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Rabbi's Week In Review - 5/10/2021

05/10/2021 04:07:30 PM


This coming Sunday evening and Monday (and also Tuesday for more ritually observant Jews who live outside Israel), we will celebrate Shavuot. Shavuot, along with Pesach and Sukkot, is one of the Shalosh Regalim — the three pilgrimage festivals mentioned in the Torah. These festivals, which all have an agrarian foundation, have morphed into something different as Jews have become less agrarian-oriented over a period of centuries.

Shavuot is now the festival in which we celebrate receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai. We refer to this in the present tense. It was not just our ancestors who stood at Mt. Sinai. In every generation, we choose to receive our Torah.

Tradition holds that we receive two Torahs: (1) our Written Torah, the Five Books of Moses contained in our Torah scroll, and (2) our Oral Torah, centuries of commentary, Midrash, works of Halakhah (Jewish law), Jewish philosophy, and every discussion on any Jewish topic we have ever engaged in at Congregation Kol Ami.

The idea of receiving Oral Torah at Mt. Sinai could easily be passed off as myth, a fictional construct used as an excuse to elevate our post-biblical Jewish texts as sacred. Yet it is a vital concept that has sustained Torah and sustained Judaism — the idea that Torah is not static. Torah is a dynamic and ongoing narrative, responding to new experience and responding to newly acquired knowledge.  

After all, our Written Torah never contemplated lifesaving machines, space travel, lifesaving drugs, organ transplants, a life without slavery, issues surrounding queer rights and queer idenitity, modern architecture, the development of photography, etc., etc., etc. In addition to making space for newly acquired knowledge, Oral Torah gives us a seat at the table with our ancestors and with G-d. Through Oral Torah, we become partners with G-d in this wondrous and ongoing story of creation.    

This partnership is our great challenge and obligation, and our great gift. Let us celebrate this gift as we celebrate our less recognized Jewish holiday of Shavuot with greater intention and new meaning.  

During this Z’man Matan Torateinu — this season of receiving the gift of Torah — I wish everyone a Chag Shavuot Sameach!

Sat, June 19 2021 9 Tammuz 5781