Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 11 June 2016 / 5 Sivan 5776

Shavuot

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Not Just Another “Yosef”

On the night of Shavuot it has become an established custom throughout Jewish communities to stay up all night to learn Torah. Although this custom is mentioned in the Zohar, its popularity seems to have grown around the time of Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch. Today, people gather everywhere around the world to learn all through the night. Some learn what is called “Tikun Leil Shavuot”, a set text from the Written and Oral Torah, while others choose to study Gemara, or other Torah texts, or to attend Torah lectures.

Of all of the special times in the Jewish calendar, the holiday of Shavuot — the time of the giving of the Torah — stands out among them as the day the Jewish nation was given the potential to rise above the rest of creation and unify with its Creator. By means of the Torah, man, a mere physical creature, was given the opportunity to soar above even the holy angels.

We find this idea expressed in the Talmud by Rav Yosef: Every year on the day of Atzeret (Shavuot) Rav Yosef would say to his servants, “Prepare for me a third-born calf, for if not for this day (Shavuot) that allowed me to learn Torah and become spiritually exalted, how many Yosefs are there in the market (and I would have been considered just another one of them)!”

In order to understand the depth of Rav Yosef's words we must first answer a fundamental question about Matan Torah. Since we know that the Avot and the Jews in Egypt learned Torah even well before its acceptance at Mount Sinai, what changed with the giving of the Torah that made that day so special?

The answer is that the power of the Torah to refine and elevate the physical world, including man, was greatly enhanced when the Torah and its mitzvot were given. Through Torah learning a person unifies with Divine wisdom; and through fulfilling a mitzvah a person unites with the Divine will. Since the origin of a mitzvah is its Commander, its power to refine and elevate comes from G-d. If not for the Divine aspect within the Torah and its mitzvot, there would not be a significant change in those who learn it.

According to the above we can understand why Rav Yosef would have been considered just “another Yosef” in the market. Without the power of the Torah to spiritually elevate those who learn it, a person would remain basically the same as those who spend all of their time in the market.

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