KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN THIS WEEKEND IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM
What do freedom and happiness mean to you?
This week we are exploring the essence of freedom and happiness as we fast approach the weekend and with it, the holiday of Shavout. This special and thoughtprovoking time of year asks each of us to look deep inside and connect with our most fundamental spiritual selves.
But before we explore what that truly means – let’s take a look at the very name – Shavout – and unpack its meaning. The reason we call this weekend’s holiday Shavuot is because the word means “weeks” and traditionally – at this time of year – we are counting the Omer (which means “bunch of wheat”) from Passover to Shavuot. At its most basic, this explanation solely speaks to the season of the year, such as when you plant the seed of the wheat, when you collect the wheat and why we count the Omer at that time. But beyond this simple lesson in harvesting history, let’s plumb the essence of the holiday and the significance behind the harvest? Afterall, there are not many farmers in the Jewish culture. So what is the purpose of this holiday called Shavuot? What is in it and what is the counting of the 49 days of the Omer?
Furthermore, what do weddings have to do with it all? On the night of Shavuot according to the Kabbalists, is the night of the wedding between the groom and the bride. Which means it’s the night of the union between the female and male aspects of the Creator. During the night when we read the 24 books of the Torah we are basically decorating the Bride, so she can be ready for the wedding in the morning for the prayer. When the female and male aspects of the Creator are united as a bride and groom no chaos can happen in the world. When there is a disconnection there is space for negativity to happen. On Shavuot it has been promised to the Israelites a light like they never had before.
Now, let’s dive in.
When we look to the Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, he was uniquely capable of bridging the gap between the dry laws and the simple understanding of the Bible to ascertain the secret meaning of every precept. After all, the simple explanation of the Bible helps you understand the story, which can lead you to the Oral Torah which is the Talmud and the Mishnah. From there, you can explore what is required from us to do without any explanations; just the dry law and the rules.This philosophy, however, doesn’t work very well with teenagers or indeed our generation. A growing number of us are looking for the reasoning and the why behind things as opposed to just doing the right thing.
On Passover, according to Rabbi Isaac Luria, God gave us the gift of freedom. But what is freedom? Freedom is not simply about doing whatever you want, whenever you want – instead, it’s the capability of controlling whatever you want and not letting whatever you want control you. That’s the essence of freedom. This freedom also encompasses our emotions – as we can’t always control jealousy, sadness and anger. Passover gives us freedom away from Egypt, and away from Pharaoh – not that Pharaoh is the issue – but rather our inner Pharaoh is the problem. Not that Egypt as a country or land is the problem – rather our inner Egypt is the problem. Fundamentally this means an inability to control our emotions and our desires. That gift of freedom was given to
us by a concept of awakening from above. And this was given to us so that we could discover what freedom truly feels like. For that reason we call that night the night of the seder, the night we put everything in order.
In the morning of Passover that gift has been again taken away from us. Of course the question is why? This is similar to a story in the commentaries about when a baby is born they receive in their mother’s womb all the secrets and knowledge of the world and while they come into this world there’s an angel that slaps them in the face and they forget all of that knowledge. The question we should raise is; why have we been given this gift if it’s going to be taken away?
What’s the purpose in it? The answer is in the concept of earning. It’s a concept that ultimately boils down to the idea that what you simply receive in life doesn’t make you happy – but what you earn in life does. Bearing this in mind, God is giving us the biggest gift of our life by letting us count 49 days so we can earn the same blessing and energy, joy and happiness that was given to us as a gift on the night of Passover and then taken away from us. Just like the knowledge that was taken away from the baby – through this method he is letting us earn it from the beginning.
So the next question is; why would you give the wisdom to the baby or why would you give the gift to the Israelites? The answer is simply that you can’t build a true desire for something you never had. If you never had something and nothing has ever been taken away from you, you won’t feel the void it leaves behind and thus you won’t feel the motivation to go and get it.
The time of the Omer according to Rabbi Isaac Luria, is the time that we are counting day by day to build ourselves according to the seven sefirot of Kabbalah (explore the link of the first class of Ten Sefirot below). Those seven layers, Sefirot, are essentially the way you build your container, your vessel or your capability to receive the gift that the Creator wants to give you. For that reason, it says that on Shavuot we receive the Torah. But how did the Torah come to us? The Torah was written on a tablet and it uses the word “Charut’ which means engraved. The words were engraved on the tablets and the Talmud teaches us not to use the word “Charut” but instead to say “Cherut” (which is spelled the same in Hebrew). This word means Freedom. So we don’t say engraved, we say freedom – but freedom from what? Freedom from the angel of Death. From here we learn that within Shavuot you have the capability to earn the gift that the Creator already wants to give you, from Passover, which is freedom from the angel of Death, freedom from all problems and all you have to do is build the right vessel, capacity and capability to receive it.
For this reason, it’s a worldwide tradition that on the night of Shavuot we don’t sleep at all, and in the morning we pray. This is because sleeping and death march closely together. In fact the Talmud and the Zohar write that sleeping is 1/60th of death. So what’s the difference between sleeping and death? In both, the person is out of commission. The only thing is that the dead person doesn’t wake up in the morning and pray. A person who goes to sleep at night can wake up in the morning. So when a person doesn’t sleep at night they are connecting to life – which makes Shavuot a truly powerful night. There are many special nights that contain energy that we should stay awake for and thus tap into. So stay awake this weekend and tap into the amazing energy of Freedom that is being given to us for the whole year.
We also need to mention that the Zohar and Rabbi Isaac Luria both write that whoever stays awake during this night of Shavuot will receive a truly remarkable gift, and that is that nothing negative will happen to them, to their body, to their love life or to their business.While that is an alluring promise, it should not solely motivate us to stay awake. Instead it should be the opportunity to study, connect and understand what we are receiving in these seven weeks of Shavout. We are finally earning the vessel, the container and the capability to receive the blessing that was meant to be our blessing on Passover.
So what about the Cheesecake?
There are many opinions regarding that. One of them is that when the Israelites got close to Mt. Sinai they said that they saw the Light coming from God and it was called the upper white layer that looked like the Creator, so it connects to that energy of White, and because of that people eat dairy such as cheesecake, blintzes and palachinta and a plethora of a tasty morsels that have cheese in them.
In Israel there is a tradition to throw water on each other on Shavuot. From the tradition of what Rabbi Akiva said;
Rabbi Akiva said: You should be happy, Oh Israel. In front of whom do you purify yourselves and who purifies you? Your Creator in heaven.
As it says, “I will toss pure waters on all of you and you will be purified. ” (Ezekiel 36:25)
Wherever you are in the world I hope you enjoyed this information and can find it useful and beneficial towards your spiritual growth.