Shavuos is nearly here, and this should not take us by surprise, as we have been counting the days! But what are we counting towards when we count the Omer in the run-up to this important holiday? Now is the ideal time to reflect on the meaning of Shavuos.
For many, the highlight of this Yom Tov is cheesecake. The luscious treat—sometimes healthy (see below), sometimes definitely not—takes second place to receiving the Torah as if anew. Even so, for most of us, there is an undeniable association between Shavuos and cheesecake. In fact, the custom of eating cheesecake has become synonymous with Shavuos.
We know that in the Torah, every concept, word, and even the individual letters themselves, have a deeper meaning. The same is true of our customs. There is a natural connection between Shavuos and eating dairy. This is because when the Torah was given, the entire nation had to kasher their baking utensils. Meat was verboten until we learned the laws of shechita and kashrus, and that left only dairy to eat—it seems vegetarian diets were not yet in style!
Ruth Was Modest
But let’s dig a little deeper. Not just at the concept of eating dairy foods, but at the celebrated mainstay of holiday: that luscious cheesecake. On Shavuos, we read Megillas Ruth. Ruth was the embodiment of the perfect giyores, convert, well known for her wonderful middos. Perhaps not as well known, Ruth also excelled in her modesty. A careful reading of the Megilla shows that, just for example, Ruth did not mingle with the other workers, and was careful in how she bent down to collect wheat sheaves in the field.
From the story of Ruth, we learn there are two themes to the holiday of Shavuos. There is first of all learning Torah—a role primarily assigned to men. For men it is a mitzvah to learn Torah just for the sake of learning Torah. We all need to learn practical halacha, but learning for the sake of learning is a task specific to men. We learn from this that being modest is the primary role of women. As such, Shavuos is a good time to reflect on the trait of modesty, as the Gemara states that what Torah does for man, modesty does for woman: modesty is our Torah.
But back to the cheesecake. Most cheesecakes consist of a crust, topped with a layer of sweet cheese. Is it possible to glean a deeper meaning for this Shavuos-themed dessert? If so, we might say that the bottom crust is symbolic of women.
Women are the Foundation
Women are the basis, the foundation for creating a Torah home. But they work from behind the scenes. Just as a woman’s presence is hidden, so too the crust of the cheesecake hides beneath the sweet cheese layer.
We think of this cheese layer as the “ikar,” the most important part of this dessert, the reason for the cheesecake’s acclaim, the star attraction. From our perspective, the “cheese” part of the cheesecake, is clearly symbolic of men. Men need to be in the lead role, racking up accomplishments in the public eye, while excelling in Torah values. That is how Hashem created men and their psyches.
Women have their own role, and it is equally important. But a woman is meant to fulfill that role in a modest way—no attention-centered posturing allowed here. And just as the crust holds the cheesecake together, so too can women provide the stability needed for the foundation of a Jewish home.
Now this does not mean that all men must learn 24/7, or that all women must sit home and raise children. Everyone must blaze their own individual path, and determine how they will accomplish their goal. A wise Rabbi once said, “You can stand on your dining room table to change the light bulb, but that is not what the table is for. A wife may wash clothes, prepare meals and clean the house, but that is not her purpose.”
A major part of our goal in life is found in learning how to work together as man and wife, while cognizant of our primary roles and responsibilities. Raising a family and running a home requires team effort. An entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author, Harvey Mackay developed an analogy that goes a long way toward illustrating this point.
Mackay maintains that every business needs a Mr. Inside and a Mr. Outside to make it a success. Without these two employees, success is not possible. This is because it is impossible to find any one person who has the characteristics of both.
It is clear that each of us has our work cut out for us. As we perform our daily tasks, all of us should strive to focus on growing close to Hashem and fulfilling His mitzvahs, each according to his or her own personal assignment.
And the cheesecake says it all.
What would a Shavuos thought be without a recipe? Here is one of the healthiest cheesecakes you can make, low in sugar and fat, yet still cheesy and delicious. Excerpted from “Hands-On How-To’s for the Home and Heart.”
For the crust:
- ½ cup butter or oil
- 6 T. sugar
- 2 cups flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 t. baking powder
Mix all ingredients. Pat into a 9”x13” baking dish. Bake at 350° for about twenty minutes while preparing the filling.
- 6 cups cottage cheese and yogurt
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ cup milk
- 3 eggs
- Optional: juice of one lemon
Use any combination of cheese and yogurt. Blend or mix by hand, pour over pie crust, and bake at 350o for an hour. Leave cheesecake in oven until cool or until you just can’t wait!
By Tova Younger, author of “Hands-on How-to’s for the Home and Heart – Tips and Techniques to enhance your life …plus over 50 easy recipes!” This book makes a lovely gift. Can be ordered from any bookstore. Hear tips on the Akeres Habayis Hotline – 212 444 1900 ~ option – 4, 6; recipes: option 2. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted with permission from Hamodia, where a version of this piece first appeared. All rights reserved.