The holiday of Shavuot is here once again! Beginning this Saturday night, the Jewish people will be celebrating our most precious gift from the Almighty, the Torah. Through all-night studying of Torah (and mass consumption of assorted cheesecakes), we will attempt to transport ourselves back to those moments when the entire Jewish nation stood beneath Mount Sinai witnessing the epic display of thunder, lightning and the direct word of God as we accepted His proposal by declaring, "We will do and we will listen!"
Shavuot is one of two holidays in the Jewish calendar referred to with another name, Atzeret. The root of the word Atzeret is atzur, which means to halt. Both the holiday of Shavuot and the final day of Sukkot, known as Shemini Atzeret, share this same theme, where the Almighty is asking us to stop for a short time, to seize the day and to spend it with Him.
Shavuot and Shemini Atzeret share a few similarities. They both come after a 50-day period when the Jewish people put extra effort into self-growth. Shemini Atzeret comes after a month of Elul, the focus of which is reflection for the New Year, followed by three weeks that feature the High Holidays and Sukkot. Shavuot also comes after a 50-day period of the counting of the Omer that began with Passover.
And both of these holidays don't bring on any exciting mitzvot like shofar, matzah or sukkah. (The beautiful custom of all-night learning is attributed to the Arizal, a 16th-century Kabbalist; it is not a Torah commandment or even a Rabbinic institution.)
The common theme of these two days is best described in the name that they share: Atzeret, halting. After a set period of time when we are challenged to climb from level to level on the ladder of spiritual growth, we finally get to that place when we can look within ourselves and feel the sense of having arrived. It is precisely then that our Father in Heaven looks down at us, bursting with love and admiration at His beloved people, and tells us, "My dear children, now that you have arrived, why don't you stick around just one more day so we can celebrate your accomplishments together." This is Shavuot. This is the final day of Sukkot. This is the deeper meaning of Atzeret.
May this year's celebration be one that truly brings us back to Sinai, reconnecting us to the feelings of love and excitement for the Torah that we had on that day and bringing us closer to our Father in Heaven who so much looks forward to spending one more day of "quality time" with His beloved children.