Sivan Rahav-Meir
Sivan Rahav-MeirEyal ben Ayish

* Translation by Yeshoshua Siskin (

1.*Rabbi Uri Zohar* was a famous Israeli actor and movie director who became religiously observant 40 years ago. On Erev Shavuot, the festival of Matan Torah, he passed away. Here are a few things about him that continually astonished me when we met. All of them are associated with the fact that the Torah shaped his character during the last decades of his life:

First, his relationship with time was remarkable. Every minute was precious. Among all the people that I have known, perhaps Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky alone managed every moment of his time with such care. Rabbi Uri's learning sessions with study partners began at dawn. His phone conversations were short and to the point. And every lecture he was invited to deliver, whether in Israel or abroad, was weighed in terms of the benefit it would bring to the world. When an interview with him was over, even while the crew was still folding up its equipment, he had already plunged back into his learning. "I missed out on forty years," he smiled, "and there are gaps I need to fill."

Second, his joy was palpable. Many of those who become observant initially see the light, so to speak, but after a few years need to work hard to keep up their enthusiasm. The routine grinds them up. But for Rabbi Uri, the spark did not go out even for a moment. When we recently filmed him praying the morning prayers, at the height of the pandemic, it appeared that he was as passionate about putting on tefillin as he was when putting it on for the first time. "I am the happiest man in the world and the richest man in the world," he told me in one of our interviews. When I asked him about his humble living quarters, he explained: "I am the happiest man in the world since there is nothing in this world that I want that I don't have," whereupon he returned to the Gemara open before him.

Finally, the manner in which he related to me personally was extraordinary. Many felt the same way. How is it possible to fill every moment with learning and still be so pleasant to others? How is it possible to remember and give counsel to so many people, and to impart to every one of them a good feeling? Once a book of mine that had just been published was left in his mailbox. We delivered the book in this way to dozens of people. But he was the only one who called me on the phone within the hour. "I do not want to remain in your debt," Rabbi Uri said, having worked on his character traits with such diligence since the long ago wild days of his past. "You gave me a book as a gift, perhaps I will read it, but I am obliged to say thank you. So thank you."

On every celebration of Shavuot, it is as if we are standing once again at Mount Sinai. Whoever entered the tiny home of Uri Zohar, even for a moment, felt that they were standing at Mount Sinai, that the Torah was being given at that precise moment and in that special place.

2. How fitting that he passed away on Erev Shavuot. Here's an attempt to summarize the Jerusalem Shavuot experience, 5782.

To see tens of thousands learning Torah in the middle of the night. In lectures, learning in a group or with a partner, in saying the traditional Shavuot Tikkun. Not to mention more than a few parents and children who simply are sitting and learning together until one of them falls asleep (generally not one of the children...).

To see tens of thousands of people flowing to the Western Wall at five o'clock in the morning. They pour out of all the neighborhoods and alleyways and overflow the Kotel plaza with emotional early morning prayers. As I am going down the steps leading to the Kotel and the throng below is revealed, a woman next to me asks in astonishment: "Is it like this every year? I am already 30 years old, so how is it that I never knew about this?”

To see the night disappear and the sun come up. I do not remember the last time I was so privileged.

To disconnect from my cell phone for two consecutive days. I do not remember the last time I was so privileged.

To be silent for a moment and to hear the different prayer services, the varying styles, the piyutim (liturgical poems), the Hallel songs, Megillat Ruth, the Ten Commadments. And to read the words in the prayer book that define this unique festival: "the time of the giving of our Torah."

To meet tourists from Israel but mostly from abroad who are returning to Jerusalem. To hear from them that there is no room available in any of the city's hotels, baruch HaShem. Welcome. We missed hearing English and French and Spanish at the Kotel.

To meet the many reservists that returned from that huge IDF exercise in Cyprus. I saw at least three of them who returned Shavuot Eve and recited the HaGomel blessing on Shabbat morning after a week away from their families, during which time there was no possibility of calling home.

To see the many security forces on guard and also the refreshments that kind souls were distributing to them. And to see the distribution stations where water and food were available to all. Thanks to whoever bought so many colorful frozen treats and was passing them out at Jaffa Gate. It was amusing to see little chilldren next to adults and bearded Chasidim, all of them walking around with an ice pop in their hand. Perhaps this represents the sweetness of theTorah for everyone.

3. And how do we come down from all these emotional experiences? It is said that on Shavuot each of us must accept a new obligation, however small, that is connected with the Torah. Some positive action to which we can surely commit ourselves. Everyone is invited to try.

Most of us are not huge Torah scholars, and we certainly do not pretend to know the entire Torah. The following story explains what motivates us, nevertheless, in our own personal Torah study.

A great rabbi came to a yeshiva of outstanding students in order to determine who among them was the best student. He entered the study hall and said he had a serious Torah question, a complex conundrum that only a genius could solve.

The rabbi asked the question. For a long time, everyone tried to answer it without success. The rabbi left the yeshiva disappointed. Everyone went back to his studies when, all of a sudden, a young man dashed out of the yeshiva and ran after the carriage of the rabbi. "Just a moment, but what is the answer to your question?" the young man excitedly asked. The rabbi answered: "You are the best student! I was looking for you. The main thing is the heart, the desire, the thirst, the sparkle in your eyes."

Uri Zohar would have agreed,