a practical guide to shavuot

mikveh, renewal & return

Immerse in a mikveh.

Just as the Jewish people immersed themselves in a mikveh prior to receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, so is the custom of immersing in a mikveh on Shavuot a powerful way to prepare for the holiness of the day. (Especially if one can immerse with the appearance of the “morning star,” in the darkness before the dawn.) The mikveh of Shavuot possesses extraordinary qualities. It is the source of the purification brought about by all of the mikvaot we may use during the year. It is also the mikveh of the “Fiftieth Gate”—the all-inclusive level representing the highest gate of teshuva and return to our Source. The spiritual light that radiates on Shavuot is an extremely high and subtle illumination of Divine wisdom. When we are in a pure state, we can more fully sense and receive this light.

Renew yourself.

Shavuot is a time of new growth and vitality. Despite anything you may have thought about yourself until now, take another look at your life in a totally different way. Put aside whatever everyone else thinks about you, and take a moment to imagine yourself exactly the way you long to be. Then start all over, as if you did nothing until now. Forget about your greatest successes—the same with your worst failures. Forget about them! Put your educational degrees and qualifications aside. Just as the Jewish people threw off all extraneous wisdoms before they received the Torah, throw off your preconceived notions about life and yourself. Then do the same thing tomorrow—begin anew! Shavuot teaches us that the natural world does not exist separately from God. Every day and every moment is completely new, and full of infinite possibility.

Look higher and yearn for God.

After forty-nine days of counting the Omer, Shavuot is the culmination—the “Fiftieth Gate of Return” (teshuva). It is the Gate of God’s “return” to us, out of pure love and desire. For the past seven weeks, each successive day held a higher level of teshuva and yearning for the impending encounter with God on Shavuot. This is the day when we first received the Torah at Mount Sinai—an experience which we spiritually relive every single year. Our efforts to return to God are crowned on the last day with God’s own “return” to us. Prepare for Shavuot: Look a little higher than usual, think about the big picture, and sense the yearning in the air… “Return to Me and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7).

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