As human beings, we count down. Minutes until the cookies are done, days until spring break starts, weeks until the season premier of our favorite show, months until the trees will blossom again. It's human nature to anticipate something good happening, a integral part of who we are.
Jewish culture is no different. Every year, we count down the days from Passover to Shavuot, the festival where we celebrate receiving the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai. There are 50 days in all, and the excitement builds as the week of Passover ends, then when we start to count in the teens, then in the single digits. What is more incredible than the Torah? What could be more awesome than the moment when God gave it to the Jewish people, amidst the boom of thunder and impossible spectacle? We had been schlepping in the desert. What wonderful thing would our God give to us?
Then, we heard the Torah. The Ten Commandments. Rules, regulations, admonitions. A few encouragements, Divine promises. Some stories to remind us of who we are. But mostly, tasks being laid on us. Things that we had to do, mitzvot we had to fulfill. Standards for us to live up to.
Just like anything else we might anticipate, the Torah is only what we make of it. Getting that diploma doesn't automatically get you a job - you have to decide how to use it, together with your skills, personality, and determination, to help you live the life you want.
Every year, at Shavuot, we get to decide - will we use the Torah as an excuse to complain about Judaism's restrictiveness? Or will we view its commandments as opportunities to draw closer to God, to our communities, and to ourselves? When we examine its words, will we turn them into daggers with which to wound our fellow humans? Or will we search for the most loving and understanding of meanings within them?