Celebrating Shavuot With Ben Shapiro

By: Zahava Schwartz
June 18, 2024

On a normal weeknight, midnight is way past my bedtime. But this past Tuesday night was no normal weeknight. It was the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), and in Jerusalem, at 12 AM, the night was only just getting started.

Synagogues all over Jerusalem and Israel kept their doors open all night, honoring the timeless Jewish tradition of studying Torah on this sacred night. Fascinating classes were offered, study halls buzzed with people learning together, and coffee, snacks, and cake kept everyone awake and energized.

With so many options near my apartment in the Baka neighborhood, I hopped from synagogue to synagogue to hear my favorite teachers. The short walks through the Jerusalem night not only gave me a boost of energy but seeing the streets filled with people of all ages and backgrounds, excited to study the Bible in the middle of the night—even in the middle of a war!—was inspiring.

Staying up and learning all night on Shavuot is something I try (emphasis on try) to do every year. What made this year unforgettable was the chance to participate in a Bible study with renowned political commentator and author Ben Shapiro.

Shapiro was the featured speaker at an event organized by Kehilat Eretz Hemda, held at Horev Elementary School in the Katamon neighborhood. Despite it being a weeknight, the synagogue was packed with hundreds eager to hear his insights. The room was so full that I had to stand on the stairs—I could hear Ben speak, but I couldn’t see him!

Shapiro’s speech centered around the powerful concept of “naaseh v’nishma“—“we will do and we will hear”—which reflects the people’s willingness to accept the Bible and perform its commandments even before knowing what they were.

Shapiro eloquently argued that embracing tradition before questioning is vital for ensuring the continuity of Judaism. He emphasized the importance of adhering to Jewish customs, practices, and legal rulings, rather than allowing personal desires or societal norms to dictate religious observance. This commitment to following divinely mandated traditions, he argued, has enabled the Jewish people to endure and thrive over millennia and is essential for our faith’s future survival.

While the Jewish people willingly accepted the Torah with the words “naaseh v’nishma,” the sages suggest there was also an element of coercion in their acceptance. Based on the verse in Exodus 19:17, they say that God held the mountain over the heads of the Israelites and forced them to accept the Torah, threatening to bury them alive if they did not. Rabbi Judah Loew (the Maharal, 16th Century) explained that this forced acceptance ensured the Israelites could not later claim that since they accepted the Torah voluntarily, they could now change their minds and reject it.

Rabbi Yehuda Amital elaborates: “When observant people are questioned as to why they keep the commandments, they very seldom answer, ‘Because we are obligated to.’ People today do not sufficiently emphasize the element of obligation in relation to mitzvot (commandments). Instead, they prefer to fulfill the Torah’s requirements out of a sense of ‘connection,’ rather than as an ‘obligation.’ What the Maharal teaches us is that there is no world without Torah, and therefore we observe the Torah because we must. We must not lose sight of the element of obligation and must develop a sense of the ontological dependence of the world on the Torah.”

As Rabbi Amital explains, we must keep all of the Torah because we were commanded to, not because it feels good. Similar to Shapiro’s message, we are required to follow all of God’s laws, not just the ones that speak to us, make sense or feel right according to our personal desires and societal norms.

But Shapiro didn’t just speak about embracing tradition. He also touched on the importance of solidarity between Jews and Christians. Members of both faiths share a deep reverence for the Torah and biblical traditions and a profound connection to the land of Israel. Shapiro advocated for strengthening the bonds between these two communities to collectively face common challenges.

Hearing Shapiro’s powerful and thought-provoking words in the heart of Jerusalem while celebrating the festival commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was incredibly uplifting. It served as a timely reminder to cherish our ancient traditions while collectively working towards a brighter future for both the Jewish people and our Christian allies, especially here in the holy land of Israel.

There are so many meaningful ways you can show your support for Israel. Visit theIsrael365 store to discover products that celebrate your connection to the Land of Israel and bring more meaning into your daily life. By purchasing from our store, you help support Israel and its people, ensuring we all thrive together.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Zahava Schwartz

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