D’var Torah | May 26, 2017

Shavuot a time to renew selves, relationship with God, rabbi says

Rabbi David Feder

We are still journeying from Egypt toward Sinai as we make our way through the period of the Omer from Pesach to Shavuot. While it felt like we turned our lives inside out as we prepared for Pesach with cleaning, changing pots and pans and dishes, and transforming the way we eat for a week, Shavuot barely seems to evince a yawn.

Perhaps it’s because Shavuot arrives right after school ends and summer vacation begins. Perhaps it’s due to fewer concrete acts associated with Shavuot. We construct a sukkah for Sukkot, wave a lulav and etrog inside it, and make innumerable changes for Pesach, but other than blintzes, cheesecake and some greenery in the sanctuary, we don’t do much for Shavuot.

Shavuot is much more about the abstract: the meaning of revelation, the nature of Torah and our relationship with God.

Our sages imagined a number of different analogies for explaining the significant themes of Shavuot. Among the most useful is that of a wedding. Mount Sinai is imagined to be the chuppah raised over the Israelites as they enter into a covenantal relationship with God. The Torah serves as the ketubah, spelling out the obligations and responsibilities each owes the other. That moment at Sinai marked the formal beginning of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Courtship began during the times of the patriarchs and matriarchs and continued through the years of slavery and miraculous redemption from Egypt. Those seven weeks in the wilderness following the splitting of the Sea of Reeds can be seen as a period of engagement, ending with marriage at the time of revelation.

In the centuries that have followed, our relationship with God, like most marriages and relationships, has not been a static relationship, but can be seen as an ever-changing dynamic relationship. At Sinai, God revealed something to us of the divine nature, as our hearts and souls were on display for God. As the relationship matured, we no longer needed miracles as signs of God’s nearness or actions on our behalf. We could rely on what we had experienced and what we knew without constantly seeing visible signs.

As part of the relationship, we have experienced times of nearness and times when we have felt more distant. We have questioned God’s existence and care and have flirted with other relationships, whether those are modernity, secularism or other faiths. But something always seems to draw us back together, restoring us to our eternal partner.

In these quiet days of early summer, after a busy spring, an active school year, and a rush of summer preparations, it is good to have the time for quiet contemplation. We can reflect upon that moment beneath Sinai when we began our partnership with God and consider the path we have followed as individuals and a people.

By marveling over memorable moments, quietly reflecting upon difficult times and thinking about all the detours we have taken in our own lives and the life of our people, we renew ourselves and our relationship with God on Shavuot.

Shabbat candles should be lit on the following nights and times: May 26 at 8:38 p.m.; June 2 at 8:43 p.m.; June 9 at 8:47 p.m.; June 16 at 8:50 p.m.; June 23 at 8:51 p.m.; and June 30 at 8:52 p.m.

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