The Torah reading for second day of Shavuot

“If [your servant] says to you, ‘I shall not leave you, for I love you and your home’ for it is good by him”  Deuteronomy 15:16


There is a common understanding that the giving of the Torah wasn’t so optional. When the Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai, the Torah says they were standing betachtit hahar, which is best translated as “at the foot of the mountain” (Exodus 19:16).

However, according to a midrash, these words indicate that the people were standing under the mountain — that is, God held the mountain over their heads, telling them either to accept the Torah and live or reject it and be flattened then and there.

And yet, on Shavuot, we celebrate our receiving the Torah — not under coercion, but of our own free will. This is best illustrated by the texts we traditionally read on the second day of Shavuot.

The first text we read is the Book of Ruth, in which the eponymous Moabite chooses to stay with her Israelite mother-in-law, despite having been given every opportunity to leave. Ruth tells Naomi: “Wherever you go, I shall go; Wherever you stay, I shall stay; Your people shall be my people; Your God shall be my God.”

Certainly Ruth spoke these words out of a sense of love and devotion to her mother-in-law, but she also did so out of a sense of love and respect for the Jewish faith and tradition. She understood the potential for justice and dignity to be shown to all followers of God and the Torah. She knew that a Jewish life would be a wonderful life.

The same sentiments are echoed in today’s Torah reading. We are told that at the end of six years, a Hebrew slave is to be set free. However, if he prefers to remain in the service of his master — because he loves him and his family and life is good under his roof — then he may choose to do so.

In short, these stories illustrate how, sometimes, being bound to another can offer a richer, fuller life than living alone and aimless.

While Shavuot could be about having the Torah thrust upon us — like a child forced to attend shul by their parents — I prefer to celebrate the holiday as a reminder of the choices I make freely every day to embrace the Torah and the richness it brings into my life.

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