On Shavuot, Rav Yosef would say: "Prepare me a third-born calf... Were it not for this day, how many Yosefs are there in the marketplace!"

Talmud, Pesachim 68b

"There are many paths to the truth. Every man must seek G‑d in his own heart, in his own way."

"Truth, by definition, is absolute and unequivocal. To speak of 'different truths' is a contradiction in terms."

"If something is true, it exists under all circumstances and on all levels of reality. There might be one ultimate truth, but it has many faces and manifestations."

"Faces and manifestations are expressions of a truth, not the truth itself. If one desires the truth itself, one must surrender all personal conceptions and inclinations and relate to the truth solely on its, the truth's, terms."

Which of the above statements are true? All of them, of course. They just describe two different perspectives: the view from the bottom up, and the view from the top down.

Imagine a group of people contemplating a piano. They have never seen or heard of a piano in their lives, nor, for that matter, any other musical instrument — they live in a world in which the very concept of music is unknown.

"It's a piece of wood," says one.

"It's an exquisitely fashioned piece of furniture," says another, a cabinetmaker by profession.

"It's obviously some sort of machine," says the engineer in the group.

A musician from another galaxy enters the room. "It's a piano," he tells them, "a musical instrument." He seats himself at the keyboard and plays them a symphony. He teaches them how to read, play and compose music.

These people were each seeking the truth in their own way, drawing on their own knowledge and experience to decipher the significance of the object before them. The conclusions they reached were true — a piano is a piece of wood, a piece of furniture, a machine. But they grasped only an outermost edge of the truth. This was not because their reasoning was faulty, or because it was based on faulty data; it was because the piano belongs to a world — the world of music — which lay beyond the parameters of their reality. So they perceived not the piano for what it is, but the piano as it exists in their respective worlds — the world of physical objects, the world of cabinetmaking, the world of engineering. They were looking at it from the bottom up.

Then an ambassador from the world of music came and introduced a new perceptive: a perceptive from the top down. A vision of the piano from it's, the piano's, world.

The Marketplace

The Talmud relates that Rav Yosef would celebrate Shavuot with a particular enthusiasm and joy, calling for "a third-born calf" (a special delicacy) to be prepared in honor of the festival. "Were it not for this day," he explained, "how many Yosefs are there in the marketplace!"

Simply understood, Rav Yosef's words express his joy over having been privileged to devote his life to the study and practice of Torah. Shavuot marks the day on which we received the Torah from G‑d at Mount Sinai; were it not for the day of Shavuot, Rav Yosef is saying, what would distinguish him from the many Yosefs out there, involved with the mundane pursuits of the marketplace?

There is, however, a deeper significance to Rav Yosefs words, in which the marketplace of which he speaks is a spiritual marketplace, populated by seekers and propagators of G‑dliness and truth. How many Yosefs are there in this marketplace? Indeed, many. Every individual is unique, with his own particular mindset, character, and spiritual persona; it follows that there would be many approaches in humanity's striving for meaning to life.

The fact that there are many Yosefs in the marketplace does not mean that they are all on the wrong track. G‑d is the ultimate singularity, but He is also the ultimate and exclusive source of our diverse and multifarious world. Every reality is an expression of His being, every perspective a path to His truth. But these are all quests "from the bottom up" — quests generated, defined and driven by the human condition. Everything human is finite, and the finite and the infinite are two different worlds — as different from each other (to grossly understate the fact) as carpentry and music. So the most sublime human discoveries only touch upon the outermost edge of the divine truthon the finite expressions of an infinite reality.

But on the 6th day of Sivan, of the year 2448 from creation (1313 bce), "G‑d descended upon Mount Sinai" (Exodus ,19:20) allowing man a glimpse, from the top down, of the divine essence. He gave us the Torah, in which He revealed to us His truth from His perspective, and provided us with the tools to comprehend, relate to and realize His reality on His terms. On Shavuot, the many Yosefs of the marketplace graduated to the singular Yosef — the student and practitioner of Torah.1)