Jewish Inspiration Podcast · Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe

Unlock the secrets of Shavuot and deepen your understanding of this often-overlooked holiday in the Jewish calendar. On this episode of the Jewish Inspiration Podcast, we uncover the fascinating journey from the exodus from Egypt to the monumental moment at Mount Sinai where the Jewish people received the Torah. Through the engaging analogy of engagement and a ring, we illustrate how Shavuot marks the beginning of the Jewish people's enduring covenant with God, and draw insightful connections to the events surrounding Yom Kippur. This episode promises a compelling historical narrative that will enrich your appreciation of Shavuot's significance.

Explore the rich traditions and customs that make Shavuot a unique celebration. We reveal the reasons behind the beloved tradition of eating dairy and delve into the compelling story of the Book of Ruth. Discover the historical context of Elimelech's family's move to Moab during a famine and the poignant lessons about the dangers of assimilation. These narratives not only enhance our understanding of the festival but also highlight the timeless struggles and triumphs of the Jewish community. This episode is packed with thought-provoking insights that bring the customs of Shavuot to life.

Finally, we reflect on the profound power of prayer and its essential role during Shavuot. Emphasizing heartfelt communication with God, we stress the importance of daily prayers and the auspicious timing of dawn prayers during this festival. Hear personal anecdotes from yeshiva experiences that capture the joy and commitment that define Shavuot celebrations. As we approach this spiritually uplifting holiday, we encourage you to embrace its deeper meaning, fostering a continuous connection with God through prayer and learning. Join us for a transformative journey as we prepare to celebrate the profound significance of Shavuot.

Recorded in the TORCH Centre - Levin Family Studios (B) in Houston, Texas on June 11, 2024.
Released as Podcast on June 11, 2024
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What is Jewish Inspiration Podcast · Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe?

This Jewish Inspiration Podcast is dedicated to learning, understanding and enhancing our relationship with Hashem by working on improving our G-d given soul traits and aspiring to reflect His holy name each and every day. The goal is for each listener to hear something inspirational with each episode that will enhance their life.

00:01 - Intro (Announcement)
You're listening to Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe, Director of TORCH, the Torah Outreach Resource Center of Houston. This is the Jewish Inspiration Podcast.

00:12 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Welcome back, my friends, to the Jewish Inspiration Podcast. It is the morning, it's the eve of Shavuot. Tonight we'll be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot. Tonight we'll be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot. So the first thing I want to address is, like it seems out there in the Jewish world, in the broader Jewish world out there, that Shavuot is like the hidden holiday or the forgotten holiday. So I want to talk about that for a minute and then we'll talk a little bit about the Book of Ruth. So first is let's talk about the story of Shavuot, what it is, its background, and then we'll talk about why it's a forgotten holiday. Okay, so here we go.

So the Jewish people left Egypt only 40 days ago. 40 days ago they left Egypt. Now, 10 days before that, they celebrated the exodus from Egypt. But they really the sea was split only at the end of the holiday of Pesach, the last day of the holiday. And here we go.

The Jewish people see unbelievable miracles. They see they have the 10 plagues that they witnessed. They have the, the incredible miracles of the splitting of the sea. They walk on dry land, on the. You know the bed, the bedrock of the sea is dry. It's unbelievable, aside for it being split. They see the miracles in the desert of the mana. They see the miracles of the, the protective barriers that God created in the clouds of glory, where the Amalekites were shooting rockets, so to speak, at us, and they bounce right back and kill those who shot them, and you know so. It was like they would shoot these arrows. The arrows would be flung right back at them. The Jewish people see unbelievable miracles, open miracles, right in there, right in front of them.

But the Jewish people say hashem, we want something to lock this relationship in. Imagine a young man, a young girl, start dating and they really like each other. They really this is going. It's going great. Okay, now how do you take this to the next level, something called engagement. You get engaged. What do you do when you get engaged?

You give the girl a ring. Why a ring? Well, what's that ring? I was saying my daughter, when she got her ring, like she started driving with her left hand right. She has to drive with the left. Exactly Everything is like oh, how are you Like? You know, it's like you know, everything is about the ring. Why? Because the ring isn't. The ring isn't a piece of jewelry. Why, because the ring isn't a piece of jewelry. Anybody can wear a piece of jewelry. The ring represents a relationship. The whole relationship is represented right there in that ring.

The Jewish people wanted to take their relationship with the Almighty to the next level, so we got a ring. What's that ring? The ring is the revelation that God gave us at Mount Sinai. Now we call this holiday. If you look in the Siddur, in the prayer book, we're going to change tonight. We're going to say Yalav Yavo, we're going to say a special holiday, amidah, and we're going to say Zman Matan, torah Seinu, the time of the giving of the Torah. That's what we're celebrating. We got our ring. We are betrothed, we are locked into our relationship with the Almighty. Now the truth is that we didn't get the Torah then we didn't get the Ten Commandments. Then we got the revelation of the Ten Commandments, but we didn't actually get the stones, the tablets. Then when did we get the tablets?

40 days later, we know Moshe ascends the mountain on Shavuot, which is the holiday we're going to celebrate tonight and tomorrow and the next day, the forgotten holiday. That's the day that the Jewish people became a nation. This is our birthday, this is our anniversary. This is our birthday. This is our anniversary. This is when we became locked in in our relationship with the Almighty.

Moshe goes, ascends the mountain, goes up to the heavens and comes back with the God-given tablets. Moshe comes back. What does he see? He sees the golden calf and he breaks those tablets and God tells him Yiyashe kochacho, alasher shibarta, good job in breaking the tablets, you did the right thing. Moshe has to clean up the Jewish people their act for 40 more days and then, on the first of the month of Elul, moshe ascends the mountain again and begs for mercy for the Jewish people and comes back down 40 days later, which is the day of Yom Kippur, and God says VeYomer Hashem Salachti Kedvarecha, I forgive you per your request. And that's the story. And God says forever that day is going to be, and that's when the Jewish people actually receive the Torah.

So we see that Shavuos is very closely linked with Yom Kippur already, because it's only 40 days till the tablets came down and were broken, 40 more days till Moshe ascends up the mountain for one more time and 40 more days after that and the Jewish people receive forgiveness atonement and receive a new set of tablets, the ones of sapphire that were chiseled by Moshe. So it's 120 days till Yom Kippur. 120 days, that's it, and we're at Yom Kippur. So Shavuos is a very significant day. Shavuos is a day where the Jewish people built their relationship, their trust, their connection with the Almighty. This is it. We're locked in this relationship.

Now we know that the night before the Jewish people were about to receive this revelation, they get there three days earlier. They get to Mount Sinai and God says okay, now it's time to relax, guys, rest up, because it's going to be some really crazy fireworks. It's going to be some crazy revelation, things that no one will ever see again in the history of the world. And this is 3,336 years ago. And it's going to be. Rest up.

You know what happens when you're really, really excited about something. You can't sleep. But for some reason, the Jewish people had no problem falling asleep. The Jewish people had no problem falling asleep. How is that? How is that that they had no problem falling asleep? How can you have? How can you go to sleep? How can you go to sleep when you're about to see the greatest revelation in the history of the world? I mean, people have a court case. They can't sleep the night before. People are excited to go on a trip. They can't go to sleep.

The Jewish people are about to have a revelation from God at Mount Sinai, the same God who inflicted the ten plagues on the Egyptians, the same God who split the sea for the Jewish people, the same God who brings down the manna from heaven every single morning. We're going to have a direct conversation with God. God's going to say I am Hashem, your God, in the first person, direct, unbelievable. And the Jewish people go to sleep. They go to sleep, no problem, they sleep. So the Jewish people correct that and that's why we stay up tonight, the whole night learning Torah, because we're saying no, no, no, no. We're so excited for the receiving of the Torah, we can't sleep, we can't. We're trying to correct our ways and we're trying to show with our flesh and blood that we're excited about the Torah, though we're not going to stop learning the whole night, and indeed in the morning, at the crack of dawn, most synagogues will have a minyan where they're going to pray the morning services and then you go to sleep. Go to sleep at 7 am, at 8 am. It's a special demonstration of our commitment and our love for the Almighty and His Torah.

So why is it a forgotten holiday? It's a forgotten holiday only outside the circles of the Torah-observing community, and that's unfortunate and it's very sad. But the reason for it is because in many of those circles they don't believe that the Torah was given in Mount Sinai. Anyway, it's shocking to most People tell me you know, rabbi, I'm a Reformed Jew. I'm like no, you're not. You're not a Reformed. I don't know a single person who's a Reformed Jew. Why? Because, I ask them, they're like no, no, no, no, I'm a member in this congregation. I'm like no, no, no. Do you believe the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai? Of course, well, that's against the platform of the. The form movement's platform is that the Torah was not given at Mount Sinai. They don't believe in that. Ooh, shock, yeah, that's now. The conservative movement does believe that it was given at Mount Sinai. At least they did, though they say that it's a new world and it's a new generation and therefore we have to modify the Torah, we have to be modified. So that's. They want to make changes to that, which they regret, I believe, very, very severely regret making changes.

It used to be called the movement of halacha or halacha. It was a movement of halacha based on halacha. But you can modify the halacha based on the generation. But you can modify the halacha based on the generation and that's arbitrary and that's up to many, many different complications without any founding in the Torah. But if we celebrate this holiday as a holiday that the Jewish people received the revelation at Mount Sinai, where the Jewish people built their relationship with God, that's obligating. Some people don't want obligations. Leave me alone. Leave me alone, okay. Shavuot is a very special holiday. It's not only about cheesecake.

I know we can talk about why the Jewish people eat dairy. I'll give you one of the rabbinic sources for this. There's no mitzvah. You don't have to. It's not a sin if you don't. But the Jewish people were now obligated by the laws of the Torah as soon as they had this revelation. Now they became a people. Now they became a Jewish nation. Abraham was not a Jew. Abraham was a Hebrew. Moses, till this point, was also a Hebrew. He wasn't yet a Jew. The Jewish people became a nation at the revelation of Mount Sinai. So now are obligated to the laws of the Torah. So they have to kosher their pots and pans. They have to fulfill. So what are they going to do? They can't cook meat, they can't slaughter an animal on Yontif, so they ate dairy. So that's, according to some of the opinions, the rabbinic sources, is that's why there's a custom to eat dairy to commemorate the Jewish people's observance of the laws of the Torah.

Okay, now we know we read the book of Ruth on this special holiday, very special story. Ruth, we know, is going to be the great-grandmother of King David and, god willing, next year we'll dedicate an entire episode on the entire book of Ruth and we'll talk a lot about the introduction, what's behind it. But let's just look at what was going on. The Jewish people received their land in the land of Israel. This is the time of Joshua. Now what happened? What happened was that the Jewish people were facing a lot of challenges because as soon as they got their land now I got to plant my grapes, I need my vineyards, I want to have my Israeli wine, I want to have, you know, all of the delicacies, of the unbelievable blessings of the land of Israel and the people got busy working their lands and the rabbis, their job, as we mentioned previously, is to inspire the people, to keep them inspired, to give them Torah to give them connection to the almighty. But for some reason it wasn't taking hold.

And from the time of joshua, the jewish people were in an incline and a decline, constantly up and down, and up and down. They were doing well, they rebelled against hashem, and then they lost. They lost themselves, they rebelled, they went down and then they said, okay, we have rebelled. They went down and then they said, okay, we have to do Teshuvah, we have to repent. And then they up and down, and up and down. It's 400 years of total turmoil from the time Joshua conquered the land of Israel. For the Jewish people it's total chaos During this time period, as we begin recording at the beginning of the book of Ruth, there's a great famine in the land, the hero of Baritz.

There was a great famine in the land and there was a man. His name was Elimelech, very wealthy man, very influential man. He's had it. He's like there's a famine, I'm out. He goes with his wife, naomi, and they leave and they go to the land of Moab.

Now, who's Moab? Who is Moab? Moab is the nation that God says can never become converts to the Jewish people. Why? Because when the Jewish people were leaving Egypt and they were passing through, the Moabites didn't come out and greet the Jewish people with bread and water. When someone is traveling for days and years in the desert, go ahead and give them something to eat and drink. They didn't do that. God says. You have nothing to do with them. Now why? Who is the land of moab? Amon and moab? Who were they? They're the descendants of loth. Loth was the nephew of abraham. Abraham taught that you go out and greet the guests and you give them food to eat. You give them bread, you give them water. You reject your own ancestry. Don't join the Jewish people. You can't join the Jewish people.

So here Elimelech goes with his wife, naomi, neglecting his responsibility to go and assist the poor. He's running away. He's running away. I don't want to have to deal with this now. There's a famine. Everyone's going to be knocking on my door asking for charity. I'm going on vacation. I don't want people to ask me. I don't want to have to say no. I don't want to have to say yes, just leave me alone, I'm out, runs away from his responsibilities, and he goes to the city of Moab. And in the city of Moab he has two sons, machlon and Chilion, and the two sons of Elimelech and Naami marry Moabite women.

Now the obvious question is they're not Jewish. What were you thinking, right? Well, that's what happens when we integrate and assimilate in a non-Jewish world. You know, when we send our children to non-Jewish universities, they're going to date non-Jewish girls. That's what's going to happen. That's the reality. If they're at that age and you're mixing them with non-Jews, they're going to date non-Jews. It's not a very difficult formula. So this is the reality and we need to learn from this.

I think number one is to preserve our connection with our own Judaism. It's very important. It's very important for us to recognize that the environment that we put our children in, they will be influenced from when Elimelech and his wife Naomi move to Moab, their children are going to be influenced by the Moabites. They see a pretty Moabite girl. They're going to want to marry her. What do you think they're going to want? And so they did. They married Ruth and they married. So one son married Ruth and the other married Arpa Ruth and Arpa, ruth and Arpa. These are the two. Now, who was Ruth? According to some opinions, they were sisters. Actually, the two sisters married two brothers. But who was Ruth? Primarily, who?

The book of the Megillah is named after her. We have five Megillahs. We have five Megillahs. We have five Megillahs Megillah of Esther. We have Song of Songs, ecclesiastes. We have Lamentations, lamentations and Ruth. These are the five Megillas. They're part of the 24 books of Tanakh. Okay, so five of the 24 books are these Megillas, these five Megillas. Okay, so now they get married.

Elimelech dies and the two sons die. Our sages tell us that Elimelech died as a punishment because he neglected his responsibilities. You were given an opportunity to give charity. You were given an opportunity to help other people. You ran away from it. You ran away from it. It's warranting the death penalty. Why? Because life is opportunity. When you run away from opportunity, you're running away from life. Okay, so Elimelech died, the two sons died. Now who's left? Naomi and her two daughters-in-law and the daughters-in in law. One, ruth says wherever you go, I go. Will you die, I die? We're inseparable.

She saw the greatness of her mother-in-law, she saw the greatness of her mother-in-law's people and she said this is what I want. Who was Ruth? She was the daughter. She was the princess of the King of Moff and she gave up all the wealth to be with her mother-in-law, who lost everything. She lost her husband, she lost all their wealth and now was destitute. She lost all their wealth and now was destitute, had nothing left and she gave up all of that glory, all of that wealth, all of the kingship that she had in her father's home to be with her poor mother-in-law. Orpah left, she walked away. So she goes back to the land of her people, back to the land of Israel. And who comes with her? Her daughter-in-law Naomi goes and her daughter-in-law Ruth goes with her.

It's an obvious question why did Ruth merit to have the great-grandchild in King David? What was so great that? Because she converted. Okay, so we have many converts, many great converts to the Jewish people. For that we have a book dedicated to her, to that it's read on the holiday of Shavuot.

What is so special about Ruth and her story? That it's read on Shavuot and that she merited to King David being her great-grandchild. So it's two different questions, two different answers, two different answers. Number one why did she merit to have such an amazing great-grandchild? Say, just tell us.

Because we learn from her what it means to take care of someone lovingly and unconditionally. You would think, oh, she gave up everything for the Jewish people. Oh, that's why she merited to King David. She gave up the wealth, she gave up the fame, she gave up all of her lifestyle just to be among the Jewish people. That's true, but that's not what is indicated. Our sages tell us the reason she was so great was because she took care of her mother-in-law in her old age and was completely dedicated.

Do you know what it means to do an act of kindness completely selflessly, to be committed to someone that it is really against your entire being? Come from a land of great wealth, from a family of great wealth, from fame, and you give it all up. For what? For your mother-in-law, for your mother-in-law, just out of the love of your heart, and to be so committed and so dedicated. That's for that reason alone Ruth is our matriarch, unbelievable, and from her comes King David, the redeemer of the Jewish people. For what? For a good act.

Who else do we see this by? We see this with Rachel. We see Rachel did total selfless dedication to her sister that her sister not be embarrassed. She gave up her whole life to do that act of kindness. It came back to her, she was rewarded for it. She had Joseph, the redeemer of the Jewish people. So we see that the action of selfless love, selfless dedication comes back in unbelievable ways. This was Rachel and this was Ruth. It's amazing.

So why the holiday of Shavuot? Why the holiday of Shavuot? So think about it for a second. Where was Ruth coming from? Ruth was coming from nothing, coming from absolutely nothing, and she grew to become the great-grandmother of the king of the Jewish people.

You know what that says to each and every one of us. It says to each and every one of us. It says to each and every one of us Shavuot is the time that we can start anew, even if we have nothing. Oh, I don't know anything about Judaism. I never went to torch classes and learned Torah. I don't have any wisdom. I don't know what I'm doing. Neither did Ruth. And look what came out of her. It's a sign of encouragement for every single person to say I can Just like Ruth did. She started from nothing, literally nothing. She wasn't even Jewish. So I know you're going to ask one second. Didn't you say earlier that they're not allowed to convert to Judaism because they didn't welcome the Jewish people with bread and water?

We learn a lot of laws from the book of Ruth, by the way. One of them is the Torah prohibits the, the men of moaf, from converting, not the women, because the men were outside and saw the jewish people coming. The women this is another thing is that the women's place is more inside. It's hidden, just like the queen. You don't. The queen doesn't stand on her front porch all day waving to people. She's inside. It's more modest. The women weren't expected to go out and go greet the Jewish people, so Ruth was able to be converted. Another thing we see about the Leveret marriage is taught. There's a lot of laws that we learn from the book of Ruth, but I think the underlying foundational principle is that it's never too late for a person to say I'm starting today. Today is going to be the day.

Shavuot is the time where we say our relationship with God is beginning anew, to have complete and total dedication to the Almighty, that when we eat, when we sleep, when we walk and when we talk, we do it with the love for Hashem, we do it with the focus, with the intention that we're wanting to connect more with God. Three times a day we have morning, afternoon and evening. We have prayers. Why? Because it's very easy to forget our relationship with God three times a day. We have morning, afternoon and evening. We have prayers. Why? Because it's very easy to forget our relationship with God. We need constant reminders morning, afternoon, evening. Constant reminders, reminders that we are living in a life that is a total gift from the Almighty and Hashem wants our friendship, our relationship.

Shavuot is a reminder. It's our anniversary. How can we forget our anniversary? You know how men remember their anniversary. They forget once. You don't forget your anniversary. This is our anniversary. This is our time that we celebrate a festival of joy, we eat delicacies and we drink the finest wines, because this is the anniversary where we celebrate our relationship with God. Our entire Judaism is based on these two days of Shavuot. That's what it is. It's a festival of our love and our commitment to the almighty. Such an amazing opportunity for us to grow and to connect and to feel unity with the almighty and to sit all night and learn Torah.

You're all welcome to join me. I'll be teaching in the neighborhood. I'll be teaching at the neighborhood. I'll be teaching at Torchwood. He's going to be learning all night and then we pray early in the morning, half asleep. It's fine, we're showing Hashem, we're not going to go to sleep. We're going to show our excitement and our dedication, notwithstanding our physical weakness. We're going to plug through the night and learn Torah and dance and sing.

I remember when I was in yeshiva I was 15, 16 years old and it was my first shavuos that I was going to be in a yeshiva the whole night and every hour they stopped the learning and started singing a song. Everyone sitting in their seats, learning, learning, learning non-stop. Every hour On the hour they sang a song. It woke you up, it got you energized. Everyone singing together. Remember one of the songs Uvoh chulam b'vrisach yachad nasa v'nishma omru ke. The songs that all the Jewish people came in unity and sang and said Nasa, we will do and we will listen. It's a great song. In unity, we say it's the most incredible thing. The Jewish people stood at the foot of Mount Sinai. It says. And they, not, not they. And he camped by mount sinai. What do you mean? He? It's a jewish people, it's they is singular why? Because it demonstrates the unity the Jewish people had. They were one man, one soul, one heart. They were completely united. This is an unbelievable opportunity this holiday to just bring it all together to make our commitment and the commitment that we make should be one that we can maintain, and whether it be that we learn something every day, whether we pray and talk to God.

Prayer people think, oh, a prayer book. I once had a guy student who told me. He says Rabbi, I can't do prayer, I can't pray. I said why not? He said because I don't have time. I said what do you mean? You don't have time? He says I don't have time. I said what do you mean? You don't have time? He says I don't have time to pray. He says you need like a few hours for that. I said no, what are you talking about? Prayer, open your heart and talk. That's the obligation.

The obligation is not to say all the words that are in the prayer book. The obligation is to talk to God. That's the biblical obligation for us to communicate with God every day. That's prayer. You want to pray with a prayer book. That's extra credit. There's extra benefits to it as well, because praying from a prayer book touches all the notes of the heavens. All of the channels are able to be executed properly.

The message is delivered in the right place at the right time. Our sages tell us the benefit of praying at the crack of dawn, because that's when the time of mercy is. There are many, many Jews who wake up every morning. Go to the Western Wall. You'll see Jews, pious Jews, praying every single morning at the crack of dawn, exactly on the second, exactly when the sun rises. That second is when they begin the Amidah every morning, because there's a special moment of mercy. That's what we're trying to connect with. My dear friends. It should be an uplifting holiday for all of us, not a cheesecake holiday. A holiday of growth, of connection, of love, of friendship, of relationship building with the Almighty. Hashem should bless us all. It should be the most magnificent Shavuot yet Amen, have a great Yontif.

31:58 - Intro (Announcement)
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