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When Jacob returned to Israel after twenty-two years of being a minority in the city of Haran, where his uncle Laban lived, he said “I sojourned with Laban . . . and I acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, manservants, and maidservants.[1]
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Home » Shavuot

Shavuot : You Can Do It

Submitted by on May 28, 2006 – 4:14 amNo Comment | 2,577 views

The Oath

The Jewish nation received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai three thousand three hundred and eighteen years ago. Every year, on the anniversary of this date, this biblical episode is commemorated by Jews around the world during a special holiday called Shavuot, which means weeks, thus called because this holiday always falls exactly seven weeks after Passover.you can do it innerstream

The Hebrew word Shavuot also means oaths. The Talmud teaches that G-d administers an oath to Jewish souls before they descend into this world, obliging the soul to observe the biblical commandments. Every Jewish soul must take the oath. Every Jewish soul must oblige itself. Is the taking of an oath not fair to those souls that are simply unable to abide by the many laws and restrictions inherent in these commandments?

A Commitment

I once helped to organize a large community fair. At the planning meeting, when responsibilities were parceled out, I was asked to recruit fifty volunteers for the fair. I balked at the large number, unsure that I could commit. The leader looked down at me and thundered, “Do you think everyone here knows how they’ll fulfill their commitments? We only know that if we don’t commit, it will certainly not happen.”

At the time, I was hurt. Didn’t he understand that I couldn’t commit on behalf of fifty other people? I didn’t say anything but went to work. It took time and effort, but in the end fifty volunteers were recruited and I learned a valuable lesson: if you will it, it will happen.

A Story

An elderly rabbi, striding down the road surrounded by his students, was solicited by a coachman to help upright an overturned wagon. The rabbi politely declined pointing to his old age and infirmity. The coachman brazenly called out, “Sir, it’s not your inability that insulting. It’s your unwillingness.”

The rabbi later revealed that this incident had taught him a profound lesson, applicable to religion and to life. If he had willed it, he would have overcome his infirmity and been of at least some assistance to the coachman.

If you will it, anything is possible. The Talmud teaches that nothing stands in the way of one’s will, but for will itself.

A Cup of Tea

As a rabbi, I often encounter Jews who claim that they are unable to bear the entire burden of the ritual commandments. “You’re different,” they tell me, “You have more faith than I. You are more able than I. I envy you but religion is not my cup of tea.” My response is always the same. “Don’t try to do it all at once,” I tell them, “Do a little bit today and a little more tomorrow. With time, you may even surprise yourself and develop a taste for the religious cup of tea.”

As I speak, I’m always struck by how it easy it is to mistake unwillingness for inability. As I encourage them to move forward, I know that I am not more able than they, only more practiced.

I know that with time they too can accustom themselves to my way of life and discover that they, too, are able. They will then know that they never lacked ability, only commitment.

They tell me they can’t, and I think they don’t want to. Is this harsh? Am I being insensitive? There was a time when I would have thought so but today I know different.

Empowering Words

When I was a child my mother always insisted that I finish my meal, homework or chores. I would holler and wail that I wasn’t smart, big or strong enough, but she always knew better. To my argument, “ But I can’t,” she’d firmly reply, “But you can!”

At the time, I thought her a demanding mother, completely oblivious to my limitations. Today I know better. If my mother hadn’t taught me to reach beyond my grasp, I could not have been who I am today.

Londoners recently united in cheering the London Knights (1) and celebrating the Memorial Cup victory . During the games I often wondered how the players concentrate amidst the deafening cheers? If the fans want the team to succeed, shouldn’t they keep quiet during the more difficult periods of the game?

Yet it works the other way. The more challenging the game, the louder the fans yell. The more demanding the play, the louder the audience roars. Why do they roar? Why do they intrude? Where is their respect?

The players don’t want concentration-boosting silence. They want confidence- boosting roars. They want to hear that their fans believe in them. They want to hear the fans declare, “ You can do it and we know you can.” They don’t want fans who’ll understand why they lost. They want fans who believe they can win.

The fans chant, “Let’s go Knights,” and the players respond because the cheers bring out the best in the them. In those trying moments when players doubt themselves, fans cry out, “You can do it,” and the players discover that they really can.

The words, “Yes you can,” are not oppressive. They are empowering.

The Inspiring Oath

This is why the soul is made to take an oath before its descent to this world. The soul knows that it is able, but unless it makes a commitment, that ability may never rise to the surface. This is G-d’s way of saying, “I believe in you. You can do it. Go ahead, take the oath.”

The day that Jews commemorate receiving the Ten Commandments is the day to remember that empowering oath. The name of the holiday, Shavuot, is symbolic of this oath. It reminds us that G-d believes in us. It reminds us to live up to our commitments.

It empowers us to follow through.

(1) Local Hockey Team in London Ontario

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