Shavuot 5779

A Surprising Friendship – Shavuot
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

The Jewish nation is celebrating Shavuot beginning this coming Saturday night. This holiday is also called the Festival of Weeks, and “Zman Matan Torateinu”, the time we received the Torah. On this day, over 3,200 years ago, the Jewish nation that had just been liberated from Egypt stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and heard the Ten Commandments – the initial basis of the Torah’s commandments.

A few days beforehand, the nation had arrived at Mount Sinai and camped. Moses, the leader of the nation, was called to ascend the mountain and from there he was sent to suggest to the nation to make a covenant with G-d:

“…if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.”

(Exodus 19, 5-6)

This is not covenant between equals. The differences between these two sides is immeasurable: G-d, the Creator and leader of the world, wished to made a covenant with creatures as weak and limited as humans. Therefore, this is the story that changed the face of history and gave man value and significance, as well as a mission.

If we fast-forward a few centuries, we will meet a young boy, the son of King David and his wife Batsheva, about whom the prophet tells us a short and surprising story:

“…and she called his name Solomon; and the Lord loved him. And He sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet, and he called his name Yedidiah for the Lord's sake.”

(Samuel II 12, 24-25)

We see here a surprising concept, based on the covenant between G-d and the Jewish nation: friendship between man and G-d. The name “Yedidiah” means “friend of G-d”. Could such a friendship between man and G-d actually exist? The bible says it can. Maybe we can say even more than that: the spiritual summit to which a man can climb is that same deep point of faith, the feeling of friendship with the Creator of the Universe.

There is a famous story in the Talmud that tells of a non-Jew who stood before Shamai, the head of the court in Jerusalem during the 1st century, BCE, and asked him to teach him the entire Torah while he “stood on one leg”, meaning in just several moments. Shamai sent him away. From there, the man went to Hillel and asked the same of him. Hillel agreed to the challenge to summarize the entire Torah in one sentence and answered him:

"Which you do not want for yourself, do not do it to others. This is the essence of Judaism, all the rest is just commentary.

(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, page 31)

Does this sentence actually summarize the entire Torah? The commentator Rashi, (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 11th century), suggested a daring interpretation of Hillel’s words:

“Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend (Proverbs 27, 10) – This is the Blessed be He. Do not transgress G-d's words, like you do not like people who transgress your words.”

According to Rashi, this one sentence that summarizes the entire Torah is referring to G-d as a friend who has your best interests at heart and therefore set up his commandments. Just as you expect your friends to behave toward you, so you should act toward the Creator – with faith, love, and good will.

Shavuot is an opportunity for us to renew the covenant, this wonderful friendship. This is an opportunity for each and every one of us to deepen the connection between us and G-d. On Shavuot, we hold on to the Torah with love and friendship, while expressing complete faith in its words that bring joy to our hearts.

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