By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber
Shavuos is the day the Jewish nation received the Torah, and every year on this day we celebrate the fact that we received this wonderful gift. We find that special emphasis is given to describe this occasion as a time of joy (see Yalkut Shimoni Remez 247), and we look forward every year to this day as a joyous day, rejoicing in the acceptance of the Torah (see Ran, Pesachim 28a in the pages of the Rif). What is it about receiving the Torah that a special point is made regarding the joy it deserves? After all, even before the giving of the Torah, we were already formed into our own nation who follows the will of God, and we had even received already some Mitzvos (commandments of God).
To shed light upon the unique happiness that is associated with this day, Rabbi Yerucham Olshin combines two teachings of the Maharal. Says the Maharal (Tiferes Yisroel, chapter 12), the Torah is not merely a code of laws which carries consequences of reward and punishment. The Torah serves as tool to complete the person and transform him into an ideal being. How does the Torah transform a person to become complete? The Torah is essentially the manual for the human being in this world. The laws of the Torah are not mere rules, but the directions of the Great Manufacturer of this world, of how a person should live properly in this world and get the most that he can out of it and out of himself. The more one adheres to the laws and lessons of the Torah, the more wholesome his life becomes, and the more efficient he becomes in living as a complete person. Without the guidance of the Torah, a person cannot truly utilize this world to be what a person could really be. This is the source of the tremendous joy that this day calls for, as the Maharal says elsewhere (Nesiv Olam, Nesiv Haleitzunus chapter one) that happiness is derived from feeling complete. When one feels that he is lacking, he cannot be happy. But when one feels a sense of completeness, that is when he feels happy. The completeness which lies in the gift of the Torah that we received on this day makes it a day of most elevated joy.
Rabbi Mordechai and Rebbetzin Henny Machlis were famous for hosting many guest for Sabbath meals. On any given week they would host up to a hundred people (or more) for the Friday night meal and again for the day meal. One Friday night during the meal there were seventy guests, and amongst them an acquaintance of Rabbi Machlis who was sitting next to him. Rabbi Machlis would offer the guests to introduce themselves and share Torah thoughts. At one point, as this was going on, the man sitting next to Rabbi Machlis started getting noticeably irritated for some reason. After one of the guests concluded his speech, the man above burst out in anger against his host and said, “You think you are the only one who can have so many guests and inspire them? If I wanted to I could do the same thing!” the man did not stop there and continued to scream at the rabbi, “Tonight our friendship of twenty five years is over! From now on everyone is invited to my house for Shabbos.” He then proceeded angrily to stamp out of the house. One of the guests who was newly exposed to Judaism at the time, kept his eyes on Rabbi Machlis to see how he would react. No reaction came forward. After a few moments the host resumed conducting the meal, discussing Torah thoughts as if nothing happened. This episode made a deep impression on the young guest. Where he came from, if one person were to stand up and embarrass someone else publically in front of his family and so many guests, the victim would be sure to have a big reaction and lash back. He realized the great impact that Torah has on a person to change him and perfect his character, making him an elevated person.
At times we may find the laws of the Torah to be challenging. We may be inconvenienced by the various prohibitions and obligations and we might start to think of the Torah as an obstacle to our pursuit of happiness. Nothing could be further than the truth. True, the laws of the Torah may conflict at times with what we desire, but in no way does the Torah stand in the way of happiness. True happiness lies in the Torah itself. When we overcome our desires and follow the laws of the Torah, we accomplish making ourselves into elevated people. The feeling of completeness the Torah will give a person will bring the true, deep and lasting joy that we seek in life.