Shavuos - Cheirut

In parshas Emor, the pasuk enumerates the different commandments regarding the shalosh regalim we celebrate each year. When referring to the chag of Shavuos the Torah calls it "Atzeres", literally meaning "a restraining". Rashi explains the connection between Shavuos and "restraining" with a mashal. Just like a king who invites his sons to a seudah which was set to take place for a given number of days wishes to "restrain" them from leaving for just a short time longer, so too by Shavuos, Hashem wishes to keep us by him for just a short time longer.

In line with this reasoning, the Ramban continues to explain that in reality, Shavuos is just an extension of Pesach. It’s when Hashem wishes to keep us around for just a short while longer from the "seudah" which was the chag of Pesach. In fact, the Ramban explains that the days of the Omer are really like one long Chol Hamoed with the "chag" finally climaxing over Shavuos.

We see form this Ramban that there's an inherent connection between Pesach and Shavuos. What needs to be understood is the meaning behind this, and how should it affect the way we perceive the chag?

In a general sense, Chol Hamoed Pesach and Shvi'i shel Pesach is to commemorate and relive the completion of the Yetzia from Mitzrayim which began on the first days of Pesach. As the Torah says by kriyas Yam Suf, "And Hashem saved Bnei Yisrael on that day". Without Kriyas Yam Suf, the Yetziah from Mitzrayim wasn't complete; even though we left the physical subjugation of our tormentors, there was still something lacking. Kriyas Yam Suf is what completed the process. Before Kriyas Yam Suf, the Egyptians were technically able to run after us and force us to return. The true freedom of the Yetzia was therefore not yet complete because we were still in a state where it was technically possible to revert back to our status as slaves. Only after Kriyas Yam Suf did it become impossible for us to return to our status as slaves in Mitzrayim, and therefore only then was there a true Yetzia from the shibud of Mitzrayim. 

This is what Chol Hamoed and the last day of Pesach represent. A culmination and climax to what had already begun. It completed the process of the Yetziah, for now there was no going back; there was no returning to our lives of slavery. 

As we all know, the purpose of the Yetziah from Mitzrayim was in order to become bnei chorin, a free people. When we were slaves in Egypt, there were two areas in which the Egyptians enslaved us. We were physically slaves, and we were spiritually slaves. Besides for having to work day and night for the Egyptians, we had descended to the 49th level of Tumah. We were nearly as impure as humanly possible, devoid of any ability to connect with holiness. The Geulah from Mitzrayim worked to remove us from these two distinct areas of slavery. We became physically free, and we also became free of the spiritual shackles which bound us. 

On Shavuos we remember and relive Kabbalos Hatorah. When we stood at Har Sinai and received all of the various instructions for living life and attaining a closeness with our Creator. When the Ramban calls Shavuos an extension of Pesach, what he means to say is that the entire Yetziah of Mitzrayim was for a purpose. It was to be truly free individuals. Whether to become a physical ben chorin or a ruchniyus-dik ben chorin, the Yetziah was to create a situation of freedom for Klal Yisrael. The climax in attaining that true freedom only came when we received the Torah. 

When we received the Torah, something about us changed. We weren't the same people as we were before. We became separated, a nation with a different role and purpose than every other nation on Earth. We became a people connected with a different and deeper reality than our non-Jewish counterparts.

This was the true freedom. When we left Mitzrayim, it was only scratching the tip of the iceberg. We began the process of freedom, but we still lived in this world. Even though we believed in Hashem with every fiber of our being, something was lacking. That connection to the deeper dimensions of reality, the ability to look at the world and see more than just the physical structures which our eyes beheld didn't exist. Only when we received the Torah were we able to connect to a deeper consciousness. Only with the Torah were we able to truly ascend and become a completely different people than the other nations.

Chazal teach us "Ein ben chorin eleh mi she'osek b'Torah", there is no free person besides for one who toils in Torah". What's interesting to note is that Chazal learn this out of a pasuk. It says that the Aseres Hadibros were "charus" on the luchos. The gemara explains, don't read it "charus" (engraved), rather "cheirus", freedom. 

I heard years ago from one of my Rebbeim an exceptionally potent message. The Sfas Emes explains that whenever chazal chose to change a word in order to anticipate a deeper teaching from the pasuk, there always exists a connection between the word which has been changed to the word its being changed to. If that is the case, we need to ask ourselves, what’s the connection between "charus" (engrave) and "cheirus" (freedom)?

If a person writes a letter to his friend, even though the paper contains the message the ink from the pen is always separate from the paper itself. It doesn't combine and integrate with the paper, rather the ink happens to rest on top of the paper. However, when one comes to engrave a message in something, its different. Here there is no ink. One isn't placing anything on top of what's being written on. Rather the engraved item itself speaks the message wished to be conveyed.

This is the message of chazal. When Hashem came to give us the Torah, it wouldn't have been enough to simply give us a written document of directions. Rather it needed to be engraved within us. It needed to become a part of the beat of our heart. It needed to be the air we breathe, how we view the world and interact with it. It needed to become engraved inside of us so we ourselves would be a physical embodiment of Torah values. When we received the Torah, we became different than everyone else deep down in the very fibers of our being. 

This idea also serves as a major insight into how we should perceive learning Torah in general, and especially on Shavuos night. We aren't merely running intellectual exercises in the thought process of the gemara. Rather we're engraving a Torah inclination deep down into the depths of our consciousness. We're becoming one with the Torah, freed and unified as a people striving toward the ratzon of Hashem. 

This is why Shavuos is a culmination of Pesach. Once we received the Torah, there was no returning. We can't return to the status we held before Kabbolas Hatorah.  The freedom and message of Judaism was realized and internalized. As a result of Kabbolas HaTorah, it became a part of us and we became a people with a truly different genetic makeup than every other nation on Earth. 

Our avodah is to realize this inherent difference. Our world has consistently been plagued by the influences of the outside world. Whether it be from Television or movies, we've allowed the other nations of the world to dictate a large portion of our moral compass. And it’s a tragedy. We cannot be an "Or Lagoyim" if we keep on trying to be like them. We end up following instead of leading by example. We need to realize that we are different. Our connection to a deeper reality is what separates us. It’s what frees us. Only once we truly internalize this can we properly feel the cheirus which started on Pesach.  Only once we truly understand this can we live the type of life we are supposed to and serve as an example for positive change in the world. 

   Yacov Nordlicht