By Etan Weiss
Shavout/שבועות, which takes place this Sunday and Monday (May 20 and 21), commemorates the Giving and Receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
People celebrate Shavout/שבועות by observing the following:
- אקדמות – Akdamut, the reading of a liturgical poem during Shavout/שבועות morning synagogue services
- חלב – Chalav (milk), the consumption of dairy products like milk and cheese
- רות – Ruth, the reading of the Book of Ruth at morning services (outside Israel: on the second day)
- ירק – Yerek, the decoration of homes and synagogues with greenery
- תורה – Torah, engaging in all-night Torah study
Celebrated 50 days after Pesah/פסח, this Holiday bookends the transition of the Israelites from slavery to freedom, now guided under the Jewish value set of Torah and mitzvot/מצוות (commandments). In Egypt, society was built on hierarchies - slaves who literally built the cities, all the way up to Pharaoh who was perceived as a god. Judaism aims to build a Just Society wherein we strive for balance and equity. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks teaches that the pyramid is the ultimate symbol of Egyptian society - that hierarchy plays out with the apex (Pharoah) shining on top and supported on the backs of the foundational layers beneath. Jewish society is symbolized by the Menorah, the inverse of a pyramid, where God/Torah supports the people. The Torah aims, therefore, to create the balance in the force - communal and personal needs, work and life.
This Shavout/שבועות, we invite you to consider your balance between slavery and freedom. Use this holiday to take a break from the routine of life and ponder how Jewish values, taught in the Torah can help you find inspiration for balance. What in your routine is meaningful? How might you ensure space and time to engage meaningfully with your family and community? How do you contribute to a more fair and just society? How do you give, both to and of yourself?
Wishing you all a hag sameah/חג שמח, a happy and meaningful holiday!