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Perspectives on Shavuos: Through and Through

Shavuos, the culmination of our nation’s journey from a group of slaves to a physically and spiritually liberated people, is marked on the calendar as the quintessential period in which we, as a nation, celebrate our acceptance of the Torah. Around the globe, we gather together in learning, rededicating ourselves as a Klal, collectively refreshing our focus on the primacy of Torah precepts as our guide post.

However, the communal focus of this yom tov can potentially overshadow the opportunity that each of us has as an individual to connect to the theme of Kabbalas HaTorah that is in the air. Many Baalei Machshava have therefore called upon each person to display commitment to Torah on in the most personal sense as well.

Let’s take a look at powerful statement from Rav Hirsch that conveys what this personal commitment entails:

The knowledge with which you have enriched your mind must be applied to yourself; you must recognize what you know as appertaining to you; you must transfer it from the mind to the heart, which decides your course of action; it must penetrate you through and through ; it must become part of yourself (Chorev, I, p.3).

Taking a step back, one might wonder why a personal rededication is so necessary in the first place. As frum women, have we not already displayed through the fabric of our daily lives that Torah is our fundamental guide. Haven't we already demonstrated, through staunch Halachic observance and homes that Torah has already been “applied to ourselves” and has “decided our course of action,” as Rav Hirsch encouraged?

What, then, can it mean for us to engage in a process of recommitment to Torah life during this period?

The answer seems to lie within the question of what might be inadvertently preventing Torah from "penetrat[ing] through and through" to the deepest parts of ourselves to begin with.

Perhaps we can draw upon Rav Dessler's revolutionary explanation of Nekudas HaBechira as a powerful tool for helping us achieve an even fuller, deeper, personal kabbalas HaTorah. Each individual, he famously explains, engages in a personalized battle that is distinct to him. This battle is dependent upon several variables including one’s individual character make-up and tendencies. It is at our own personal “bechira point” that our specific nisyonos, and in turn the battles we fight within avodas Hashem, take place (Michtav M’Eliyahu, Vol. 1).

Rav Wolbe similarly explains that a person’s Bechira is nuanced and operates based upon our unique Techunos haNefesh, or constellation of dominant characteristics that come together to form one’s unique nature. In fact, he suggested that achieving fulfillment and elevation in one’s service of God is dependent on identifying and cultivating one’s inner, natural core traits (Alei Shur).

Building even further on this, the Ramchal espouses that we each have a "station" in life, a unique Tafkid, and that this character make-up is purposefully designed to help us along our individual missions. This idea is paralleled in the Gemara’s assertion that we are each born under a Mazel, but have the free will to channel our core nature productively or negatively: “One who is born under Mars will be a blood shedder.” Rav Ashi said, [he may be] a surgeon, a thief, a butcher or a Mohel.” (Sanhedrin Shabbat 156a)

In other words, we are operating within a specific framework, and are tasked to actualize the best version of ourselves, within the Tafkid that was specifically designed for us to fulfill.

With this in mind, if we are to fully connect ourselves to the Shavuos as a time of accepting the Torah as our ultimate guiding force, it is imperative that we each engage in a nuanced examination of those aspects of our inherent natures which are not being properly channeled, or are under-developed within our religious lives. Without doing so, we risk living with impediments and walls which prevent us from truly, fully, and completely experiencing and internalizing (and perhaps subconsciously accepting), the totality of Torah life.

For some individuals, the inner challenges are clear. Perhaps there is some overt direction she is being pulled toward that is clearly opposing Torah life. As Ramchal teaches in Derech Hashem, exerting effort in Torah life through confronting inner tension and battles in various forms is precisely the means by which we achieve D’veykus and fulfill the very purpose of creation. These obstacles are crucial and perpetually designed for each person.

For other people, it takes a more subtle cheshbon hanefesh to uncover.

Now that we have already accepted the Torah lifestyle and are possibly working to create frum homes and families, it might be more automatic to be investing energy (whatever is left!) into much needed Ben Adam L’chavero and Ben Adam L’atzmo spheres. Shavuos affords us with the opportunity to step-back and confront our continued challenges, often subtle, within Ben Adam L’Makom.

Which aspects of yourself have been channeled within avodas Hashem, and which aspects might still be posing a barrier? Which areas of Torah life do not easily speak to your religious strength or temperament and that need to be addressed before we can accept the full spectrum and totality of Torah life? Is there an area of Avodas Hashem that has been neglected? Is there a trait or tendency that might be taking over as your guide post?

Is your netiya toward emotion and spirituality aiding you in your personal relationship with Hashem, but making it harder to be focused and makpid on the concrete, tangible, daily elements of religious life?

Is your netiya toward giving and interpersonal acts aiding you in Ben adam L’chavero components of Avodas Hashem but limiting your focus on your individual kesher with Hashem?

Is your netiya toward disciplined, concrete action and “doing the right thing” aiding you in Halachic observance but stilting you during times that call for more emotional expression or flexibility?

Is your netiya toward craving security and structure aiding you when it comes to self-development and loyalty in avodas Hashem, but posing a barrier in emunah and bitachon?

Is your netiya toward intellectual pursuits and understanding aiding you in your learning and Torah knowledge but posing a barrier in emotional or interpersonal components?

Is your netiya toward ambition success aiding you in influencing others positively, but prove to be a pitfall at times when image and reputation is focused on at the expense of internal avodah?

As we try once again this year to tap into what it means to accept the Torah, it is vital to ensure we are preparing ourselves as a Kli from the innermost recesses of who we are. It is essential to rededicate ourselves to Torah life in the broad, collective sense. Yet perhaps this year we could delve even deeper and examine any remaining barriers that have prevented us from being a complete vessel and in doing so, allow Torah to penetrate at the core, through and through.

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