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05/25/2023 09:38:28 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman -Weiss

Tonight and tomorrow is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.  (CSK will be commemorating Shavuot tomorrow evening in a special Zoom Shabbat Text study on the 10 Commandments with Mi Shebeirach and Kaddish, please join us.) For Shavuot primer, I encourage you to click here.  

Shavuot is a holiday that falls 50 days since the first day of Passover and it is meant to help us each envision a personal “revelation.”  By personal, I call upon the Rabbis’ colorful notion that each person, who “stands” at Mt Sinai, as the Ten Commandments (Torah) is revealed by God to the Jewish people, can experience God’s unique message, crafted just for them, in a language and in a manner only they can truly understand.  This isn’t to suggest a common message, that one can understand, only and as long as they know the language.  No, the message of Shavuot is one that insists that each human being can choose to join the erev rav (mixed multitude) of those who throw off the shackles of yesterday’s slavery, to come to know and be known by their Creator.  Lofty language for sure, but worthy of the expense.  For Shavuot isn’t meant “simply” to remind us of the single mythical moment that occurred to the formerly enslaved Israelites “who stood at Mt Sinai.”  It is, in the Jewish imagination, a moment each of us is invited to, at least this one day of the year, if not every day at any moment.  

Shavuot was initially a summer harvest holiday, that in the hundreds-years wake of the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, and a vast shift in the zeitgeist of their time, became an observance centered on intellectual inquiry and personal spiritual growth.  One of the grand shifts in the Jewish psyche at this moment in history, is the embraced notion that hereinafter, God’s manifest presence would be far more hidden.  But that this wasn’t a retreat, rather an invitation, a demand as it were.  That we would be the ones who make God known. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg wrote, 

…”if the Shechinah is hidden, then awareness of the Presence will be more dependent on Jewish actions. The rabbis were both attracted and concerned by this implication: “You are my witnesses, says the loving God, and I am the Lord.” (Isaiah 43:12) The rabbis comment on this verse: “When you are my witnesses, I am God; when you are not my witnesses, I am not, as it were, God.”  When the Israelites do God’s will, they add strength to the mighty on high… When Israelites do not do God’s will, they weaken, as it were, the great strength of the one who lifted them up.”

President Barack Obama taught us, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” 

And I would argue, “This is the call of Shavuot.”  

Those who are advocating for the required public display of the Ten Commandments, in their own very quirky way, contend that God is missing in public life.  And I am not sure they are wrong.  But I think they have it backwards.  God’s presence is missing in public life – that is, an affirmed commitment to the godliness inherent in each human being, the expression of whose infinite uniqueness ought not only be permitted but encouraged, is the means by which, at least since the 1st century, we Jews have affirmed is how we come to know God.  And maybe in the future, God indeed will again call down to us from the Heavens in a manifest voice that will shake the world to its foundations.  But until that time, I think we ought to spend less time looking up for revelation, and more time looking within ourselves and each other.

Mon, June 17 2024 11 Sivan 5784