
Torah, “Leviticus” 23:16 – 23:17: You shall count until the day after the seventh week, [namely,] the fiftieth day, [on which] you shall bring a new meal offering to the Lord. From your dwelling places, you shall bring bread, set aside, two [loaves] [made from] two tenths [of an ephah] …
That is how the story about Shavuot (the festival of the giving of the Torah) begins.
Fifty days is the level of Bina. Bina is the characteristic of bestowal, the higher level. Malchut is the characteristic of reception, the lower level. There are seven Sefirot of Zeir Anpin between Malchut and Bina, which are the intermediary levels that separate between them.
Seven levels multiplied by the seven sub-levels in each one of them are 49 altogether, and the fiftieth level is Bina, the characteristic of pure bestowal.
Bread (a new meal-offering) specifically symbolizes the characteristic of Hassadim (mercy). So, bread is the foundation of all nourishment.
According to the custom of today, Shavuot is a very simple and modest holiday because we don’t have the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) now or the offering of sacrifices.
From a spiritual point of view, a powerful internal potential exists on this holiday, even though, externally, it is completely unrecognized.
It symbolizes the reception of the guidebook for the spiritual correction of a person, the receiving of the Torah.
However, in the spiritual chain of festivals, Passover, the Exodus, is considered to be more essential. We become detached from the ego and independent, free people. As it is said, we became a people, and from that moment everything depended upon us, whereas Shavuot gives a person the way to life. He gets a “graduation diploma,” he gets the Torah, and from here on, he continues with this guidebook. Yet, from here on, there exist stages that one must go through.
The Meaning of Consuming Dairy Products and Wearing White Clothing on Shavuot
The consumption of dairy products symbolizes love, like the love of a mother for her children. The color white symbolizes light, the pure giving force. If we relate to each other with love, we attain very special fruits, we discover a perfect world.
The Meaning of the Correction of the Night of Shavuot (Tikkun Leil Shavuot)
The correction of the night of Shavuot (Tikkun Leil Shavuot) is a spiritual state in which the darkness of the ego is revealed and then we require the Light of Torah. The Light of Torah makes it possible for us to accept every situation as a situation that precedes correction and associates everything with “There is none else beside Him” (Deuteronomy 4:35).
From the darkness, from the discovery of the evil, the ego demands correction. The intent of the concept of night is that the day begins from it, correction begins from it.
Humanity is beginning to understand today that there is a negative force in us that drives us toward war and discord. The wisdom of Kabbalah says that this is a good state. It is the “evening.” If we know how to correct ourselves, the morning arrives.
In the spiritual process, the right decision is accepted in a state called “midnight” because in the greatest darkness there is a great Light that illuminates our mind and feeling and advances us toward love and bestowal. The correction itself arrives from the connection between people in a group, in a Minyan, for the sake of discovering the Light that Reforms. So the force that can transform us from receptive creatures to creatures of bestowal is called “Torah.”
The correction of the night of Shavuot means that I take it upon myself to begin to correct my heart from hatred to love of others, to love of the Creator. Loving the Creator means equalizing our characteristics with His characteristics, becoming good and benevolent like Him. The correction is implemented in relation to others because the essence of the correction is love of others, connection to others.
The Meaning of the Time between Passover and Shavuot
“And by the exodus from Egypt they received the level of faith…and after Passover, the purifying work begins in preparation for the receiving of the Torah. And when the Torah is dressed in a person’s soul, this is the time of Shavuot, the time of the giving of our Torah.” (Rabash, Letter 52)
Until Passover, the period of “the enslavement in Egypt” continues, which means a person feels troubles and blows because of his ego so that he will want to detach himself from it and rise above it to the attribute of bestowal. A person makes new efforts each time through the group, wanting to rise above his ego and be included in the connection. This is the labor in Egypt that continues until its full measure, and then the Light gives a person the power of correction.
But it’s only the ascent above his ego, which the holiday of Passover symbolizes. Then we begin to count 49 days until the holiday of Shavuot, when we detach ourselves from our ego and rise to the level of Bina. The dairy foods we eat in Shavuot symbolize bestowal—a holiday full of Light.
Therefore, in Passover we leave the “left line,” and in Shavuot we receive the beginning of the “right line.” Then we receive the Torah, which means the “middle line.” Then we can connect our ego with the power of the Torah, with the Light we receive from Bina which reforms, and continue to build ourselves.
The holiday of Shavuot seems light and “airy”: We wear white clothes and eat dairy foods; all symbolize bestowal, Light, and the “right line.” A person hasn’t acquired vessels yet; he hasn’t discovered the ego. The first contact with the “right line,” with the Light, isn’t real until we fulfill it in the “middle line,” which we have to build by ourselves. A person takes from the “left line” the parts he can attach to the “right line,” and with the help of the Light, fulfills this connection by receiving a soul, a vessel that will enable him to bestow.
Every holiday we have symbolizes a certain level at which, after having fulfilled the previous stage of development in one line, we move on to the other line, in order to form the third line. Then we dress these three lines in our perception of reality according to the timeline.
The Meaning of Celebrating the Holiday of the Giving of the Light
During Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of the Torah. It’s the day when all who are regarded as “Israel” (“Isra-El,” meaning “straight to the Creator”) were given the Torah, the method of self-realization through free will, rather than coming to the preprogrammed state of fulfillment under the impact of the light pushing them to it.
On the contrary, they are able to see themselves, the entire reality, and even the Creator. Instead of Him doing it, they can decide that they truly desire to reach this goal, as if He wasn’t the one who supplied it.
We celebrate that we are able to understand, feel, and attain the upper force that works within us and can identify ourselves with its acts. Clearly, this upper force, the Creator, works either way. However, we attain how He works; we desire for Him to work on us, and even before He takes any action, we already strive toward Him. This is how love is measured.
The Meaning of the Bride and the Sons of the King’s Palace
“The Bride” is the connection in the group, Malchut is at least ten men (Minyan). The purpose of the exile was actually to collect all the shattered parts and build the vessel of the bride. Then we reach the night of the bride (eve of Shavuot), in which all the parts come together, and it is also the darkest time.
Although we are happy that we can already connect, it is still a state of darkness. Then the next morning the groom arrives and the light of day is revealed in the bride. Our world is what we feel in Malchut, in the bride, and so we need to collect all the pieces of the vessels, all the parts of the bride.
We are all parts of the bride, which is all of humanity. But there are people who collect all these parts together; who work like ants that carry all these parts of the soul into the bride. They are called the sons of the king’s palace.
Further Reading on Shavuot
Articles by Dr. Michael Laitman
- Shavuot: Beyond the Cheese Cake – The Times of Israel
- It’s Time to Debunk Misconceptions About the Torah – Ha’aretz
Posts in Dr. Michael Laitman’s Personal Blog
- Shavuot: About Giving And Receiving
- Happy Shavuot From Israel
- Happy Shavuot
- Shavuot: What Is The Torah Really Meant For?
- Shavuot Is The Most Important Holiday
- What Is Shavuot?
- Shavuot Is Full Of Light
- New Life #561 – The Holiday Of Shavuot In Israeli Society
- New Life #733 – The Correction Of The Night Of Shavuot
- Shavuot: What Is The Oath of the Nation of Israel?
- Celebrating The Giving Of The Light
- Preparation For “Giving The Torah”
- Sons Of The King’s Palace
Material on Passover and the Jewish holidays by the Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education & Research Institute
- The Meaning of the Jewish Holidays – chapter from the book, The Path of Kabbalah
- The Spiritual Meaning of the Jewish Holidays – app for Android, iPhone and iPad
The Meaning of the Jewish Holidays Series
- The Meaning of Rosh Hashanah
- The Meaning of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement)
- The Meaning of Sukkot
- The Meaning of Simchat Torah
- The Meaning of Hanukkah
- The Meaning of Tu BiShvat
- The Meaning of Purim
- The Meaning of Passover