Rabbis dedicate a new torah scroll.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
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.The author is founder of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization and director of the Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics.