Torah Musings: Stepping Up on Shavuot


Stepping Up on Shavuot

Sarah Pachter

My venture into public speaking began one Shavuot night in my home in Atlanta, Georgia, after seminary. I was full of excitement over my newly found connection to Judaism, and with Shavuot approaching just days after landing, I began to search for learning opportunities for women. Much to my dismay, there was not even one shiur available for a woman to attend on Shavuot night.

I decided that I would create a program for women on my own. At just 18 years old, I took out my trusted seminary notes and put together my first shiur. I made homemade sushi and invited anyone and everyone. My hope was to give the shiur and then invite women to stay and learn throughout the night.

Much to my surprise, over 50 women attended that night, and they stayed to learn well past three in the morning.

After giving that first class, I felt like a flame had been sparked inside of me and propelled me to continue teaching Hashem’s Torah. I began volunteering to speak and teach in schools, synagogues, and homes throughout Georgia, New York, and New Jersey. In my junior year of college, the Jewish Enrichment Center (JEC) of Manhattan called to see if I could fill in for their scheduled speaker who was not able to come. Though I didn’t have much time to prepare, with the help of Hashem, the class surpassed everyone’s expectations, and I was offered more opportunities to speak there.

That was the real beginning of my career as a public speaker, and it has been an incredible journey thus far. It all began on Shavuot when I saw that there was a need, and I decided to fill it.

This story illustrates a major theme of Shavuot.

“In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man.”[1]

As the midrash shares, Hashem had a precious gift that he wanted to share with the world, his Torah. Before approaching the Jewish people, He asked every nation if they wanted this gift, but after discovering the difficult laws, they all declined.

When Hashem approached the Jews, we looked around and saw that no one wanted to accept the yolk of Torah. But we took a chance when no one else was willing to. We stepped up and accepted with the famous words, naaseh venishmah. When everyone else said no, we said yes.

This is what Shavuot is really about. It’s about stepping up, even when no one else does. It’s about looking around you, finding the lack, and filling that void.

After my first child was born, my mother flew in for a week to help me care for the baby. I’ll never forget the dreaded day she was to return home after the bris. Although my son was a cooing calmly, I was certain the moment she left he was suddenly going to start crying nonstop. As a new mother, I felt ill prepared, and frankly I was terrified. With my husband at work and my mother on the airplane back, I was alone in the apartment with this new, week-old baby. I looked around and there was no one else. I had to step it up, and almost 13 years later, I am still growing as a mother.

At almost every significant point in my life I have said yes, perhaps before I was fully ready. That’s how I started speaking as a profession, it’s how I wrote my first article, and it’s how I published my first book.

Shavuot means daring to say yes even when you feel unsure, and even when others are unwilling to help. It’s saying I can, when everyone else says I can’t. It’s about possibility. It is about taking a risk when no one else wants to and watching your life change before your eyes.

Imagine if the Jews had said, “Yeah…this looks too hard. I can’t hack it.”

If we had said, We can’t, we would not be the Jewish nation that has survived and thrived for thousands of years. And who knows what other blessings we would be missing out on?

Shavuot is about we can. Shavuot is about denying the voice inside your head that says, I can’t—because that voice is a liar.

This Shavuot, we can continue the legacy that was given to us on Har Sinai. We too can look around, step up, and say yes one day at a time, until we reach a spiritual height worthy enough to accept the greatest gift ever given to mankind—the Torah.

This is what Shavuot means to me. What does it mean to you?

This article is written iluy nishmat Lori Kaye, a woman of valor who stepped up to save the life of her rav in the San Diego shooting.




[1] Pirkei Avot