Shavuos marks the day on which the Torah was given to the Jewish People. This experience was the most important event in the history of the people of Israel. Its repercussions affect every aspect of our lives yet today.
On this day, over three thousand years ago, the Creator appeared on Mount Sinai and gave us the Torah in the presence of six hundred thousand men, their wives and their children. In addition, there were a large number of people of non-Jewish birth who chose to cast their lot with the Jewish People because they were so impressed by the events that led up to the Exodus.
The date was the sixth of Sivan, in the year 2448 after the world came into being. It is surprising to note that the connection between Shavuos and the giving of the Torah at Sinai is not directly mentioned in the Written Torah. It is the Oral Torah, also handed down from generation to generation from Sinai, which informs us that Shavuos commemorates this momentous event in our history.
This is just another proof of how the Written and Oral Law complement each other. Neither is complete without the other. The Oral Law adds essential details and explanations about the verses of the Written Law. Nonetheless, it is fitting that we ask ourselves why the encounter with G-d on Mount Sinai is not associated with the Shavuous Festival as it is described in the Scriptures.
What is more, each of the festivals has its unique symbol. Pesach has its matzah,Sukkos has its lulav and sukkah, Chanukah its menorah to light, and Purim, its Megillah to be read together in the synagogue. Only one festival stands alone, with no accompanying ceremonial objects: Shavuos. It is also the shortest of the three festivals on which we were commanded to go up to the Sanctuary in Jerusalem. Pesach and Sukkos last for a week or more; in contrast, Shavuos is only one day, or, in the Diaspora, two days.
There is a clear reason that the Creator did not give us a symbolic mitzvah to perform on Shavuos: in order to bring home the pivotal importance of the day when we stood at Sinai and received the Torah.
The Torah is divine wisdom. It is not the product of a human mind. Israel received their Torah directly from G-d; therefore, it is divine, and, as such, unchanging. The same commandments which were given to the Jews at Sinai are incumbent upon us, wherever we find ourselves, over two thousand years later. We shall continue to fulfill them to the end of time. Consequently, Torah does not adapt itself to the spirit of the times; it is the spirit of the times which must make itself suitable to the values of the Torah.
It was only a short time after the Exodus – seven weeks, to be precise – that the Jewish People were given the Torah. They had only recently ceased to be a nation of slaves, yet they accepted the Torah fully, for it elevated them to the highest spiritual realm that man can achieve on this earth, for it derived from G-d Himself.
Events which took place in physical realm, such as our release from servitude in Egypt, can be commemorated through concrete symbols: eating matzah and bitter herbs, dwelling in a sukkah and shaking a lulav, and so forth. In contrast, there can be no concrete symbol for the Torah, which is entirely spiritual. There is no symbolic representation for Torah, as it is above and beyond our physical existence in the world.
The Torah warns us again and again not to try to create any form of symbolic representation of G-d, as did the pagans. One of the Thirteen Principles of the Faith is that G-d is incorporeal, "and He has no physical attributes."
Similarly, the Torah is "incorporeal." It is divine wisdom, and cannot be reduced to terms of our physical world by way of symbols.
Now we can understand why Shavuos is so much shorter than Pesach and Sukkos. On these two historical holidays, we require an entire week in order to go back in time and relive the experiences of the Exodus.
However, there is no need to "relive" the Giving of the Torah. Each day, we can receive the Torah anew, by studying its words and devoting ourselves to them completely. It is alive and enduring, and it keeps the Jewish People alive and enduring.
G-d is eternal, His Torah is eternal, and He bestowed it upon His chosen people, that they, too, be eternal.