Shavuot – Not Just Stories


By Avner Friedmann

On Shavuot we relive the experience of the most significant event in all of history; the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Holy Zohar states,[1] “Woe to those who say that the Torah only tells us simple stories. If that was the case, then many intelligent and creative human beings could write their own stories, which could appear to be much more exciting than those of the Torah. Rulers and kings could write their chronicles with seemingly more important and useful messages. However, the Torah is not a history book, nor are its stories just stories. True, they describe events that took place; nevertheless, everything in the Torah, including the stories, relate to exalted and lofty Divine matters.

The Zohar states that the Torah came down from its high and infinite place into this world to teach and guide the Jewish people and the whole world. It is enclothed in outer garments of the physical world that take on the form of stories, because if it did not, human beings would be unable to comprehend its holiness, deep wisdom and secrets. As long as the soul resides is within a physical body, a person cannot attain spirituality without it being enclothed within garments. Whoever reads the Torah as nothing more than stories or historical anecdotes is like a blind man. For this reason King David asked of HaShem,[2] “Unveil my eyes that I may perceive wonders from Your Torah.” King David’s desire was that HaShem would reveal the secrets behind the stories to him.

To illustrate this concept, the Holy Zohar uses the human being as an example. If someone were to look at us, our clothes are readily visible, but only a fool would judge a person solely by his clothes. Rather, the body beneath the clothes is more important than the cloths and the soul is more important than the body. If the stories are the clothes, the lessons we learn from them, that is, the meanings behind the stories,[3] are the body. The soul, on the other hand, is compared to the deeper meanings within the stories.

The stories are like the wrappings of a precious gift. Whoever is wise delves deeper, into the soul of Torah and its secrets. In the future, with the resurrection of the dead, the wise will see even further into the soul of Torah. They will know HaShem in ways that are beyond our capacity today.

The Holy One Blessed Be He put Himself in His Torah. His wisdom and will are manifest in many layers upon layers, going deeper and deeper all ad infinitum. The purpose of this “Book” is not only the information invested within it, but ultimately it is to know the “Author” so that we can come closer to Him. Those who approach Torah with this in mind realize that wine must have a container to exist, as it is written[4]: “Do not look at the vessel, but at what it contains.”

King Solomon wrote[5]: “What profit does man have for all his labor which he toils under the sun?” The Holy Zohar comments,[6] “Ultimately all wisdoms and knowledge under the sun have no use beyond this temporal world of ours and have no future rewards, except the wisdom of Torah, which comes from a high place, above the sun. Fortunate are those who make the wisdom of Torah their business, and merit their reward in this world and the World to Come.


[1]  Zohar Baha’alotcha, 460-463.

[2]  Tehilim 119:18

[3]  Zohar Toldot 135a.

[4]  Avot 4:20.

[5]  Ecclesiastes 1:3

[6]  Vayechi 223b.

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