Of the three major festivals on the Jewish religious calendar, Shavuot is the shortest, with a one-day observance in Israel and two days in the Diaspora. However, when we consider that this holiday commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments, the very foundation of our faith, Shavuot assumes major festival status.
This year witnessed the authorship of several excellent books that deal with the history, theological, and midrashic influence of this holiday. The first volume that I wish to bring to your attention is titled The Call of Sinai [Mosaica Press, 2019] by one of the leading Jewish historians of our faith’s theological faith, Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein.
In our online interview, the author teaches us the following:
“The first part of the book is devoted to Torah generally. The Torah is the basis of the Jewish people’s identity and Torah study forms a regular part of an observant Jew’s life. However, it is very easy for a person to learn every day without ever considering such basic questions as:
“What is Torah?
“Why is its study so central?
“How should it be approached and what should its effect be?
“Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah, is a perfect time to discuss these very basic questions and thus receive a deeper orientation regarding them.
“I was also happy for the sacred opportunity to discuss within the context of this work certain well-known ideas and events pertaining to the giving of the Torah, such as Moshe’s debate with the angels upon ascending to receive the Torah, or of Hashem suspending the mountain over the people’s heads. These sections require serious thought and treatment, not only to understand those events themselves, but also what they reveal about the Torah as it applies to us on an ongoing basis.
“Additionally, there are various customs that pertain to Shavuot which have become universally accepted, such as having flowers and eating dairy, which also deserve treatment, firstly, to receive a deeper appreciation of their background and meaning, as well as to seeing how they combine to develop the central theme of the day which is the giving of the Torah.”
Rabbi Aryeh Pinchas Strickoff in his book, Inside Akdamus and Yetziv Pisgam: Shavuos’s Hidden Treasure, Demystified At Last [distributed by Feldheim, 2019], in his interview, shared with us the following impressions:
“As you will see, this sefer presents a fascinating and enlightening new elucidated translation of these two remarkable piyutim that are said on Shavuot. Hearing them being chanted in their most beautiful and ancient nigunim, most people really want to truly come to better understand what these poems are all about, but because of their difficult Aramaic wording this can be a most daunting experience. Thus the motivation in writing this book.
“With extensive background material and an elucidated translation that flows — reading smoothly almost like a narrative — readers will come away inspired with an enhanced understanding and better appreciation of these two remarkable and holy works. Moreover, once one comes to understand them, one’s Shavuot will never be the same.
“When Rabbi Paysach Krohn first reviewed this book’s manuscript before writing his haskama, he called me up with great enthusiasm about it, pointing out that this sefer is really needed to bring Akdamus back to the mainstream.”
This conclusion was reached by Rabbi Krohn in the following manner. He helped network Rabbi Strickoff with the Gateways Shavuot Shabbaton that he himself attends, resulting in the publication of a special paperback edition of this very commentary, which will be distributed to every attendee as part of their program syllabus.
I conclude this essay with a quote from Rabbi Krohn’s letter:
“…Rav Aryeh Pinchas has given us a lucid commentary, including history and insight to the beautiful piyut that is recited during the haftarah of the second day of Shavuot, ‘Yetziv Pitgam.’ This sefer is a must-have for every Jew who wishes to celebrate Shavuot with joy and understanding.”
I fully agree with these sentiments and urge you to further explore these new and exciting works.