Shavout’s cel­e­bra­tion of re­la­tion­ship build­ing

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES - • By YU­VAL CHERLOW The au­thor is founder of the Tzo­har Rab­bini­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion and di­rec­tor of the Tzo­har Cen­ter for Jewish Ethics.

It is some­what re­mark­able – per­haps even ironic – that the To­rah never es­tab­lishes Shavuot as the hol­i­day mark­ing the giv­ing of the To­rah de­spite our knowl­edge that this is at the very cen­ter of the hol­i­day’s iden­tity. In ef­fect, the To­rah doesn’t com­mand that the giv­ing of the To­rah is linked to any spe­cific date on the cal­en­dar.

If one were to pro­pose an ex­pla­na­tion for this fact, it would be ap­pro­pri­ate to sug­gest that from a higher the­o­log­i­cal perspective, it would be strange to take what is per­haps the penul­ti­mate event in our reli­gious his­tory and “limit” it to a spe­cific day and time, and con­strain it to a point in his­tory.

To­rah is ever-present and in­fi­nite, and de­fines ev­ery­thing we are and ev­ery­thing we do. The fact, there­fore, that it is not linked to a time or date teaches us of the “su­per­nat­u­ral” as­pect of the To­rah, and to de­scribe it in chrono­log­i­cal terms could even be viewed as of­fen­sive to its unique iden­tity. But as hu­mans, such an un­der­stand­ing doesn’t eas­ily jibe with how we op­er­ate.

Dates and times are crit­i­cal mark­ers for how to live and func­tion. An ap­pro­pri­ate metaphor would be our de­ci­sion to mark an an­nual an­niver­sary.

Any mar­ried cou­ple knows that mar­riage and all it rep­re­sents is an ever-present as­pect of our lives. But we still choose to take one day a year and cel­e­brate the in­sti­tu­tion and give thanks for our happy mar­riages.

Shavuot is sim­i­larly a form of an an­niver­sary. The bond be­tween the Jewish peo­ple and God is per­haps the ul­ti­mate mar­riage, and Shavuot serves as an an­nual re­minder of how this love re­mains ever-relevant in our lives.

Tak­ing this metaphor even farther, just as there would have been flow­ers at the “wed­ding” on Mount Si­nai, we, too, adorn our syn­a­gogues with flow­ers to re­call the joy­ous oc­ca­sion. The preva­lent cus­tom is to stay up all night im­mersed in To­rah study – just like we might have had dates that lasted through­out the night as we got to know the one we love.

We even read the To­rah por­tion de­scrib­ing the de­liv­er­ance at Si­nai, an an­cient cus­tom per­haps not so dis­sim­i­lar to dust­ing off that old video cas­sette and watch­ing our wed­ding video.

And no less sym­bolic, we read the Book of Ruth to act as a prime les­son in re­la­tion­ship-build­ing with our fel­low man and woman – both those who are sim­i­lar to us as well as the ger, the stranger who de­serves no less car­ing be­cause char­ity and love of the other is the spring from which will come our ul­ti­mate re­demp­tion.

This is what makes Shavuot so spe­cial. Its qual­i­ties be­gin with those mark­ing a date and place in our re­mark­able his­tory. How­ever, the To­rah teaches us that Shavuot is not any sim­ple date and place, but rather the very source of who we ever are as in­di­vid­u­als, as a peo­ple and as ser­vants of God.

May it be God’s will that through the les­sons of this hol­i­day, we will be blessed to strengthen our re­la­tion­ships – both the per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with our spouses, chil­dren, fam­i­lies, friends and as­so­ciates, as well as the ul­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with God in Heaven.


‘OUR RE­LA­TION­SHIP with the To­rah is im­me­di­ate and vis­ceral.’

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