When the cycle for the weekly Torah readings was established centuries ago, this week’s Parsha was designated specifically to precede the holiday of Shavuot, the festival commemorating the giving of the Torah. What is the connection between the two?
It begins with G-d’s charge to Moses to conduct a census of the Jewish people. The common word for “count” is not used, rather “uplift” is the term used. What does counting have to do with uplifting? The Almighty was sending a message to the people; everyone should feel uplifted by this count. The awareness that each person was counted meant that everyone was reckoned equally before G-d. This gave a heightened sense of meaning to each individual. “I am just as significant as anyone else” was the intimation of this divinely ordained census.
No matter how we regard ourselves, G-d values our sincere service no less than the service of any other person who might outwardly seem to be superior to us in spiritual accomplishments. Every mitzvah is precious, regardless of who the practitioner is. Do not deceive yourself into thinking “I have made so many mistakes in life and am a failure as a Jew and a human being, what value do my mitzvot have?”
Moses is told se’u, uplift them. This encouraging idea demonstrates that in G-d’s eyes we all have something special to offer. Each person has been gifted a unique soul, which means that you are the only one to possess it—its unlimited potential is available only to you. Every word of Torah you learn, every mitzvah you do, each act of kindness you perform is precious and can serve as a catalyst in the spiritual cosmos that has the ability to affect the events of the world in which we live.
Every holiday has symbols except for Shavuot. Rosh Hashanah has the Shofar, Yom Kippur has fasting, Sukkot has the Sukkah, and Passover has Matzah, Chanukah has the Menorah, and Purim has the Megillah—but Shavuos is void of symbols. It is ironic that the festival representing the giving of the Torah has no symbols. One reason is because the Torah is so unique that no symbol can be associated with it. It is the endless reservoir that gives us tools allowing us to lead a life of maximum pleasure—yes, pleasure; physical and spiritual—and happiness in this world.
The Shavuot festival begins Thursday night and concludes after Shabbat. Whether you are at home, shul or somewhere else, whether your level of observance is great, small or even nothing, whether you think of yourself as a success or failure in life, rejoice with Jews all over the world and realize that you count because we are all counted. Rejoice in being Jewish and in the wellspring called Torah, the source of it all.