Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The gift of Torah in our lives
Tonight begins the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (Festival of weeks) - one of the three major pilgrimage festivals celebrated throughout the Jewish year. Shavuot celebrates the the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai which is the culmination of the 50 days between Peasach (when we were freed from Egypt) and the journey through the wilderness to reach the foot of the mountain (redemption).
For some reason, not too many people concern themselves with Shavuot. Jews, and non-Jews, know a whole heck of a lot about Hanukkah (which is pretty minor in our religious year) and a good deal about the High Holidays and Passover and Sukkot. So why does Shavuot get overlooked? Along with Passover and Sukkot, Shavuot is a MAJOR festival. It has it's own themes, it's own nusach (Jewish musical mode), even it's own customs and traditions.
Customs and traditions can be very powerful. No matter what the Jewish holiday (major, minor, or somewhere in between), we can always embrace customs and ritual - even if they are different from "traditional" religious customs. These new rituals and traditions that you create are just as valid as the traditional ones. For example, many people eat dairy on Shavuot. If you are lactose intolerant, this is probably NOT a custom you will want to embrace! But you could always choose to make lactose free treats and enjoy the spirit of the chag in your own way. Many synagogues celebrate Confirmation on Erev Shavuot, but other synagogues wait until that Erev Shabbat to celebrate with their teens as they affirm their beliefs in Judaism. Both are valid and wonderful expressions of commitment to Judaism.
This morning I was thinking about the gift of Torah. In the last three years, I have been in three different places for Shavuot - Louisville, KY; Cincinnati, OH; and Tacoma, WA. Next year, I'll be in Forest Hills, NY. And each place has held special memories and customs of this holiday, for me. In Louisville, at my student pulpit, I was able to engage in a city-wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot (all night study session) with Orthodox and Reform Jews - our theme was the number 7, so I presented on shiva (7 days of mourning) at 12:30 at night. Last year, in Cincinnati, I went to two different study sessions. One was at a Reform synagogue and one was at an Orthodox synagogue. We studied well in to the night, and then two or three of my friends and I went out for breakfast at 4am and continued talking about Torah. I didn't go to sleep that night - it was all too energizing.
This year, my good friend Rabbi Phyllis Sommer challenged all those on Twitter to "tweet" Torah to the top. This means that the more people that put a tag on the word "Torah" (#torah), the more likely that it will be picked up as a topic that is a popular trend amongst all subjects being tweeted. It may sound sort of silly, but the truth is, it has been REALLY meaningful for me. All day long I get to prepare myself for Shavuot through engaging with words of Torah. I get to connect with my colleagues and friends from around the world and see what their thoughts are on Torah. And I feel part of a greater community - a virtual kehillah kedosha of those ready to stand at Sinai, before God, and really receive the glorious gift that has sustained the Jewish people - the Torah.
In our modern lives, with technology abounding at our fingertips, when we are constantly moving and doing and changing, it is so nice to know that wherever we are, whatever our customs are, or how we choose to celebrate, there is one thing that is constant: the Torah is there for us, ready to be received.