Shavuot Letter

Dear Temple Sholom Members,

Soon comes a special day for all of us in the series of holidays throughout the year.  Fifty days after Passover, which is called the festival of our freedom, begins Shavuot, the celebration of God’s gift of the Torah to the Jewish People. Freedom is the central theme of Passover but Shavuot reminds us that there is no freedom without our connection to the Torah.  The holiday of Shavuot is to help us understand that our freedom is connected to the acceptance of our concurrent responsibility.

Shavuot is the moment we stopped being a collection of tribes and united as one people with service to one God. The ancient Rabbis tells us that we stood there and proclaimed,  “We will do and we will learn and universally accepted our commitment to the Torah.”

So why did we accept the responsibility?

In the Talmud (Shabbat 88a) it is said that God lifted the mountain and held it over the people saying: “If you accept my Torah, good; if not, this will be your grave!” In other words, you really have no choice but to accept the Torah, otherwise you will be buried under the mountain. The people thereupon accepted the Torah.  In reality not much of a choice.

Other commentators claim that the Torah was accepted out of love not fear and thus dispute this ancient teaching. Choice is important in any acceptance and it is essential in our acceptance of the Torah.

Personally, I prefer the latter scenario – commitment out of love beats adherence out of fear. I also see a covenant with God as a win-win for both sides. Even if it means that life is more challenging.

A tale: Once upon a time there was a couple who loved nothing better in life than a good game of golf. In their working years they played the game every chance they got, and when they finally retired they looked forward to many happy hours banging that little white ball all over the links.

Yet, just as this couple was on the verge of realizing their lifelong dream, tragedy struck. The two of them were in a terrible car accident on the way to their favorite course. They died instantly.

There was no pain. They had the sensation of traveling together through a long tunnel of light, and when they emerged they found themselves — where else? — on a golf course. And, what a course it was! More beautiful than any golf course in the land of the living.

The man looked off to his side, and there he saw a gleaming white golf cart, with two sets of clubs in the back. He picked out a driver from the bag labeled “His,” set a ball upon the tee, and swung for all he was worth. A hole in one! The man was ecstatic, for never had he come close to such an experience on Earth.

Then his wife stepped up to the tee. Bang! A hole in one. And that’s the way it went for both of them, as they progressed from hole to hole. When they reached the end of the course, their scores were tied: 18 apiece.

These two couldn’t believe their good fortune. They smiled at one another as if to say, “Isn’t this wonderful?”

Just then they glanced at the sand trap next to the eighteenth hole, and there they saw an old man slowly raking the sand: the groundskeeper, no doubt.

The husband caught the man’s eye and called out with a grin, “I never dreamed heaven could be so beautiful!”

Said the groundskeeper: “I hate to disappoint you folks, but this isn’t heaven.”

The moral: freedom without responsibility, actions without consequences, is no life at all.

Redemption, yes, but revelation matters too.

I will be teaching about Shavuot at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, May 30, followed by our Temple Sholom annual meeting and celebratory launch party of our glorious 150th year. Then the community is also invited to Anshe Emet for all-night Torah study. In the morning Temple Sholom will be joining Emanuel Congregation at 10:30 a.m. for Shavuot and Yizkor services. I will be speaking on the meaning of time; I hope you can join us!