The story is told about a poor Jew in Europe who came home one day and told his wife that he wanted to eat blintzes, like the rich people. The wife replied that rich people eat blintzes because they can afford the ingredients.
When the husband asked what they needed, his wife replied that they didn’t have money for eggs, cottage cheese, or the other fillings.
The husband instructed her to make the blintzes without those ingredients. The wife did so and dutifully served her husband.
After eating a few bites, he said to his wife, “You know, I don’t see what rich people see in blintzes.”
Since the 1940s, Coca-Cola has been known for its slogan, “It’s the real thing.” In 1999, they adapted it to “Can’t beat the real thing,” and in 2005 to “Make it real.” Among other things, the slogan aims to affirm the supremacy of Coke over its rival, Pepsi. Although Coke is only 12 years older than Pepsi, founded in 1886, Coke uses that seniority to emphasize that it has “soda supremacy and authenticity.”
On Shavuos, we celebrate not only the giving of the Torah three-and-a-half thousand years ago, but also that we continue to observe the Torah as we received it then, in its pristine form.
We don’t just learn Torah; we seek to internalize its messages and to make them the central focus of our lives. The more we invest in Torah study and Torah living, the more it becomes part of our being.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks noted that people think the reason why many don’t become more observant is because Judaism is too constricting and too difficult. If only it were easier and less demanding, more people would embrace it. But the reality is not that way. In thinking about the three major Jewish holidays, more Jews observe Pesach than Sukkos, and more Jews observe Sukkos than Shavuos. Paradoxically, Pesach is by far the most difficult to properly observe. It involves cleaning the house, koshering the kitchen, using special utensils, and much else besides. Sukkos is not as challenging, but it also entails building a sukkah and gathering the Four Species. By far, Shavuos is the easiest holiday to observe, with no special mitzvos.
Most difficult of all is Yom Kippur, when we pray much of the day while fasting and reflecting on our shortcomings and mishaps. Yet, that is the most observed day by Jews across the religious spectrum.
The counterintuitive reality is that the things we value most are the things that are the most demanding.
“Things that cost us little, we cherish little. What matter most to us are the things we make sacrifices for. If Judaism had been easier, it would have died out long ago. Never doubt that it’s a privilege to be a Jew. Head for head, our people have done more to transform the world than any other. There are easier ways to live, but none more challenging. G-d asks great things of our people. That’s what made our people great.”
In one of his masterful letters, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner wrote that in large cities there was a city clock hanging atop a tall building or tower. Most assumed that the clock was hung there so it could be viewed even from a distance.
The real reason, however, is that if the clock were easily accessible, every person would adjust the city clock to match their watch, which they perceived to have the correct time. But once the clock was placed out of reach, it would be seen as the standard, and everyone would set his watch according to the City Clock.
The Torah is our city clock. It is the standard-bearer for all times, and we seek to adjust our lifestyles and decisions by its expectations, and never the other way around.
When the Constitution was drafted in this country, the Founding Fathers wisely recognized that times change and there is a need for adaptations. They therefore created a process to create and ratify amendments. To date, 27 Amendments have become law.
The Torah, however, contains no amendments. Its laws and commandments are infallible and are as applicable today as they were when they were given at Sinai.
To be sure, there have been many necessary precautions, customs and rabbinic enactments that have been added over the years. But those are all to bolster and safeguard the Torah itself.
No matter what society advocates, Shabbos, the yamim tovim, and our code of morality and values have never changed and will never change.
The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) states that one of the first questions one is asked by the celestial courts after one departs this world is, “Did you set aside time for Torah?”
Aside from the simple meaning of those words, there is an additional understanding: Did you set the times you lived in to fit with and into the dictates of Torah? Did you ensure that no matter what people around you said or did, you strove to maintain the laws of the Torah?
The alternative is trying to fit the Torah into the whims and practices of the surrounding society. What we know is that those who have embarked upon that path often don’t have many Jewish descendants.
We remain Torah-observant not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. We have endured by rising to the challenge and investing ourselves in it. It is those ceaseless efforts that we celebrate on Shavuos. Our Torah is truly the real thing.
 - Staying up all night is a custom but is not obligatory.
 - In that letter, Rav Hutner was making the point that the rabbi of a community must be like the city clock. He must set the standards of Torah observance in his community, and not that he flails according to what everyone wants. The same point can be made about Torah generally.