Dear TEE community,
The rabbis imaged the days between Passover and Shavuot as a journey from Egypt to Sinai. As the newly freed Israelites began their voyage into the unknown expanses of freedom, they struggled to adjust to their new reality. For many, the familiar deprivations of slavery were preferable to the uncertainties of liberation. They worried about basics, such as what they were to eat and drink, as well as larger issues, such as communal authority. Even once they received the Torah and stood in the presence of God, they continued to doubt and disagree.
As we ourselves approach Shavuot under changed and unexpected circumstances, I find myself reflecting on what it means to retell the story of receiving the Torah at this moment.
For most of us it can be an opportunity to affirm and recommit ourselves to the foundational values we have received from our ancestors. These include the insight that all of creation is one (or One), that human beings are made in the image of God, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves while also loving the stranger as ourselves, that we responsible for those who are marginalized and vulnerable, and we are obligated to create a society which treats its members with equity and fairness.
Less obvious, perhaps, are the values which emerge from ritual obligations. Shabbat, for example, teaches us that productivity is not the sole purpose of human existence. In a just society, there are boundaries to what can be demanded of our time. We all need and deserve consistent opportunity for renewal, community, and pleasure. The tithing, sabbatical, and jubilee traditions impart the lesson that we are not owners, but guardians, of the material world. Our wealth and possessions are not ours by right but a gift from God which must be used for the benefit of all. One of my favorite interpretations of the values imparted by the practice of kashrut (keeping kosher) is that separating dairy foods from meat products is a reminder to respect the boundaries between life and death. Another is that the discipline of kashrut teaches us that there are limits to what we may take from the earth.
Studying Torah on a regular basis provides the opportunity for even deeper considerations. In our weekly Temple Chevre Torah (“Torah circle”) conversations, we often find ourselves reflecting on topics such as human nature, religion and violence, the struggle to align our values with our actions, what has and has not changed in thousands of years of Jewish experience, and, of course, how applicable to contemporary events so many of these stories and traditions continue to be. At this particular time, I find it comforting to remind myself of the courage and resilience of those who came before us as I read of their struggles with unexpected circumstances.
Whatever way you may choose to relate to the Torah, I hope you will join with others in the TEE community to observe the Festival of Shavuot on this Friday, May 29th. The format will be a bit different from our regular Friday nights, focusing on study and discussion, as befits the holiday. Names for Yizkor will be included with our Kaddish observance. Please see the website or Thursday’s email reminder for links to the songs and texts we will be using.
Be well / Zei gesunt / Sano!
Rabbi Drorah Setel