Rav Itamar Shwartz (Bilvavi) on Shavous and the Soul Perspective

Rav Itamar Shwartz, the author of the Bilvavi and the Getting to Know Yourself (Soul, Emotions, Home) seforim has a free download available of Shavous Talks here. Here are some short excerpts:

Three Kinds Of Love: For the Creator, For Torah, and For Another Jew.

With the help of Hashem, we are approaching the time of the giving of the Torah. When the Torah was given, there were three great revelations. The first revelation was that Hashem came down onto Har Sinai, and opened up all the heavens and showed us that Ain Od Milvado, there is nothing besides for Him. The second revelation was the Ten Commandments, which contains the entire Torah. The third revelation was that we all stood together with one heart.

The sefarim hakedoshim reveal that there are three kinds of love that we need to seek: love for Hashem, love for the Torah, and love for the Jewish people. These three kinds of love were all revealed at the giving of the Torah. Our love for the Creator was revealed when Hashem revealed Himself to us. Our love for the Torah was revealed through the Ten Commandments. Our love for the Jewish people was revealed when we had complete unity with each other, standing together with one heart.

Changing to a Soul Perspective
The choice that everyone has on this world is: If he will live life through his body, or through his

A person should ask himself how much physical gratification he’s getting, versus how much of his basic soul needs that he is getting. One should try thinking about this every day.

If anyone reflects, he’ll find that most of the day is spent on physical gratification – whether it’s coffee, smoking, food, newspapers, etc. Each to his own.
To begin to change this, one should try to make sure that he’s giving himself at least a little attention each day to his soul’s needs.

Today, pleasure is often only experienced sensually, with the physical. People often are completely devoid of experiencing any enjoyment whatsoever with regards to their souls. A person can start to change this by making sure to give his soul a little pleasure each day. This is just the beginning step.

When a person then feels a desire for something physical, such as for food – if he feels that he can give it up for something that is a soul need, he is making progress with this. It shows that he has begun to change his perspective at least a little.

Someone who does this and gets used to this will come to an amazing discovery. He will begin to actually feel others. He will feel other’s happiness when they make a simcha, and he will feel their sadness when they go through a loss. His soul will be able to feel the other’s soul.

Leaving The Body And Entering The Soul
When we heard the Torah at Har Sinai, our souls left us. In other words, we left the perspective of the body and entered the perspective of our soul!

This shows us that the way to prepare for the Torah – [at least] one of the ways – is to leave our body’s perspective and to instead enter into our soul a bit. This will resemble how the souls of the Jewish people left their bodies at Har Sinai.

May we be zoche to leave the thick materialism of this world and instead feel how we are a soul, beginning from the most basic needs of our soul [our emotional happiness], and then to the more spiritual needs of our soul, until we finally reach the highest part of our soul – the point of total d’veykus (attachment) with Hashem.

The 60 Second Guide to Shavuos

The foundation of Judaism is that there is a G-d, who is completely spiritual. G-d created both a physical and spiritual world. The centerpiece of creation is man who is composed of a physical body and a spiritual soul. Our collective purpose is to transform the world into a unified G-d connected spiritual world.

To accomplish this spiritual transformation G-d transmitted the necessary knowledge and tools in the form of the Torah. The Torah informs us how to turn physical acts into G-d connected spiritual acts. Every positive act we perform can be G-d connected, but the ones with the greatest connection power are the mitzvos G-d explicitly specified in the Torah.

The holiday of Shavuos is the day that G-d spiritually transmitted the Torah. The entire Jewish nation experienced this transmission and Moses experienced it to a much greater degree. The day is filled with a spiritual energy through which we can deepen our commitment to connect to G-d through the learning of Torah. There is also a mitzvah to eat 2 special meals and in doing so we transform the physical act of eating into a spiritual G-d connected activity.

This was written to try to capture the essence of Shavuos to all types of Jews in 60 seconds.

If you think it’s useful please send it to your friends and family.

The first incarnation of this guide can be found here.

Shavuos – Not Just Another Joe

Rabbi Frand relates the following:

The Talmud relates [Pesachim 68b] that Rav Yosef would make a tremendous party on Shavuos.

He would say, “If not for this special day (on which the Torah was given), look how many Yosefs there are in the market place”. If not for the fact that I as a Jew have that precious gift of Torah, I would literally be ‘just another Joe’.
Every Yom Tov has its own message – that idea which we are supposed to appreciate about the holiday. The main idea that Shavuos must inculcate into our psyches is “If not for this day, where would we be? What would we look like without this Torah?”

The scary thing is that if we fail to properly appreciate that which Torah does for our lives, we are left with what the Talmud calls “they have abandoned my Torah”. This is our challenge as we approach the Yom Tov of Shavuos. Everyone should have a good and meaningful holiday.

All Dressed Up…

Years back, as I was beginning to become more observant, I had the opportunity to learn for a few months at a Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. I was fortunate to have found a chavrusah who was a great guy and at a similar stage in life; becoming more observant, thirsting for growth while struggling to maintain balance. We would learn Hilchos Brochos together, play soccer and trade our inchoate philosophical insights late into the night.

We both returned home to the States shortly before Succos that year. Not long after, he called to ask me to join him for the last days of yom tov at a family friend in Monsey. I gladly agreed.

As newly minted Baalei Teshuvah, we were quite concerned that our lulavim be well protected during the long bus ride from Port Authority in Manhattan to Monsey. We gingerly wrapped our respective lulavim in a manner that we hoped would provide proper cushioning. We cringed at each jostling of the crowd and we silently prayed that our carefully selected specimen would not be damaged or, worse, rendered unusable. Upon reaching Monsey, we carefully disembarked with our precious cargo and when we finally reached our host’s home we were both proud and relieved that we had protected our lulavim throughout the journey.
Read more All Dressed Up…

Shavuot and Teshuvah

By: Cosmix X in Jerusalem

The “time of the giving of our Torah” is near. We count the days from Passover until Shavuot, connecting the physical freedom of the exodus from Egypt with the spiritual freedom of receiving the Torah: And it says (Exodus 32:16): “And the tablets are the work of G-d, and the writing is G-d’s writing, engraved on the tablets”; read not “engraved” (charut) but “liberty” (chairut)—for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah (Avot 6:2). A couple of more days and we are there.

Time flies. I’m over half a century old. and I’ve been a BT for over a quarter of a century. At this age usually the hair is graying if not disappearing altogether. The aging process is taking place before my very eyes. The reality of death is much more tangible. An inner voice cries, “Ribono Shel Olam, Al Tashlicheini Le’eit Zikna!”

On the other hand, with age comes the opportunity for retrospection. I have the ability to look back at over three decades of adult life. Many important and fateful decisions were made: what to learn in college, who to marry, to make aliyah, etc. However the most difficult and most important decision that I ever made was the decision to do Teshuvah. To receive the Torah as is, unreformed, neither conserved nor reconstructed.

What was difficult about it? Well, this was a radical idea, a move far away from my comfort zone. For someone who grew up in suburbia, it meant giving up a lot of things that I was used to. No, I will not list them! It also meant being the object of ridicule and even pity to those that did not understand what I was going through.

Looking back, I had no idea of what I was getting into. The Torah is so big! “Rabbi Chananya ben (son of) Akashya said: The Holy One, blessed be He, wanted to give Israel merit; therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvos (commandments) in abundance, as it is written: ‘G-d wanted, for its [Israel’s] righteousness, to make the Torah great and mighty’ (Isaiah 42:21).”

I was lacking Torah knowledge when I took upon myself the yoke of Heaven. I must have known about as much as the average five year old here in Jerusalem. However, what I was lacking in erudition I made up in instinct. My soul sensed where it needed to go. I had no idea of the depth of the spiritual treasures that awaited me. After all of this time I have only scratched the surface!

We live in a time where moral clarity is lacking. However, “… Thou dost light my lamp; the LORD my God doth lighten my darkness (Psalms 18:29).” The Torah that we are about to receive is an everlasting light which guides us while others stumble and fall. For instance, the whole controversy about gay marriage. For us as Jews, the controversy does not really exist, for the Torah already had its say on the issue:

Lesbian relations are forbidden and it is among the “doings of Egypt” that we have been warned about as it is said, “After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do”. The sages said, “What did they do? A man marries a man, and a woman marries a woman, and a woman marries two men” (Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Relations 21:8).

My forefathers left Egypt and I have no intention of going back! Rather, I will rejoice in the Torah this Shavuot. I am a truly free man, free from the lewdness of Egypt, free from being politically correct, free from those that have forgotten God. Blessed is He, our God, who has separated us from those that go astray, and gave us the Torah of truth, and planted eternal life within us.

Links for Hundreds of Articles and Audios for Shavuos

YU Torah – Shavuot To Go 5771 by various Authors

Shavuos Articles from Chabad.org

Shavuot from Wikipedia

Shavuot Articles and Audio
from Ohr Somayach

Shavuot Articles from Aish

YU Torah – Hundreds of Shavuot Shiurim by various Speakers

Shavuos Articles from Torah Lab

Shavuos Articles from Torah.org

Shavuos Audio from Naaleh.com

Shavuos Audio from 613.org

Shavuot Articles from OU.org

The One Minute Shavuous

I have the good fortune to keep in touch online and offline with many non-observant friends from my childhood. Before Pesach a few of them were in search of a 2-5 minute seder, so I cut down the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder to it’s bare bone essentials using the logic that any mitzvah performed is a good thing.

If non-observant people are only willing to give 2-5 minutes for Pesach, then 60 seconds seemed about the right amount of time for the less familiar holiday of Shavuos.

Here is the first incarnation of the “60 Second Guide to Shavuos”. Comments and critiques are welcome and if you think it’s useful please send it to your friends and family:

Creation of the World and Man

– There is a G-d, who is completely spiritual
– G-d created physical and spiritual worlds
– G-d created man who is half spiritual and half physical for a purpose
– Man’s purpose is to transform the physical world into a spiritual G-d connected world

The Receiving of Torah
– To accomplish this spiritual transformation, G-d transmitted the knowledge and tools in the form of the Torah
– The spiritual encounter of receiving the Torah was experienced to some degree by the entire Jewish People and to a greater degree by Moses
– The holiday of Shavuos is a celebration of this most profound spiritual encounter between G-d and Mankind

The Role of Torah
– The role of the Torah is to help us understand and create spiritual realities
– Every act we perform has spiritual ramifications, and the acts which have the greatest power to transform the physical into the spiritual are the mitzvos specified in the Torah
– Our commitment for Shavuos is to learn about the spiritual realities described in the Torah and to dedicate ourselves to achieving the world’s purpose by performing the spiritual acts necessary to achieve that goal

In addition to learning Torah which can be accomplished by reading the above post, try to enjoy a special meal at night and during the day.