Shavuot has tremendous depth for me. I get very excited about our Shavuot Celebration even though it seems to lack the customs that fill up the other two pilgrimage festivals (yes, our ancestors would make pilgrimages to worship at The Holy Temple/Beit HaMikdash on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot). It doesn’t have anything like a sukkah; there is no seder. So what can bring people together for Shavuot?
Shavuot has two fundamental meanings for us. The original meaning was the offering of the first fruits of the season once we arrived in the Land of Israel. After Pesach, the festival of our liberation from slavery, we had to give an offering expressing our gratitude for our freedom and for our land. It makes perfect sense! Look how far we have come as a people since the degradation we experienced in Egyptian slavery…
But the rabbis of old give us another message. They teach us that God gave the Children of Israel the Torah on Mount Sinai. It wasn’t just the Ten Commandments, but the entire Torah. God gave it Moses at that very spot and ever since, we pour over these words to help us live a life filled with meaning and hope.
So when we gather for Shavuot, it isn’t that we remember getting the Torah. We symbolically return to Sinai ourselves! We stand there together again ready for the Kadosh Baruch Hu / The Holy One of Blessing to give it to us…again and again. That is why it is a celebration of Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah. God continues to give it to us as an act of love, but it is up to us to receive it.
So maybe…we don’t need a seder or a sukkah. All we really need is the Torah. Nothing can parallel that gift, a gift given out of love. I see it as my Mother’s gift… a reservoir of teachings and lessons to help me stand up and face the trials and tribulations of life. It is also the rules of my Father’s house…instructing me to live a life of integrity, generosity and dignity. You see, I see God as my Ultimate Parent, so to reaceive the Torah as an inheritance from my parents and grandparents, given all the way back to Sinai by God, is a powerful image for me.
I love Shavuot beacuse we get to re-enact this giving and receiving as our ancestors did thousands of years ago. I yearn for the opportunity for us to come together, climb Mt Sinai together, receive this precious gift and pass it on. We are told over and over again that we were all at Sinai. So let’s go to the mountain, let’s accept this precious gift, and share it with others in our homes and in our community to make Torah a living, breathing, relevant, compelling gift.
Some connections for you…below is what we are doing at Temple Beth Tikvah. Below that are some web links to build greater bridges for your Shavuot experience.
For TBT’s celebration
Saturday night, May 26
Please join us for our service or our study or BOTH!
7:00 p.m. Shavuot Service
In the Alterman Outdoor Chapel (it’ll be warm, feel free to dress comfortably). Chairs will be available on the first level for those who need them.
8:15 p.m. Tikkun Leyl Shavuot – An Evening of Adult Learning
“Remembering Sinai Together”
There is a tradition that we all stood at Mount Sinai at that fateful moment when God interacted with the world in a way that changed the course of Jewish and human history forever. In one mysterious moment in time and space, God gave the Jewish people Torah. Since that time, our Rabbis, commentators, and philosophers have grappled with how to understand revelation at Sinai and what impact that understanding has upon the way we imagine God, Torah, and Jewish peoplehood in our own day. This program aims to encourage participants to actively reflect on their own understanding of what Revelation of Torah means in their lives by exploring some of the traditional texts that describe such revelatory moments in our people’s sacred literary and historic traditions. Even more, participants are invited to see themselves in conversation with the texts and add their voices to our age-old tradition of Talmud Torah and its commentary. (There is a writing component for this exercise — writing your own commentary; it will be fine if anyone prefers not to…we can all still particpate)
Resources from the Reform movement: http://urj.org/holidays/shavuot/