Updated: May 10, 2021
“I’m not sure if you’re interested or ready to hear this, but there is something I’d like to suggest, with your permission.” This is something my clients hear often sessions. Advice is tricky. No matter how theoretically useful the recommendation we have might be, it is only of value if the listener is ready and interested in receiving it. If not, it is not only effectively worthless, but potentially harmful to the relationship and therapeutic process.
There is a profound psychological component to receiving Torah. G-d gives abundantly, infinitely, constantly. We receive subjectively, imperfectly, erratically, incrementally. As a group, we receive with unity, but as individuals we interpret and integrate contextually. In our daily Torah blessings, which set the tone for this relationship, we request that G-d make the words and matters of Torah sweet in our mouths, in the mouths of our people, so that our children and future generations will be drawn to them. Her ways are meant to be pleasant. This is how to teach children- and ourselves. This is so vital- we raise better Jews with honey than with vinegar.
The first chapter of Tehillim states: “he [the righteous one] desires G-d’s Torah and [with] his Torah he expresses day and night.” The Gemara interprets that if we want to desire G-d’s Torah, we need to seek out multiple and diverse flavors and approaches of Torah that speak to our hearts, that resonate to our unique selves and souls. (Avoda Zara 19a.)
It takes courage to walk away from the shiur, sefer, shul, Yeshiva that hurt your spirit, and seek out truth, Divinity, and kindness in a language you understand and can digest. But that is actually what the Jews did at the very first taste of Torah. And it’s what gives us permission to continually do the same. Words of Torah have 70 facets, like a hammer shattering and scattering a stone- many and varied are words of the loving, living G-d.
Many of my clients (and friends and family and I) have had to regularly evaluate the sources of Matan Torah in our lives – family, community, institutions, and mentors. We all receive our version of Torah filtered through imperfect human and social elements. When that works well, we feel in harmony with our beliefs and practices, and with those around us. When it doesn’t or when we outgrow some of the assumptions or styles therein, we can experience a painful dissonance, a questioning of Truth that shakes us to the core spiritually and psychologically. Shavuos is a holiday that encourages us to check in with ourselves. With our relationship to G-d, to Torah, His gift, to receiving and observing. To ask hard, sometimes scary questions, and determine the what, why, and how to make this right for ourselves.
Shavuos is two days in the Diaspora and in philosophy. G-d was ready to give the Torah, but Moshe added on another day from his own opinion, according to the Gemara. And G-d approved. Matan Torah is one part of the equation, kabalas HaTorah is the other. First the giving, then the receiving- a two step transactional process. When the 10 commandments commenced, the Jews asked G-d to please let Moshe be the spokesperson- it was too much for them to hear it directly. If G-d speaks commandments in a way that overwhelms the nation, so much that their souls depart, that they beg for an intermediary, not only are they and Moshe allowed to request delay and calibration, but they’re praised for it. That self-awareness saves us. To this day, so many Jews tell us, in so many different ways, that the voice of Torah's instruction is too loud, too hard for them to hear- it needs to be softened, sweetened, v'harev na.
It's often pointed out that there are no official mitzvos hayom for Shavuos. The accepting of Torah is an internal process- heady and personal. It's not something behaviorally mandated, or externally imposed; it's something we each have the right and privilege to absorb as we are and as we become. It's called Atzeret- a stopping point. We pause and reflect. It's a day that's meant to be at least nami lachem: also for us; not altruistically dedicated to serving G-d, but integrated into ourselves and our own experiential pleasure.
The 6th of Sivan commemorates G-d offering us Torah. The 7th celebrates our human, collective autonomous readiness and willingness to accept its sweetness on collaboratively designed terms, with the blessing of G-d and Moshe. Each individual received the crowns, filled their cups to subjective capacity and flavor. And each year, we refresh the legacy and permission to continue doing so.
Finding the flavor of Torah that pairs with the flavor of our souls is not only advisable- it's the only way to truly receive it for ourselves.
The Torah is described as dvash v'chalav tachat l'shonech (Shir HaShirim 4:11)- honey and milk under your tongue. How do we take our Torah? For most of us, according to our holy love song, it tastes best with sugar and cream.