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 Shavuot is a very difficult holiday to capture emotionally. It is very short in duration – in Israel is only one day while in the Diaspora is two days – and in many respects is over before we can make any valid assessment of its importance and impact. In the Torah itself it appears as an agricultural holiday occurring fifty days after the holiday of national freedom, Pesach.

By calculations on the calendar we are able to deduce that the holiday is the anniversary of the day of the granting of the Torah to the Jewish people at Sinai. In light of this association many special customs have arisen to mark the holiday; eating dairy foods and engaging in all-night study sessions are some of those customs. But we all know that mere commemoration of past days or events often times are not inspirational or meaningful to later generations.
For instance, the rabbis ordained that the Seder night would be a re-creation of the experience of the Exodus from Egypt itself. The same thing is true of the holiday of Succot, which we commemorate by actually sitting in booths outside of our homes, as did our ancestors long ago when they left Egypt. However, we find it very difficult to re-create the Shavuot experience. Most of us are not farmers and the agricultural aspect of the holiday does not really speak to us. And the moment of revelation was a one time event whose awe and grandeur cannot, by definition, be recaptured again. So, how is one to view and commemorate this great biblical holiday?
I have often thought of Shavuot as being our nation-building day. The Torah itself describes the day of the granting of the Torah to Israel in the statement:" today you will have become a nation!” Judaism is not only a religion but it is the national entity as well. Like all nations, it has its rules for citizenship, residence and behavior.
The key to understanding and appreciating Jewish history and Jewish life throughout the ages lies in the realization that we are telling the story of a nation, a people, and not merely philosophical and theological ideas. History has shown us clearly that Jews who abandoned this idea of nationhood and merely saw Judaism as a set of values or as a culture or purely as a religion eventually assimilated and disappeared from the Jewish scene.
It is this feeling of belonging to one nation that binds together Jews scattered throughout the world and geographically distant one from another. But by remembering our nationhood, we automatically came to remember Sinai and the Torah as the source of our being a nation. The famous statement of Saadyah Gaon that we are a nation only by virtue of our Torah emphasizes this truism to us. And therefore the holiday of Shavuot takes upon itself the mantle of being a holiday of nationhood.
It is ironic in the extreme that this great holiday should therefore be almost a forgotten holiday for much of the Jewish world. This is especially true for Jews living in the Diaspora. Only in the observant Jewish world does this holiday get its due. And this, itself, is a symptom of the loosening of the concept of nationhood in our current Jewish world.
The day that can strengthen and revitalize Jewish nationhood is ignored by those who need it the most. I think that it must be clear to most, that without having a healthy and traditional narrative and understanding of Jewish nationhood and the unique history of the Jewish people, it is almost impossible to be able to understand the true nature of the events that surround the Jewish world today.
Every nation has as its basic and unifying ethos, a narrative story of how and why it became a nation. It is the reason countries have flags and anthems, pomp and circumstance. These are the necessary building blocks in creating the nationhood of a people and a group. The main building block that supports and validates Jewish nationhood is a connection of Jews to Torah and to the revelation at Sinai. The holiday of Shavuot is the special day that emphasizes this building block and points the way to the creation, survival and strengthening of Jewish nationhood. It is a day well worth observing and treasuring.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein 

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