We are taught that on Shavuot, as we stand to hear the Ten Commandments, every Jew receives the Torah anew, just as it happened on Mount Sinai.
What does it mean to receive the Torah today? How are we to truly internalize this gift, not once, but every Shavuot, year in and year out?
Shedding light on this subject, the Rebbe of Kotzk once remarked that while we have a date, an anniversary, for the giving of the Torah, there is no date for receiving the Torah. While giving is a one-and-done deal, to be on the receiving end is something else entirely. It is not a revelation, but a process.
We rarely have a sudden moment of spiritual revelation, a supernatural or overwhelming experience that makes us feel that we have no choice but to leave everything behind and cleave to God. It’s a bit more, well, romantic than that.
Actually, receiving the Torah is a lot like falling in love.
Let me explain.
I’m not talking about the kind of love we are so accustomed to seeing in movies, the hallmark of which are a combination of weak-kneed romantic scenes and melodramatic twists, leading to a happily-ever-after ending that makes us feel warm and fuzzy—yet strangely empty when the credits start rolling.
This kind of falling love is different. Yes, there may be a paradigm shift, a moment of clarity when you look at that guy or that girl that you played with in the sandbox as a child and, suddenly, something clicks. But that moment is only an igniting spark that begins a natural, complex process by which two people develop and grow together through challenges and struggles, strengthening their love until their identities become so bound up in one another that they fuse as one.
I sometimes wonder: Why do we often see relationships that started off as a passionate, starry-eyed romance plateau into a monotonous, flat co-existence at best—a dismal disaster at worst? I think one reason is that when the flashy stuff falls away, there is nothing left fueling the relationship. No genuine care and respect, no deep mutual bond resulting from sharing in each other’s successes and failures, joys and sorrows, challenges and triumphs.
Have you ever been strolling through the park and seen an older couple that has been married for sixty or seventy years, holding hands or sitting on a bench, side by side? While they may not have much excitement in their relationship, the depth of their bond is clear: They begin to look alike. They develop similar mannerisms. They finish each other’s sentences. They read each other’s minds. They look at each other in a certain indescribable way, as if the words “I love you” would simply not be sufficient. The depth of their relationship is revealed not in any grandiose displays of affection, but in their oneness—that which is most internal and intangible. And therein lies love in its purest form.
So too, receiving the Torah is not something that we expect to happen with lots of glitz and glamour, something that can be achieved by a formulaic step-by-step program or expressed in a checklist of accomplishments. Like marriage, it’s a deeply personal, organic, tumultuous journey of internalization; a journey that happens over many years, that every Jew experiences in different forms at various times throughout his or her life.
The end goal, though, is that same seamless bond that exists with the couple that has been married for sixty years. When we receive the Torah anew every Shavuot, we pray to fall in love with G-d all over again. We pray that Torah become even more a part and parcel of our being, a lens through which we see the world and our role within it. We strive for a relationship with G-d that is expressed naturally and effortlessly through every fiber of our being.
It seems fitting, then, that the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is often compared to that of a husband and wife. The day of the Giving of the Torah is our wedding day. We are the bride. G-d is the groom. On Shavuot we are meant to experience that same romantic newness in our bond with God that we experience on our own wedding day. But the wedding is not the finale, nor is it an isolated event. It is the beginning of a beautiful process of becoming one.
May we all receive the Torah with joy and internality–b’simcha u’b’penimius–this year!