Friday, September 30th 2022   |

Shavuot – the ignored holiday

By TED ROBERTS, The Scribbler on the Roof

There’s an old Midrash that I just made up that talks about the holidays. They had a party – the holidays that is – and paraded through the synagogue. There was music and much rejoicing.

Yom Kippur was acclaimed the King of the Holiday clan. Each day was called out for special praise and recognition. They danced and sang and flattered each other. Happiness reigned – with one sad exception.

In the corner, ignored and unattended to, sat Shavuot – The giving of Torah, the end of the harvest season. Nourishment for the Jewish body – nourishment for the Jewish soul – she was ignored.

There’s some truth to this pseudo Midrash. We pay little attention to Shavuos, the anniversary of the gift of Torah. She deserves a crown – not a sideways glance.

It was God’s gift to us, which we passed on to our fellow man. The essence of tikun olam (“healing the world”)– as bright and enlightening as the sunshine on the first day of creation. Literally, a constitution for civilization.

Before Torah, who would have had the tenderness of feeling to find your enemy’s ox wandering loose in the meadows – your enemy’s ox yet; and feel a compunction to return him to his owner, who would be delighted to strike you viciously with a stick?

Furthermore, “if you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.” And there’s more. What a novel, ethical attitude for 3,300 gory years ago.

Such goodness in that barbaric world is unthinkable. It is nowhere recorded elsewhere. In all the remnants of that ancient world dug up by archeologists, nowhere is found the loving kindness contained by Torah. That was our gift to a dark world. It beats monotheism because it’s more than monotheism. Societies with a single god were prevalent in the womb of history. It’s the ethical cloak that’s rare.

We received ethics from God and gave them with eager, outstretched arms to a bloody world. And one must acknowledge that the distribution of t his ethical handbook to all mankind, though in diluted form, was facilitated by Christianity. Yes, it plays down some themes – the justice of a God who punishes as well as blesses – and it glorifies the divinity of a prophet from Galilee and the accent of an afterlife. Still, the ethical monotheism of a diety remains. And the tenderness to the orphan and widow and love for neighborliness still survives and was exposed (by other Jews who later called themselves Christians) to savage, primitive cultures that shouted “do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.”

Thus Shavuot celebrates not just our good fortune, but our mission in taming the world – in sharing our divine gift with all.

But even amid this universalism, we are ordered repeatedly to be the ethical bookkeepers – the guardian of the gift, the main actor in this five-act play that has never had a closing. We are producer, director, actor, and audience. And as they say, the play must go on! And more than those outside the theatre, we must exemplify the virtues therein.

It’s one thing to cite its beauty, it’s another to emulate its beauty and live a life of holiness wherein the script is Torah. But the ultimate is to live your life in the passion of the floodlights, so as to influence others, and receive a congratulatory bouquet of roses when the drama is over.


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