The Tom Tov of Shavuot seems to be the ‘poor cousin ‘ of the chagim. It has no matza, no lulav and etrog, no shofar and fast. In fact besides for cheesecake and all night learning it seems to be almost like a ‘standard ‘ Shabbos. We can be forgiven for wondering why the Torah did not see fit to make a physical and tangible mitzvah to remember the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai in the same vein as all the other chagim.
The Magen Avraham (494) in his introduction to the laws of Shavuot quotes the Gemora in Shabbat which after an intricate and very complex dispute reaches a conclusion that only makes sense if we assume that the Torah was given on the 7th of Sivan and not on the 6th as we celebrate it.
This poses a number of difficulties-firstly if the Torah was given on the 7th why do we celebrate it on the 6th ?
Furthermore in our davening on Shavuot we refer to the day as ‘zman matan Torateinu-the anniversary of the giving of our Torah’. According to the opinion that it was given on the 7th how can we say something that is patently not true?
The classic commentator, the Maharsh”a, addresses this question and his answer leaves us inspired.
When considering the narrative of the Torah we must not forget the human drama behind the story (in fact it is the drama that lies behind every story that the Torah wants us to appreciate and learn from). We find the details of these events in the Oral Torah as they were recorded by our Sages and preserved for later generations.
The Jewish people left Egypt having lived as slaves for generations, light years away from the spiritual and ethical standards necessary for a nation destined to be “a light to the nations “. They were certainly very motivated but being surrounded by the immoral and decadent Egyptian society they had lost touch with the spiritual refinement and with what is known today as Emotional Intelligence- tools that free a person from enslavement to his drives and desires and make him worthy of receiving the Torah.
It was for this purpose that Am Yisrael, after being freed of Egyptian bondage, had to wait the 7 weeks of the Omer-a period of time sufficient for a collective program of concerted and intensive self-improvement. After 7 weeks of sincere soul searching and spiritual readjustment the Jewish people on the 50th day – the 6th of Sivan-completed their climb to the summit.
The next day- the 7th of Sivan- we received the Torah.
Therefore, concludes the Maharsh”a, we celebrate the 6th of Sivan as the day that through relentless hard work we broke loose of our limitations and became worthy of being G-d’s Chosen People- this was our part in the receiving of the Torah.
The giving of the Torah was undoubtedly the most important event in world history but we celebrate the day we achieved greatness.
With this idea we can answer our original question.
Shavuot does not need symbols because Shavuot is about us as human beings in our innermost parts, a place that we connect to without any external mediums.
Shavuot is the Yom Tov of spiritual awakening