Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Forgotten Holiday

What follows is my May-June newsletter article.

One would think that a holiday that offers cheesecake as its required delicacy would be among our most popular.  On Shavuot it is customary to eat dairy foods so cheesecake and blintzes are its traditional foods. 

Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  Contained in the Torah are the laws for slaughtering meat.  Thus we can only eat dairy until the time we receive these specific laws.  In addition the Torah is likened to milk and honey.  It is as sweet as honey and as pure as milk.  It is for these reasons that we eat dairy.

Still, despite these favorite foods, Shavuot remains the forgotten holiday.  It could not of course be more important in its message.  So why is it neglected?  Perhaps this is because its primary observances are not found in the home, like the seder of Passover, but instead in the synagogue.  At Shavuot services we read the Ten Commandments.  In addition it is customary that we stay up all night studying Torah in a Tikkun L’eil Shavuot. 

Sometimes I wonder if this holiday is better suited for college students with their late night study habits.  Purim, with its wild parties and drinking, and Shavuot with its similar last minute, all night cramming for an exam, should be most appealing to college age students.  Then again the reason for Shavuot’s neglect can also be found in the Torah.  The Torah does not in fact delineate an exact date for the holiday. 

Instead it is calculated in relation to Passover which is accorded the date of the fourteenth of Nisan.  We are commanded to count seven weeks from Passover to Shavuot.  Shavuot’s name means “weeks.”  The Omer period connects the freedom from Egypt with the revelation at Sinai.  The Jewish contention is obvious.  The freedom celebrated on Passover is meaningless if not wedded to the Torah revealed on Shavuot.

Still, in this lack of a fixed date we discover Shavuot’s true meaning.  One day alone cannot be assigned to Torah.  This must be our occupation each and every day. 

The fulfillment of being granted freedom is only discovered when married to something greater.  We may be free to do whatever we want and whatever we please (and of course eat anything we desire).  But meaning and fulfillment are only discovered, and revealed, when tied to something.  On Shavuot we receive the answer.  Torah is how we discover this meaning.

Shavuot grants meaning to Passover.  Torah lends fulfillment to freedom.

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