Friday, June 02, 2006

From Passover, For Shavuos

Today was the Jewish holiday of Shavuos (pronounced sha-VOO-us or shah-voo-OAT, depending on where your grandparents came from), one of the three big festivals commanded in the Torah. This festival commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jews, after they had escaped Egyptian bondage and wandered in the desert for a while. Curiously, while the Torah specifies the month and day for all other feasts and fasts, Shavuos is only identified as being the 50th day after the Passover holiday. Observant Jews will actually perform a ritual counting of the fifty days from Passover to Shavuos, giving the festival a sense of anticipation. In a way, Shavuos is a fulfillment of Passover. Passover celebrates the exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery. It looks back on where we were, what we came from, and how we got delivered from there. But having escaped from Egypt and become free, what were we free to do and what were we for? It wasn't until we received the Torah that we learned how to live with our freedom, and what to live for. That's what Shavuos is about. So while Passover is about "from", Shavuos is about "for". Notice that it's not about "to", the land, the destination. In fact, surprisingly, I don't know that there is a Jewish holiday that marks the arrival of the Jewish people to the land of Israel after the exodus. The Shavuos festival celebrates the giving of the Law to the people of Israel, which happened before we crossed the river and entered the land of Israel. For it is the Law and not the land that makes the nation of Israel. Customarily, it is always said that Shavuos is about the giving of the Torah to us, not the receiving of the Torah by us. The rabbis say that while it was given to us on that particular day, we are continually in the process of receiving it.

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