Shavuot: The month for Torah

Shavuot: The month for Torah

Rabbi Ilan Acoca leads the Sephardic Congregation of Fort Lee, and is rabbi-in-resident at Ben Porat Yosef Yeshiva Day School in Paramus.

Although the date for the holiday is never explicitly stated in the Torah, Shavuot occurs on the 6th (and in the diaspora on the 7th) day of the month of Sivan. Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Spira (1783-1841) explains in his work Bnai Yisascher that the astrological sign of the month of Sivan is Gemini, the twins. This sign relates to dual aspects of the holiday of Shavuot. We all know that when Israel left its enslavement in Egypt, it emerged as a nation that would now be free to serve the only master, the Master of the World.

When Hashem gave Israel the Torah shortly thereafter, unity of purpose, holiness and love were evident between Hashem and the nation. Those siblings who are developed and born together —  twins — symbolize this kind of unity. Just as a special bond exists between twins, so too is there a unique feeling between Hashem and the nation of Israel.

The special unity experienced and evidenced by the giving of the Torah was not only between God and His people. It existed amongst the people in the nation of Israel as well. There was harmony and unanimity of purpose. The feelings of camaraderie were so great that the Torah refers to the encampment of the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai in the singular, “And he (Israel) camped there.” This unity is also alluded to by the sign of the month of Sivan, the twins.

There is additional significance to the sign of the month as it relates to the giving of the Torah. The Bnai Yisaschar quotes a parable. A king was preparing for the wedding of his daughter and wanted to display her beauty and splendor in a manner befitting a princess. One of the king’s advisers suggested that she rides on an elephant. She would be elevated above the throngs and masses, seated in lofty majesty in true royal fashion. Another adviser noted that although the elephant may be tall, it is lacking the dignity and majesty of other animals, and therefore the beauty of the princess bride would not be fully complemented. He suggested instead that she ride on a horse, well groomed, muscular, and dignified. A third adviser chimed in. He observed that while an elephant may be tall, and a horse may be majestic, neither of these beasts has the ability to expound on the beauty of the princess, nor the ability to demonstrate their respect for her, nor to bring her the joy befitting a bride with antics and entertainment. He therefore suggested that she be carried upon the shoulders of men. In that way her beauty would be seen, and she would be properly honored.

The month of Nissan is the first in the Jewish calendar. Accordingly, the astrological sign of that month, Aries, the ram, is the highest ranking, so to speak, of the astrological signs. Each astrological sign brings with it certain attributes and characteristics that are imparted, perhaps in a metaphysical sense, during that month. The Nation of Israel left the land of Egypt in Nissan. However, Hashem did not choose to give the Torah in Nissan. Just as the elephant signifies an elevation above, so too does Aries. Hashem did not want to give the mistaken impression that the respect or honor for Torah had to be bolstered or enhanced, which could occur by having it associated with the “highest” of astrological signs. The Torah was to be respected in and of itself, and therefore Nissan was not the month chosen for presentation of this gift.

The sign for the next month, Iyar, is Taurus, the bull. The bull, like the horse in the parable, signifies a powerful physical presence and beauty. We know that during the month of Iyar the trees begin to blossom and plants begin to grow after their long wintry slumber. The beauty of spring is truly one of G-d’s wonders. Yet Hashem did not want to convey the mistaken impression that somehow the giving of the Torah needed to be enhanced by beautiful manifestations. He did not want people to think that the Torah was not worthy of being honored and praised if it stood alone. Therefore, the Torah was not given in Iyar.

The Torah was given, as we know, in Sivan. Gemini, the twins, which is Sivan’s astrological sign, represents the people carrying the princess in the analogy. The twins, as people, have the ability to praise, show respect and give honor. The ultimate respect for the Torah comes from us. We, creatures of flesh and blood, were endowed with the ability to comprehend and respond. It is with these powers that Hashem wanted the praise of the Torah to be expressed. It is from people who can see the Torah, appreciate the Torah for what it is and express that appreciation. Therefore, Sivan was the month chosen for the giving of the Torah.

We have the opportunity on Shavuot to recall how our forebears accepted the gift of all gifts, the Torah. They accepted it as a unified nation. They accorded it the honur, respect and dignity due to such an exalted gift. The offer and acceptance of this gift firmly cemented the special relationship, the unity of heart and soul, so to speak, that existed and continues to exist between Hashem and the Nation of Israel. Let the lessons of Gemini not be lost on us.

Rabbi Ilan Acoca leads the Sephardic Congregation of Fort Lee, and is rabbi-in-resident at Ben Porat Yosef Yeshiva Day School in Paramus.

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