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05/25/2020 06:57:17 PM


Judith Gutman

Shavuos has always been my favorite holiday – and not just because it is close to my birthday. I was born Motzei Shavuos thirty-five years ago and this year my Hebrew and secular birthdays coincide during the same week. The days leading up to Shavuos, like the days leading up to a birthday, are meant to be a time of introspection and anticipation for the greatest of Hashem's gifts to us. 

Where I grew up in Montreal, it was a yearly custom for many of the shuls to hold a joint Tikkun Leil Shavuos at the local Hebrew Academy. It was always a packed house and every hour there were would be a selection of no less than four speakers to choose from in different rooms who would discuss a wide variety of topics ranging from Israeli politics to Breslov philosophy. The Beit Midrash was also filled with smaller groups learning chavruta-style. My friends and I would challenge one another to stay up as late as possible. Walking back home was as spiritual a journey as the Torah study. My friends and I would walk together discussing interesting tidbits we had learned. The streets would be blissfully empty and quiet with only the singsong sounds of sparrows filling the lulls in our conversation.  Our joy and gratitude in getting to watch the sunrise color the sky made up for any feelings of exhaustion. These were probably the most spiritual mornings of my life, perhaps only topped by attending Neitz services at the Kotel - a truly awe-inspiring event. 

My Shavuos experience became a drastically different one when I married and had children; I stayed home. I finally discovered the meaning behind women’s exemptions from time-bound positive mitzvot. The purpose of mitzvot is to connect us with Hashem, our peers and our own souls. Motherhood by its very nature brings women to realize those connections without the need for daily reminders. Childbirth is proof of Hashem's existence and of our own miraculous power in the continuation of Hashem's creation of the world. 

Modern society tends to dwell on the mundane aspects of motherhood. Almost every field of work having to do with caring for children is not nearly treated with the same degree of respect or compensation as traditional male-dominated professions. Being a mother is often seen as banal and uncool and un-feminist. And truth be told, much of being a mother involves grunt work that does not seem rewarding in the moment, whether it is waking up with a newborn for night feedings, potty-training a toddler or refereeing teenage squabbles. The loftier aspects of life are easy to overlook when you are cleaning up muck from the carpet. 

This pandemic, epidemic, quarantine life, whatever you call this temporary period we are living in that Hashem has laid upon us, has not been easy. Spending so much time at home with our spouses and children has been frustrating at times. It has been tough trying to balance keeping the house clean, keeping everyone fed and getting schoolwork or real work done. The grunt work seems never-ending. 

It has been especially devastating for those of us who have lost family members or friends, for all of us who have lost precious members of the community, for the Jewish people who have lost innumerable survivors of the Holocaust, further clouding our collective memory of a past that should never be forgotten. 

Our Tikkun Leil Shavuos this year will be unlike any in our recent history. We will all be home without the camaraderie of our fellow congregants and without the direct guidance of our esteemed Rabbi Septimus. We will probably not be davening shacharis with a minyan at dawn and we will not be walking home to chirping birds in the morning. It simply will not be the same as Shavuos 2019 and, B'ezrat Hashem, not the same as Shavuos 2021. 

If there is a silver lining to this quarantine, it should be our renewed appreciation for life and family. 

Shavuot is about our gratitude to Hashem for His gift of the Torah to us, and with the Torah, for His gift of life itself. The Torah is not an academic treatise to simply be regarded for historical data or lofty philosophical musings. Rather, it contains lists of births and deaths, anecdotes of all kinds of personal relationships, and instructions on who to marry, how to prepare meals and how to properly dispose of burnt animal offerings: all seemingly mundane aspects of life. Mundane, and yet the Torah is what we consider Hashem's greatest contribution to our people and the world. What we learn from this is that every part of what we consider our daily routine is a gift from Hashem and it can all be elevated to comply with Hashem's directives. 

I have an aunt whose husband has not been well for many years. Nevertheless, every sentence she speaks ends with the words "Baruch Hashem." As in, "I have a lot of food to prepare for Shabbos, Baruch Hashem," or "We were able to make an appointment with this new doctor, Baruch Hashem." As hard as life has been, she manages to always find something for which to be grateful. It is truly inspiring.

This Shavuos, when you are home at night, either alone or with your spouse or with your children, take a moment. Maybe wait until your little ones are fast asleep (aren't they the cutest when they are sleeping?). Find a comfortable seat on the sofa or in your favorite lounge chair. Make yourself a warm cup of tea or a strong cup of coffee if you want to stay up late. Take the moment to reflect on life and realize how beautiful it is, how gracious Hashem has been to you, how precious every moment is. This time in quarantine has hopefully reinvigorated your relationships with your loved ones and brought your family unit closer than ever.  

As beautiful as it is to spend a night amongst friends learning Torah, the application of the teachings of Hashem's words on our daily life at home with our family is what embracing the Torah is truly about. 

Refuah Shelema to my uncles Israel Dov ben Golda and Michael ben Frieda.

By: Judith Gutman

Sat, May 18 2024 10 Iyyar 5784