Shavuot….a celebration of the receiving of the Torah at Sinai. It’s the time when Judaism began and we became Jews. It’s a time for study. As Rabbi Irwin Kula said, “It’s the yearning to know what it is we’re supposed to do with our lives.”
Before last year, I never celebrated Shavuot. I knew about the holiday but never did a ‘deep dive’ into what it actually was or participated in the celebration. But, last year was different. Something piqued my curiosity and I decided to go to synagogue to see what it was all about. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised.
There were only a scattering of people that evening, however, I felt the warmth and familiarity of being in a place where I felt at home. I especially enjoyed the variety of topics from which I learned new things. I have a natural affinity to learning and this just fit the bill. I also felt enriched and full of spirituality as well as knowledge.
I am saddened that this year, Shavuot will be different. We cannot come together and learn in person but can participate virtually. That brings a sense of optimism and anticipation and is something I am looking forward to. We have a higher calling this year, that of pikuach nefesh, the preservation of Jewish life. This principle of Jewish law overrides any other religious rule. In these times of COVID-19, it is incumbent upon us to set the standard for others. It is our responsibility to save lives.
As the regulations of stay-at-home have lifted and our community is reopening, we must continue to be vigilant by wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. This pandemic is far from over. I have observed many in the general community who are ignoring these best practices and picking up with life as it was. I believe that life cannot go back but must move forward into a new reality. We, as Jews, have the obligation to preserve life. We can only do this by taking safety precautions. We need to think about others. It is in all of our best interest to be thoughtful, caring, and safe.
Abigail Pogrebin, in her book, 'My Jewish Year,' writes about each holiday in the Jewish calendar and her experience in observing them. She describes Shavuot as bringing us back to our contract with G-d and each other. She writes, “What did we commit to at Sinai? So many rabbis talk about preordained purpose. It’s not ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ It’s ‘What am I supposed to do with my life?’ There’s a ‘supposed to’ for each of us, we just need to discover it. We’re not bestowed with life solely to exist, but to act.”
What I have learned over these many weeks is that I need to be an example for others. What I do and what I say matters. We are taught that to save a life is as if we have saved the world. This is an awesome responsibility we have as Jews.
Use this holiday as a springboard for learning and reflection. Reflect on our beautiful religion that gives us the opportunity to do good in the world. Take special care of yourselves and others. Act by setting an example.
Please continue to stay safe and healthy.
Chag Shavuot Sameach and early Shabbat Shalom,