Love and learning on Shavuot: The author is pictured with her father, David Galler. Courtesy of Shira Galler
The stars are shining; you’re sipping the dark, bitter coffee; munching on endless bowls of potato chips; and poring over yet another long sefer. It’s Shavuot night.
This holiday celebrates the day the Jewish nation received the Torah on Mount Sinai. To show our appreciation and love for this gift, we spend the entire night learning from this sacred text. Ever since I can remember, my father has taken me to shul on the first night of Shavuot.
Even though he sees me beside him, captivated by my class notes, I don’t think he will ever, in his lifetime, fully realize how much I really did learn and grow during those long nights in shul.
For a long time, I viewed Shavuot night as a time when I could study hard for my upcoming tests in Jewish subjects. A night when I raced through my notes and tested myself on the material over and over and over again. It was the perfect time to cram for finals.
I’d sit beside my father with my Chumash and Navi (Book of Prophets) notes and watch him vigorously learn alone. He’d quietly whisper to himself the words of the Mishna and become completely immersed as if the world around him stopped. I, on the other hand, would be somewhat “engrossed” in my learning, but never felt like I was able to become completely and utterly fascinated by my studies, like my father.
In my eyes learning was listening quietly in Chumash class, studying for the test, getting a good grade and moving on. But watching my father become so captivated made me realize something that stopped me dead in my tracks. As I looked at him, I realized there was more that was there.
Something in my father’s expression as he pored over a Mishnah made me aware that something almost magical was going on next to me. There was a sense of joy. There was a sense of engagement. There was something more to learning, I saw right in front of me, more than test grades and exams. There was something incredible about what was happening as he examined the text in front of him.
So I looked at my Chumash and read the sentence again, this time with the knowledge that there’s more to this text than a grade of 95 or 100 percent. There must, I understood, be something here for me.