As we enter the month of June, we have just finished celebrating arguably the most important, if least observed, of the Jewish pilgrimage holidays (comprised of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot). The Shavuot holiday, commemorating the giving of the Torah, concluded on June 1, with Hallel, and connecting with our dear ones no longer in this world, with Yizkor.
It is ironic that Passover and even Sukkot receive more attention than Shavuot, given that without the Torah we have no Judaism. As important as Passover is, in celebrating our beginnings as a people liberated from human enslavement, without the gift of Torah, that experience would have been forgotten long ago, as happens with so much of human history. As important as Sukkot is, in celebrating the harvest of life and survival for 40 years of vulnerability in the wilderness, it is the Torah that recounts that story and enables us to remain conscious of the core blessings of life.
Shavuot brings Torah into our lives. It is home to our history, celebrations, laws and principles, updated throughout the ages, all commemorated in observing this holiday: time of the giving of the Torah.
Shavuot is a call to leadership in its identification of the holiday as “The Time of the “Giving” of Torah”. No assumption is to be made that the Torah is automatically “received” by any given generation. Each generation, and each individual has to make a decision to receive this gift and to accept it whole-heartedly. Responding affirmatively places us on the path of harnessing the power of Torah, given by God, in that it teaches we were created to be partners with God in our decision making capacities. The responsibility is ours to choose to accept the Torah, rather than it being forced upon us as some kind of obligatory ritual that could be mistakenly assumed or interpreted as unrelated to our world.
Midrashim, imaginative stories generated by the rabbis to teach important morals and principles, suggest that the world was created for the sake of the Torah. Translating that into practical application, we were not put in this world without purpose, without need to do more than enjoy life without regard for the wellbeing of this miraculous physical realm. We were put here to enable God, spiritual in essence, to become a vibrant part of this physical entity, through us, physical partners.
In other words, beginning with the obligation for the human being to make a decision to accept the Torah, the infrastructure of our Sacred Text provides the wherewithal to learn to become conscious every day and throughout each day of opportunities and responsibilities to choose Life and to choose paths that make this world Kadosh, Holy, special, unique and Godly. The outcome of accepting this mandate, commemorated with Shavuot, is in understanding that those who accept Torah receive tenets, principles and strategies for “leading” their lives, rather than mindlessly following societal norms. The Torah is a leadership development system whose details provide contexts for each member of the community that accepts it to think for themselves. They are to become leaders in bringing better conditions into a world overwhelmed with a history of destructiveness and wars of domination of nations and cultures, since each society was “taught” to see the other(s) as threats.
Lack of leadership in so many pockets of American society, from top down, is increasingly critical when you face so many and varied threats to our world, whether feuding nations or terror groups, or the threat of extinction from environmental factors. Even as we attempt to comprehend the breadth and depth of the violation of American infrastructure possibly/likely reaching to, if not from, the highest office in the land, it is important to take stock of the reality that leadership does not simply manifest by being elected to a position of power, or worse, grabbing it in oligarchical fashion. Leadership is taught and learned, and, from Judaism’s perspective, emanates from a Power greater than any human, and, thereby, beyond realms of fear and jealousy that often motivate those who have found or been given leadership positions.
Those that choose to accept Torah and honor Shavuot’s mandate to learn to lead their lives and teach such values to their children must apply those principles in holding elected officials accountable. God placed us in this world to do no less, and as conditions deteriorate, especially with America’s standing in the world today, it is most critical to do what we can to bring these “truths” to light and strive to infuse such principles into the consciousness of those making decisions today that will determine whether we continue to have a world to hand over to our children, in another generation or two, let alone for the long term.
So, don’t leave the Shavuot experience behind as you enter the quieter summer months. Keep mindful that every moment is another opportunity to make a difference that will move us away from the curses of so much hurt in the world toward the blessings of why God created this realm, to begin with, an enterprise with long-term promise, with our dedication to see God’s will prevail, reflected in people and nations treating one another with respect and appreciation. That is what Shalom looks like, and that is what we are here to do: to bring Shalom and unify the physical realm with the spiritual domain that is God’s realm of essence and eternity.