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Shavuot

05/28/2020 03:39:27 PM

May28

Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,

Shavuot, which begins this evening, is one of Judaism's three major festivals (or chaggim), along with Passover and Sukkot. (The High Holidays are not considered "festivals.") Shavuot is, without a doubt, the least observed and most obscure of the three festivals. It's critically  important, though, for on Shavuot, we commemorate mattan Torah, the giving of Torah at Mt Sinai. 

Questions arise. Who, for instance, do we believe is the giver of Torah? God? Moses? Inspired religious thinkers over the centuries?

Moreover, what is Torah? Is it, strictly speaking, only the Five Books of Moses? Does it encompass the rest of the Jewish Bible -- the Prophets and the Writings? Does it include our rabbinic tradition -- Talmud, Midrash? (The rabbinic sages themselves insisted their spiritual and intellectual work was, indeed, part of the revelation at Sinai.) Do the later commentaries and codes comprise Torah? What about responsa literature? Jewish philosophy? How about Zionist literature, or contemporary Jewish fiction?

I was once speaking to a rabbi who referred to Simon & Garfunkel as "my Torah." I love Simon & Garfunkel, but we should be careful about the casual applications of a word like Torah. Clear definitions are important and helpful.

I will not answer all these questions now. Suffice it to say that these are the sort of questions that we often consider in the limud, the learning we do at Ezra-Habonim, the Niles Township Jewish Congregation. Diving into or sacred works elicits all sorts of provocative conversations. If you have attended -- or Zoomed into -- our classes, I urge you to do so. The company is excellent; the learning is fulfilling; and the coffee is pretty good too.

Tonight, after our short Shavuot service at 8:45, we will begin our annual erev Shavuot learning. I'm looking forward to learning from Dr. Jeff Winter and Rabbi Eli Libenson. 

By the way, some have asked about our Land Beyond Torah class. In this class -- Thursdays at 11 -- we read the biblical books that begin where Deuteronomy, the last book of Torah, ends. We are currently reading about the miracle worker Elisha, successor to Elijah, in the middle of Second Kings. There is so much good material to learn! No Hebrew background or knowledge of the Bible is necessary. 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach. I pray you are well and hope to see you soon.

Rabbi Jeffrey Weill 

Wed, December 2 2020 16 Kislev 5781