Shavuot, among other things, is the holiday during which the Jewish people received the Torah from G-d. The traditional way to celebrate Shavuot is to eat a lot of dairy and stay up all night learning from the Torah. In Hebrew, the holiday of Shavuot is most usually called Matan Torah–which means ‘giving torah’. But the Jewish people weren’t the ones who gave the Torah. G-d gave the Torah. Shouldn’t the holiday be knowing as Kabbalat Torah or ‘receiving torah’?
I asked some of the staff and an alumnus of Livnot U’Lehibanot to answer this question for me, so that I could share their responses with you.
“The gift of Torah is not only that of a guidebook to give us direction and purpose in life but also, no less important, the ability and encouragement to ‘ask’ a question and search for meaning and understanding. The idea of ‘receiving the Torah’ also conveys the reality that we are at a different level every day. If the day was only one of receiving then that would be it–we could stop growing and searching. It is a daily challenge to decipher the Torah; it’s secrets and it’s seeming contradictions. If we were merely ‘soldiers’ in the army of Ha’shem we would just receive orders. But, no, we are a Holy People. We have to know how to make judgments and solve dilemmas; and we need to work to try to understand what is the רצון (will) of the Commander in Chief (Ha’shem) in תיקון עולם (healing the world).”
— Aharon Botzer, Founder and Executive Director
“It’s easier to give than receive. When we receive something, we feel indebted to someone and it can be uncomfortable. Do you say that you received life from your mother, or that she gave you life? That you received a kiss, or that someone gave you one? Should we feel indebted…to the Creator, our parents, our loved ones? Maybe it wouldn’t hurt, but Shavuot is linked by the counting of the Omer to Passover–the holiday of Freedom. Freedom from what, or to what? I think the message of “giving” vs. “receiving” the Torah is that it wasn’t designed to shackle us, rather to offer us the freedom to live in a just and peaceful society which is guided by Divine law and wisdom.”
— Shayna Rehberg, Director of Admissions and Recruitment
“That the chag is called Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah) and not Kabbalat Torah is to remind us that the Torah is not ours to do what we want with. Only be remembering that the Torah was GIVEN to us by Hashem (as if on loan) – to safeguard, to live, to learn, to explore – can we truly internalize the Torah and remember the true source of it’s wisdom. Once we receive or acquire something, we cut off the connection, to a certain extent, with the giver. By focusing on the giving, and not the receiving, we also learn the important lesson that it is better to give than to receive.”
— Yonah David (T56), Director of Development
“G-d from his side gave us the Torah. It is our job to actually ‘lekabel’ or receive it. In practice Shavuot is the time we were given the opportunity to become a greater nation by the fact that G-d choose us and gave us his Torah. But have we ever really received it?! Do we do the the Kabbalat part? The point of the question is, are Matan Torah and Kabbalat Torah two different things? We can’t call it Kabbalat Torah if we aren’t actually working to receive the Torah and also because that’s not what happened. On Shavuot G-d physically gave us the Torah. But everyday we have to work to receive it.”
— Leora Kaufman, Bat Sheruit (2012-2013)
“I think that it’s a chain reaction. It’s not only that we are receiving the Torah–we are giving it as well. Because we received the Torah from Hashem, we now have a duty to reflect and to give off it’s light. We have to remember how it was given to us so that we can give it to others and the world.”
— Aviva Curran, Past Chevre (NE74)