A recent e-mail from a colleague closed with the parting words, “see you at Sinai,” followed by a winking emoticon. The reference was to the upcoming holiday of Shavuot – a celebration linked with our receipt of the Torah at Har Sinai/Mount Sinai. In Torah, this connection is not explicit. Shavuot is, instead, identified in three ways that were extremely resonant in ancient times when, as an agrarian people, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of hard work and gratitude for the fruits of the land:
- Hag haShavuot (Holiday of Weeks – we are instructed to count seven weeks
between Pesach/Passover and Shavuot)
- Hag haKitzir (Festival of Reaping – the end of the grain harvest period that begins with Pesach)
- Hag haBikkurim (Festival of Offerings - the first fruits of the seven species of the land of Israel were to be offered to God)
It is in Talmud and our unfolding spiritual journey as a People that revelation of Torah becomes linked with this time of year. Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, beloved zaide of Renewal thought and practice, recently wrote, “Shavuot is a yearly opportunity to renew our Judaism by asking: What revelation is coming to us today? What is the Torah of our times?” He notes that it is no coincidence that we
receive Torah during the springtime, as blossoms are coming into their full fragrance and new beginnings are so vividly visual, evoking Shekhina’s (Divine Indwelling) presence . “It is during this season, with its promise of abundance, that we receive the gift of the Torah meant for us,” he concludes, suggesting that we are most receptive when we see the pregnant potential of beauty in our world.
The gift of Torah is not a passive event for us. It is our responsibility to receive Torah as active partners in the continuation of creation and movement toward redemption (the other two essential themes of our Jewish legacy which bookend revelation). Receiving is an active and co-creative event. Torah was not just given at Sinai … it was received as well. And receiving Torah is a perpetual process. Our covenantal relationship with the Source obligates us to continually participate in the process of creating a redeemed world, thus “earning” our freedom.
The morally outrageous gap between perfection and present human reality can be highly dispiriting. Our great sages fortify us with what we need to believe and make true: ”It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” (Avot 2:21, attributed to Rabbi Tarfon) In the connections that comes through communal participation and personal spiritual refreshment and re-soul-ment we recommit to the challenge.
The individual overcomes isolation through communal participation, and the community overcomes isolation through the connection of generations. In analyzing the covenantal nature of Shavuot, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg notes that what appears to some to be blind “tribalism” among Jews “is really an urgency communicated between generations. . .Each generation is a partner entering into the covenantal responsibility and process and thus joining the transgenerational covenantal community.” (from The Jewish Way Living the Holidays) It is in this light, that one can marvel at the ingenuity of rabbinic tradition around revelation. We were all there at Sinai. All Jews who ever lived or who ever will live stood at Sinai and heard the proclamation of Torah.
What is your Torah? Do you need to listen again? You chance is coming. See you at Sinai!
Artwork by Jordana Klein. Text and photography by Jessica K. Shimberg.