Dear TEE community,

As we approach summer and the Jewish month of Sivan, we can understand our ancestors’ decision to observe the festival of Shavuot when new life is emerging in both the plant and animal worlds. When the rabbis imagined the people of Israel standing at Sinai to receive the Torah, they pictured the wilderness bursting into flower. Perhaps they intended it as a metaphor for understanding the path of Torah as a means to allow human beings to blossom as well. It is customary in many Jewish cultures to decorate both the home and the synagogue with fresh flowers and leafy branches to commemorate Shavuot in this way.

It’s not surprising that the word “paradise” comes from a Persian term for a garden. In Hebrew, the related word, pardes, means “orchard,” and, of course, our tradition imagines the ideal setting for humankind as an earthly garden. The joyful beauty of growing and blossoming plants is a clear reminder that, in the words of our prayerbook, “entrances to holiness are everywhere.”

This year our Shavuot gathering will celebrate “A Garden of Torah,” in both the spiritual and material senses of the term. The JCC has given us land next to the entrance to the Tent in which to create a community garden and so our activities on June 5th will include planting vegetable beds to raise food to donate to the Brighton Food Cupboard and others. There will also be opportunities for study, reflection, and crafts related to our theme suitable for all ages and abilities.

This Sunday, May 29th, we will welcome in Sivan with a New Month Circle focusing on Shavuot in a different way. The tradition often refers to the covenant at Sinai as a marriage between God and Israel. Historically, synagogues enacted that event by erecting a chuppah on the bimah for the reading of the Ten Commandments. With that idea in mind, we will consider the significant commitments in our own lives while also studying about (and practicing!) the Jewish custom of henna decoration, now most frequently associated with wedding celebrations. There will also be song, a story about why we eat dairy on this festival, and, of course, refreshments.

I hope that I will have the opportunity to celebrate this season with you as we once again gather in person. May we all have a sense of flourishing in harmony with the renewed growth of the world around us.

Rabbi Drorah Setel