Shavuot: Receiving Torah, Bringing First-Fruits
Today we celebrate Shavuot, the day in which the nation of Israel first received Torah at Sinai, with an all-night total immersion in Torah study. Yet, the central avodah - worship - in the Holy Temple - was the bringing of the bikkurim - first fruits. In fact, Torah study, and even the historic event of Matan Torah - receiving Torah on the sixth day of Sivan, is not openly alluded to in the Torah itself. Why is this? Is there really something that binds the first-fruits ceremony with the receiving of Torah, or are these two ways of observing Shavuot mutually exclusive?
Today we aren't engaged in the activity of bringing first-fruits to the Holy Temple, for the simple reason that the Holy Temple is not yet standing. Today, In lieu of the bringing of the first-fruits, the custom of intensive Torah study throughout the night of Shavuot has evolved.
It is an all too common misunderstanding that "post" Holy Temple customs have developed in order to replace the lost Temple service. Equally mistaken is the notion that these "post" Holy Temple customs, powerful as they truly are, have contained within them the same power to affect and benefit the spiritual well-being of the world as did the Divine service that these customs have come to "replace."
Receiving Torah at Mount Sinai was the very beginning of the journey for the people of Israel. Endowed with a covenant with the Almighty, the children of Israel were now on their way to becoming the nation of Israel. Contained within every word of every commandment of this new Torah was the imperative of the land of Israel. The journey and the fulfillment of the word of Torah would only be possible in the land of Israel. This is no more explicit than in the commandment of the first-fruits:
"And it will be, when you come into the land which the L-rd, your G-d, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the L-rd, your G-d, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which the L-rd, your G-d, will choose to have His Name dwell there. And you shall come to the kohen who will be [serving] in those days, and say to him, 'I declare this day to the L-rd, your G-d, that I have come to the land which the L-rd swore to our forefathers to give us.'" (Deuteronomy 26:1-3)
Thus marks the conclusion of the journey. The Jewish farmer, informed by Sinai, wholly engaged in the land of Israel, delivers the work of his own hands, the fruits of his own sweat and labors, and brings these bikkurim - these precious first-fruits - to the kohen who serves in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This farmer who has journeyed far from his home in the certainty of G-d's promise and has ascended to the house of the L-rd, this farmer is not studying Torah, he is living Torah.
Today we are at the beginning of the journey, standing once again at Sinai, straining with every fiber of our being not to "wake up too late," striving to absorb and acquire and attain every nuance, every shade, every subtlety of meaning in the letters and words of Torah. We seek to hear the lightning and see the thunder. But the ultimate message of Torah, and the very message embodied by the mitzvah of bikkurim, is that Torah knowledge is meant, not to be accumulated, but to shape and transform all that we are and all that we do. Our all-night Torah study doesn't come to replace the commandments of the first-fruits, nor is it a modern cerebral upgrade of the original "earthy" mitzvah of bikkurim. It is, in fact, a "dry rehearsal," a preparation for repossessing the land, reclaiming our destiny, regaining our ability to truly live the Torah in the land of Israel, and returning "to the place which the L-rd, your G-d, will choose to have His Name dwell there." (ibid)
Tune in to the week's all new TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman, (fresh from his USA adventures), and Yitzchak Reuven begin together the Book of Numbers. The month of Sivan begins and the Omer count concludes, we're standing back at the foot of Mount Sinai, and Torah is given this week all over again - are we ready to receive it anew? The Rabbi likewise shares his experiences at a down-home, old-fashioned Bnei Noach wedding.