Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah – Shavuot

Why is it important to enjoy the meal at a wedding?

The Gemara in Berachot 6b tells us, “כׇּל הַנֶּהֱנֶה מִסְּעוּדַת חָתָן…זוֹכֶה לַתּוֹרָה” – “whoever enjoys the meal at a wedding and makes the bride and groom happy… acquires Torah”. What is the source for this? In the biblical account of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai the term ‘קול- voice’ is mentioned 5 times. Similarly in Jeremiah chapter 33 verse 11, with reference to a bride and groom that same word ‘קול’ is mentioned five times. A beautiful teaching but does it actually make sense? I could have understood perhaps some of the more spiritual elements of the wedding ceremony being linked to acquiring Torah but why the physical activity of eating the meal?

I’d like to suggest the following peirush: Here we find an outstanding example of that Torah-true character trait of empathy.

Anyone who has hosted a simcha, a wedding or bar or bat mitzvah knows how much effort goes into creating the menu. All the considerations relating to the options for the food, the financial investment, the tasting, etc. But it’s a long run up for a short jump -after so many months of planning it’s all over within a few hours. That is why it’s so important that as guests at a wedding, if we enjoy the meal, we must let the hosts know that we appreciated their choice of food – that will give them so much encouragement and make them feel good. If you relate to others in this way you are showing you can be ‘Zocher Latorah’. The reason is, that our consideration for others in our tradition is always seen as an integral part of the way in which we connect spiritually with our creator.

The previous Gerer Rebbe was once asked ‘what should the name be for the Shabbat before Shavuot?’ After all the Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol. The Shabbat before Yom Kippur is Shabbat Shuva, so what about the Shabbat before Shavuot? In an instant he replied: It should be called ‘Shabbat Derech Eretz’ – the Shabbat of menchlechkite, of being considerate, of being a decent human being -because the Mishna tells us ‘Derech Eretz Kadma la’Torah’ – ‘being a good person precedes the Torah’. That is why the Shabbat before Shavuot should be ‘Shabbat Derech Eretz’.

This forthcoming festival of Shavuot it is going to be so different from others. We won’t be in our shuls to enjoy our beautifully adorned synagogues, full of flowers and plants. We won’t be able to enjoy a communal tikun leil. Most Jewish people around the world will be in their own homes and the reason for all this is: ‘Derech Eretz Kadma la’Torah’ – it is because of our consideration towards those in our society. We are looking after ourselves and we are looking after everyone else. Let us take the very same message forward for all years to come and if indeed we show that beautiful empathy towards those living around us we will all be ‘Zocher Latorah’, we will have the privilege of embracing a Torah way of life.

May it be a shining light to guide us with meaning and joy throughout our lives.

I wish you all Chag Sameach