Almost every Jewish holiday has a mitzvah that commemorates the event that took place on that day. On Pesach we eat Matzah, Sukkos we live in a Sukkah, Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar (to commemorate that today is Judgement day). Yom Kippur we fast, on Chanukah we light the menorah and on Purim we listen to the Megillah.
What mitzvah does one perform on Shavuos to commemorate the giving of the Torah?
Get ready for this. There is no mitzvah performed on Shavuos that commemorates the giving of the torah.
“What?!? Wait a minute,” you might say. “We stay up all night learning torah, we eat cheese cake and dairy meals, some even decorate their house with flowers and branches. These are all mitzvos that commemorate the giving of the torah.
That is true. All of the above are customs that developed over the years.
However, they are not mitzvos.
Why not? Why is Shavuos different from all the other holidays?
The Nesivos Shalom (Vol. II, page 336) writes that there is actually another holiday that also does not have a mitzvah that commemorates what happened on that day. That is the holiday of Shemini Atzeres.
Interestingly enough, another name given for the holiday of Shavuos is Atzeres, an assembly (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 15).
What is the connection between the two holidays that they are both coined as Atzeres, an assembly and have no mitzvah to commemorate what happened on that day?
Shavuos and Shemini Atzeres are both celebrated after a fifty day period. Shavuos is fifty one days after Pesach and Shemini Atzeres is fifty one days after Rosh Chodesh Elul. On both holidays a person reaches an entirely new level in their relationship with Hashem that did not exist in the days beforehand.
Let me explain with the following scenario:
Imagine that a man and a woman are going out. On the first date they get a coffee in a cafe, the second date they go on a walk in a park and have a picnic, on the third date they meet up for ice cream. On every date they are always doing something.
Because by doing things together they are building a relationship with each other.
Fast forward a couple of years
This couple has been married for ten years. One evening, they decide to sit on a bench outside their home and spend some time together. They don’t need to do anything in order to enjoy each other’s company. Just being together is sufficient. Why? Because they already spent ten years building a relationship with each other.
According to the Nesivos Shalom (Vol. II, Introduction to chapter one and chapter four) the goal of every holiday and mitzvah is for a person to develop a relationship with Hashem. On Pesach night one connects to Hashem by eating matzah, maror and drinking four cups of wine. During Sefiras Haomer, when one works on eradicating their negative character traits, a person removes the barriers that separate oneself from Hashem. After fifty days of cultivating their relationship and removing any obstacles, a person’s connection with Hashem is completely transformed to a different dimension that did not exist beforehand.
On Shavuos, one is on the level where one no longer needs to perform a mitzvah to connect to Hashem. One can just enjoy “being” with Hashem.
The same thing happens on Shemini Atzeres.
On Rosh Chodesh Elul, one begins the process of reconnecting to Hashem. One continues to draw closer to Hashem on Rosh Hashanah by blowing the shofar, fasting on Yom Kippur and living in a Sukkah for seven days. After fifty days of teshuva, one’s relationship with Hashem on Shemini Atzeres is on a completely new level. One is so connected to Hashem there is no NEED to perform a specific action to feel that connection.
This also explains their shared name of Atzeres which has the same root of the word – “stop” עצר. Today is the day when you can stop and enjoy the fruits of your labor. This is the day where you no longer need to perform a mitzvah to connect to Hashem, rather, today you are directly connected to Hashem.
Have a Chag Sameach!
Miriam Brodersen is a writer and teacher at several seminaries in Jerusalem, Israel.