Rabbi Oury Cherki
Shavuot - King David and the Psalms
Letter to Noachides. Translated from French. Published at the Noahide World Center website.
The holiday of Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah, but the Torah itself does not state that it was given on Shavuot. In fact, the exact date that the Torah was given is not mentioned at all in the Torah.
The reason for this is very simple. Since the Torah
goes beyond the entire concept of time, it is not possible to set a specific
time for it. What we can know is how much
time is needed to prepare for receiving the Torah, the 49 days of the counting of the Omer. But the fiftieth day is above time, and it is not counted. Similarly, we are not told the exact date of the event.
What the Torah does tell us is that this is the day of "Bikurim" – the offering of the first fruits. When a person discovers the first fruit in his orchard, the product of so much hard labor during the agricultural year, he picks it – whether it is a pomegranate, figs, grapes, or dates – and brings it with great joy to the Temple. There he presents it to a priest who will eat it, in a way that can be compared to a sacrifice on the Altar of G-d.
This act can teach us an important lesson. When a man labors for an entire year to grow fruit, it can be assumed that he really wants to eat the first fruit himself. But he gives this first fruit away to somebody else.
We can say that the Torah wants to hint to us about a remarkable fact. Who is worthy of receiving the Torah? It is one who is capable of bringing the offering of Bikurim, to see the "other" person as being more important than himself. By seeing myself as second in importance and not first I show that I understand that what grows in my field is not meant for me but for the "other" one. This is a trait that gives somebody the ability to be the firstborn within a family.
Here is an interesting fact about the Hebrew word for firstborn, "bechor." It is made up of three letters, bet-chaf-resh. Bet is the second letter of the numbers whose value is up to ten, chaf is the second letter of the tens, and resh is the second letter of the hundreds. This means that only a person who sees himself as second in importance is a true firstborn. The nation of Israel sees itself as being in second place, and therefore its role is to be the "firstborn" of all humanity. We are here to serve humanity. And because of this we are the ones who deserve to receive the Torah.
The day of the Bikurim is the day when the Torah was given. According to our tradition, it is also the day that King David was born and the day that he died. It is therefore the day when we take note of the unique personality of David. He is the one who wrote the Psalms, which is the "second book," as opposed to the "first book," the Torah.
The book of Psalms is divided into five sections, known as the five books of Tehillim. According to our liturgical traditions, this corresponds to the five books of the Torah (the "first book"). The "chumashim," the five books of the Torah, are the word of G-d which was sent from above and reached down to mankind. Tehillim, Psalms, is the human response to the Creator.
When a person is capable of receiving the words of the Torah he is also able to wake up, thereby passing an important test. The awakening consists of the response to the five books of the Torah in the five books of Psalms.
The receiving of the Torah, our ability to listen to the exalted and Divine words of G-d, is what gives legitimacy to our approach to G-d in prayer and in praise. We can view this as the beginning of our own religious worship and that of all mankind, starting with the guidance of King David on the holiday of Shavuot.
Have a happy holiday.