Shavuot is among the most important of Jewish holidays, yet the least observed. It marks the revelation at Mount Sinai seven weeks after the liberation from Egypt. Thus the holidays of Passover and Shavuot are connected by the counting of the Omer. Judaism believes that our freedom must be wedded to Torah in order for our lives to have meaning.
Many people think that a life devoted to Torah is a life scrupulously bound to Jewish rituals. An observant Jew is one who lights candles 18 minutes before sunset, keeps a kosher kitchen, fasts on Yom Kippur, sleeps in a sukkah, prays three times a day and much more. These rituals are important to be sure. Rituals can bring great meaning to our lives, adding a measure of holiness and helping to focus our thoughts on what is important and lasting.
But it is demeaning of Judaism and the gift of Torah to define a religious life in terms of rituals alone. Torah is even more importantly about ethics and how we behave towards each other. One cannot be religious and cheat in business. One cannot be observant and scream words of anger to those we are supposed to love.
If our freedom from Egypt is going to have lasting meaning then it must be tied to how we treat each other. Torah must bring healing to our world. On this Shavuot I would like us to rededicate ourselves to the ethical meaning of Torah. I would like us to allow Torah to influence our actions. I would like to dream that the gift of Torah can transform our world into a better place.
That is a dream I cannot fulfill alone. Join me in devoting ourselves anew to the gift of Torah.