During a presentation conducted by the late Rabbi Sacks with a group of university students, the students expressed their belief that the strictness and conformity of Orthodoxy were causing people to drift away from the Jewish faith. “If the restrictions were less intense and the laws less demanding, more young people would be inclined to remain engaged and committed to their Judaism,” they protested.
Rabbi Sacks challenged the validity of the students’ claim, as it seemed both reasonable and logical. “In your opinion, which Jewish festival is the most restrictive and demanding?” he asked the audience. Some shouted “Pesach,” while others cried out “Yom Kippur.” Then he rhetorically posed a second question, “And which festival is the least burdensome? Shavuot, of course, because on Shavuot there are no specific religious obligations or unique demands.” The Rabbi continued, “Who among you celebrates Pesach?” Most of the audience raised their hands. “And who celebrates Shavuot?” The audience fell into an audible silence as no hands were raised.
Rabbi Sacks explained that, contrary to logic, effort and dedication indicate higher levels of observance, not less. This principle holds true not only in the practice of Judaism but also in all relationships, whether they are with Hashem, our Judaism, or our fellow human beings. Hard work and effort are the necessary investments in our relationships, rather than merely associated costs. The more effort and dedication we put into a relationship, the stronger our connection becomes. Relationships that do not require us to invest time or demand a change in our character and temperament are seldom meaningful ones.
Parenting, for instance, is an investment in our children. It involves hours of personal reflection, reevaluating who our children are rather than who we want them to be, admitting our own faults and flaws, and, most importantly, continuously striving to become better parents and better individuals. It is through these efforts that we forge a deep bond with our children. Parenting is challenging, and that is precisely why it is so fulfilling.
Shavuot does not need to remain a “forgotten festival,” but it also requires effort. In Ethics of the Fathers, we are taught, “Ben Hay Hay said, ‘According to the effort is the reward.'”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rabbi Gad Krebs is the College Rabbi at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.