Yesterday, I attended a class called “The Laws of Shavuot.” Being relatively new to Judaism, I expected a class similar to those before Passover or Sukkot. Many technical laws. Lots of “do”s and “do not”s.

To my surprise, other than going to synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments, there are very few laws unique to Shavuot. Unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are no lengthy prayers. And unlike Sukkot and Passover, we can eat whatever we like, as well as wherever we like. Sure there are the customs related to flowers, blintzes, and cheesecakes, but hey, it’s a piece of (cheese)cake compared to the other holidays.

Am I missing something here? Shouldn’t the holiday on which we received the many laws of the Torah have some laws of its own?


Great question! To understand one reason why this holiday seems, well, so ordinary, we have to take a step back and examine the Torah/world relationship.

The Torah is often seen as a “bandage” solution. The world is essentially a dark and scary jungle filled with all sorts of unhealthy foods, relationships and forms of recreation. So the Torah keeps us out of trouble.

Essentially, this perspective is saying that there was always a world, stuff, and us. The Torah? That came later on. It wasn’t until 2,448 years after creation that G‑d decided to work on the glitches, or at least provide us a way to maneuver around them.

With this approach, the Torah is an imposed set of laws—one that clashes with the world around us.

Luckily, there’s another way to look at things.

The Torah is G‑d’s own wisdom. It existed long before there was a world. But G‑d wasn’t happy with this wisdom staying in the spiritual realms. He wanted a physical world where this wisdom would be studied and its commandments observed. To make things challenging, He planted obstacles and distractions, but these are merely masks that conceal the world’s true purpose: An activity center for Torah and mitzvahs, a place where every word can be transformed into Torah, every gadget used for holiness, every dollar turned into a mitzvah.

And because this was the intent from the very beginning, it’s Torah—not the craziness on the outside—that is the world’s true genetic makeup. We need the Torah merely to reveal what the world always was meant to be: a home for G‑d.

This explains the teaching of our sages that when G‑d spoke the Ten Commandments at Sinai, His voice had no echo. For an echo is normally created when a sound meets with a substance that resists it. The Torah has no such echo. Every object in the universe is saturated by its message. There is nothing off which it could ricochet. For the Torah is not an imposed reality, but the very DNA of the world.

Each year on Shavuot, when we re-experience Sinai, we show our appreciation for Torah through normal eating and celebrating—without any special rules. For the Torah does not introduce a new reality, but rather sheds light, purpose and sanctity into everything that is already here now. Even cheesecake.

For more on this subject, see Torah and Reality.