Festival Prayers: Ata Vichartanu Kavanot: Shavuot Ma’ariv
“You have chosen us from all the peoples; You loved us and found favor in us; You exalted us above all the tongues and You sanctified us with Your commandments. You drew us close, our King, to Your service and proclaimed Your great and Holy Name upon us.”
Kavanot Shavuot Ma’ariv:
You have chosen us from all the peoples;
Based on (Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Yakar), “Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did God desire you and Choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples (Devarim 7:7).”
The Sefat Emet (Va’Etchanan) explains that “fewest” describes humility; God chose us for our ability to be humble even when we experience our greatness as His chosen, as we did at Mount Sinai.
Kavanah: “Allow us to merit the humility that comes with the awareness of our awesome responsibility so that You will choose us again as You chose us at Sinai.”
You loved us and found favor in us;
Based on (Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Yakar), “Rather, because of God’s love for you and because He observes the oath that He swore to your forefathers did He take you out with a strong hand and redeem you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt (Devarim 7:8).” The First of the Ten Statements, that Israel heard directly from God so that the words permeated our souls and became part of our being, is, “I am God, your Lord, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery (Devarim 5:6).” If, as our first verse teaches that God took us out, “because of God’s love for you and because He observes the oath that He swore to your forefathers,” that love and commitment to the Patriarchs was included in the First Statement, and permeates our souls.
Kavanah: “Help us connect to Shavuot at Sinai, and find Your love for us in the deepest part of our souls, thereby leading You to find favor in us.”
You exalted us above all the tongues, and,
Based on (Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Yakar), “And I shall cut down all the pride of the wicked; the pride of the righteous shall be exalted (Psalms 75:11).”
Why is the pride of the wicked actively cut down, while the pride of the righteous seems passively exalted? The automatic consequence of God cutting down the pride of the wicked is that the pride of the righteous is naturally exalted. (Toledot Yaakov Yosef, Ki Teitzei) On Shavuot, at Mount Sinai, God actively exalted us by granting us the gift on speaking the words of Torah, the words that were used to create the world. This was greater than the exaltedness we experienced when God punished the Egyptians because of how they treated us.
Kavanah: “Please actively exalt us as You did at Sinai, by allowing us to speak in the vocabulary of Torah and become active participants in creation.”
You sanctified us with Your commandments.
My Uncle Noach zt”l explained that our souls come with a “Kedusha Switch,” that responds to our physical performance of the Mitzvot, and when activated with intention to be activated, increases our awareness of, and love for, God.
Kavanah: This is where we express the intention to activate the Kedusha Switch: “Allow us to use each Mitzvah to nourish and nurture our love for You.” [This can also be used as a Kavanah whenever reciting the blessing, asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav; see Ohr Gedalyahu: Emor, based on Sefat Emet]
You drew us close, our King, to Your service:
Based on (Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Yakar), “It happened that when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness and the mountain was burning in fire, that all the heads of your tribes and your elders approached me – va’tikrivun alai (Devarim 5:20).” The elders felt sufficiently comfortable to interrupt Revelation to approach Moshe and express their fears! (See “So Close and Yet So Far”) The love and intimacy expressed by God to us at Sinai allowed us to approach His service with comfort and wholeness.
Kavanah: “Allow us to experience the same sense of safety as experienced at Sinai, when we approach Your service.”
Proclaimed Your great and Holy Name upon us.
Based on (Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Yakar), “And I will grant you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, in order that you should know that I am God Who has proclaimed your name, ‘I, the Lord of Israel,’ for the sake of My servant Jacob and Israel, My chosen one (Isaiah 45:3-4).” When we are aware that God desires to be known by us, “I, the Lord of Israel,” or as we say in Tefillah, “The Lord of Abraham, the Lord of Isaac, the Lord of Jacob,” and we live in a manner that God is known by our behavior, we will merit to access, “the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places,” the treasures of comprehending the reasons for darkness and suffering and secrets of the Torah.
Kavanah: “We commit ourselves to act in such a way that You are known by us. May we merit the gift of the “the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places.”