We experience life through the medium of time. Each new moment brings with it new opportunities as we move along the spectrum of time. Amidst the constantly moving wave of time, the holidays are specific, unique points in time that carry with them special energy. Before we can delve into the specific theme of Shavuot and what this unique point in time holds for us, we must first understand time on a larger scale.
The nature of time
The widely accepted understanding of time is that it moves in a straight line. Hashem created our world of space and time, and since its inception time has been moving inexorably forward. Along this line of time is the past, present, and the future. If we were to move backward on this line of time, we could peer through history and find Abraham at the Akeida, Moses receiving the Torah, and Maimonides writing the Mishneh Torah. Our current experience is taking place in the middle of the line, and if we could move forward along the line we would see events that have not yet happened. However, there is a major challenge to this theory.
There is a passage in the Passover Haggadah which states that Abraham served matzah- unleavened bread- to the three angels who visited him because it was Passover at that time. Rashi, a medieval commentator, quotes this opinion on the verse in Bereishit (Bereishit 19:3) and says that Lot did the same for the angels who came to Sedom. How can this be? The commandment of matzah originates from the event of leaving Egypt - an event that would not occur for another few centuries!
Circles in Time
To understand why Abraham and Lot served their guests matzah before Passover even occurred we must develop a deeper understanding of time. Time does not move along one continuous, straight line; it actually circles around in a repeating yearly cycle. As the Ramchal explain, God created thematic cycles of time, where each point in the year holds unique spiritual energies.
This understanding transforms our understanding of time. We don’t celebrate freedom each year on the 15th of Nissan because that’s when the Jews were freed from Egypt, rather the Jews were redeemed from Egypt on the 15th of Nissan because that is zman cheiruseinu, the time of freedom. That power of freedom is what allowed the Jews to escape the slavery of Egypt. This is why Abraham and Lot ate matzah long before the actual redemption. Matzah represents freedom, and Abraham and Lot tapped into the spiritual waves of freedom that were inherent at that point in time. They were not commemorating a historical event, they were tapping into the deep energies of time inherent at the point in the circle. Every year, we do the same. Thus, it is clear that time not a continuous line, but a circle.
Spirals in Time
However, even the circle analogy is limiting. If time were indeed a circle, each point of the year would simply be a recreation and repetition of that point from the previous year, from the previous time around the circle. That would be pointless. We do not seek to re-experience the past each year. Our goal is to expand upon what we have created year by year, so that this year, when we return to that same point on the circle from last year, we are in a fundamentally different place. Each Rosh Hashana- New Year- should be higher than the previous one, each Passover, a new Passover, each Shavuot, a new Shavuot. Through our growth and ascension we are able to convert the two-dimensional circle into a three dimensional spiral, traversing along the same circle at ever greater heights. We maintain the circularity while allowing for ascension.
Re-Experiencing Shavuot Every Year
Now that we understand the concept of time, and the importance of tapping into the unique theme of each point of time in the systematic process of ascension, we must delve into the specific theme that Shavuot presents. What is the power and potential inherent in this time of the year, and how can we harness it to grow along our ascending, spiraling path?
On Shavuot, there is a custom to stand during the Torah reading. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that we stand during Torah reading on this day because we are recreating the experience of receiving the Torah, when the entire Jewish People stood around Mount Sinai. On Shavuot, we do not only remember what once occurred, nor do we simply attempt to re-experience it. Rather, we reaccept the Torah on an entirely new level, as fundamentally higher beings, growing through each revelation of Torah from years past. Receiving the Torah this year is at the same point along the circle as last year, but one rung higher on the spiral. In a true sense, we are receiving the Torah anew, in a new dimension of time and spiritual energy.
Our job is to make this Shavuot the next step in our evolutionary spiral through time. We must not only reaccept what we have already accepted, we must take it to the next level, the next rung up. We don’t simply remember, we build; we don’t repeat, we ascend. Let us think about how we can make our acceptance of Torah this Shavuot the very greatest yet.