Dvora’s Lotus cake

Tuesday, 11 June, 2024 - 7:22 am

Last Saturday, I said in my sermon at the Chabad House that Shavuot is not just a holiday of cheesecake, but it is a special day on which we received the Torah. While it is very pleasant, tasty, and also important to follow the custom of eating dairy and especially cheesecake, that is not the main point.

Some of the congregants, both men and women, approached me afterward during the kiddush and, without coordinating among themselves, smiled and told me that it wasn’t nice of me to suspect that, for them, the holiday is just about cheesecake. Cheesecake is not the central theme of the holiday for us; Dvora’s Lotus cake is the main topic.

The truth is that there is no special mitzvah from the Torah for Shavuot. The Torah's instructions for Sukkot are to sit in the sukkah and take the four species, for Pesach to avoid chametz and eat matzah and maror. Rosh Hashanah is a day of blowing the shofar, and on Yom Kippur, ‘you shall afflict your souls’ is the mitzvah, the fast. On Shavuot, there is no special mitzvah. There are various customs, but no special mitzvah for the holiday.

It is also interesting that the sages refer to Shavuot as ‘Atzeret,’ even though in the Torah it is not mentioned as ‘Atzeret.’ Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev writes in his book Kedushat Levi: I was asked in the state of Lithuania why Shavuot is called Atzeret when the name Atzeret is only mentioned in the Torah regarding Shemini Atzeret. And I answered simply: it appears that in all holidays there are two types of service to the Creator, blessed be He. One is performing the mitzvah related to that specific holiday, such as eating matzah on Pesach and similar. The second is the prohibition of work. On Shavuot, it is not so; there is only one mitzvah (just the prohibition of work), that is, we refrain from work, and for this reason, it is called Atzeret.

In other words, the Berdichever says that on Shavuot, there is one central thing: stopping.

I thought it would be nice to stop for a moment the race of life. To stop the stress and tension. To stop everything my system is used to thinking and feeling, even to stop my solid opinion on everything and perhaps try to re-examine everything anew? After all, we want to receive the Torah anew, and in my view, receiving it anew means receiving it at a deeper level, expanding my emotional and mental capacity to receive more of Hashem’s Torah, and that is not something that can be done without stopping. And how lucky we are that outside of Israel, we have two days for this.

Chag Sameach, with blessings for receiving the Torah with joy and inwardness,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

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