When We Were Young
Can we climb this mountain?
I don’t know
Shavuot, the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, begins tonight. Unfortunately, despite its great importance and seminal place in the Jewish calendar, Shavuot has become the orphan of Jewish holidays.
Chanukah, a relatively minor holiday, gets much more play. How can you compete against what many perceive as the Jewish Christmas with all those great presents and parties? Pesach? Great family time. High Holidays? Have to go to synagogue and expunge those sins and get written in the book of life for another year. But Shavuot? Nothing too exciting about this holiday. No fun in the sun, I mean shade, of Sukkot here.
And this is sad, because there is probably no more significant holiday that defines who the Jewish people are and what we have taught the world. After all, it was this document, this constitution – our Torah – that created most of the greatest concepts that have shaped, changed and altered world history.
It is from our Torah where Mankind is first introduced to the idea that all humans are created in the image of God and hence have innate worth irrespective of their religion, creed or accident of birth. The king has no greater merit than the slave and all are equal in the eyes of God. “Love your neighbour as yourself” does not apply only to important people or those born into a higher class, but to every human on the face of the earth.
Peace on earth, universal education, liberty and freedom for all, do not murder, do not steal, take care of the orphan, widow and the less fortunate – all of these crucial notions that nations still struggle to accomplish, began in our Torah in an age when the world was a lot more barbaric than it is today.
But perhaps the fact that Shavuot is often ignored by many is very symbolic because just as the holiday is overlooked, so too the message of Shavuot is often lost. We forgot how we got here and what our purpose is. We get caught up in the meaninglessness of daily activity and lose sight of why we were chosen as a nation.
This is not a new phenomenon for the prophet Jeremiah, speaking for God laments, “Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord, ‘I fondly recall the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you ran after Me in the desert, in a desolate land.'”
The Almighty misses those early days of the marriage when the Israelites were freed from slavery, were about to build a future and ran after Him to a place without any creature comforts, completely uncertain of where they were going, but only driven by a love and passion for the dreams and visions of a brighter future bound up in their purpose and destiny.
But then the slow insidious process of meaninglessness took over. We got comfortable and complacent. We forgot our dreams, our visions, our passion and our origins. We forget why we married. We forgot why we committed to one another. We got caught up with mortgage, car payments, rebates, figuring out should I choose cable, Hulu or Netflix? Car pool, fixing the garden, posting my life on facebook and thousands of other details set in and distracted us.
And our Jewish life gets reduced to issues like fretting about the theme of our son’s Bar Mitzvah. “Honey, make sure the color of the basketball shaped invitations match the basketball themed kippot.” Or, does the OU-D symbol on Oreo cookies really mean they are dairy of just dairy equipment and so not technically a problem to consume after meat? Should there be a Kiddush Club in synagogue and if so, what happens when there are more people there than in services and who is responsible for bring the scotch and vodka this week? Is there going to be a chocolate bobka or not?
And while many of these issues are valid ones, we often get so involved in the minutia that we end up travelling so far from our origins to the point where these details take on a life of their own, cutting us away from the source of where it all started – Mount Sinai and what our purpose really is.
Shavuot is a bare bones holiday for a reason. It is about Torah, plain and simple, nothing more and nothing less. No Pesach cleaning to distract you, nor any specifics of how much matza to eat to fulfill the mitzvah and is the minimum obligation of wine 3.3 oz or 4?; no finding a flawless lulav and etrog; no perfect Chanukah gift; no getting to shul early so you get a good seat for Yom Kippur and “how dare this guy sit in my chair! I cannot believe this shul – I gave them such a big donation and they still gave me such a lousy seat!”
No, none of this. Just a return to the very essence of who and what we are, why we are here and what our greater obligation is to the world to make it a better place with the fundamental truths in God’s gift to us, the Torah. Shavuot is dusting off the wedding album and going back to the chuppah – the marriage canopy where you looked into each other’s eyes and only saw love, potential and meaning. Shavuot is about returning to that place where it all started and reminding ourselves of the true purpose of Torah and why God brought us to Sinai.
Now go and study for the rest is mere commentary.
We’re burning down the highway skyline
On the back of a hurricane
That started turning
When you were young
When you were young