Tuesday, 20 December 2011
Tuesday, 7 June 2011
Walking the street enjoying the sights of the flowers and the smell of dairy delicacies it occurs to me that while the other festivals are offshoots and commandments of the Torah, only Shavouth is the festival of the Torah itself. It is when we celebrate the Torah given to us on Mount Sinai though the Torah does not make the link and, like most things, comes to us by rabbinic deduction perpetuated by culture and custom. Perhaps like a birthday boy or girl who do not organise their own party, the Torah kept silent on the issue and left it to others to throw the bash. And what a bash it is!
Other Holidays go on for what seems a lifetime and come with truck loads of rules restricting what we can eat, when we can eat, where we can eat and sometimes whether we can eat at all. Pesach supposedly celebrates freedom but enslaves us weeks in advance in preparation and weeks after in paying the bills. Succoth celebrates the shade in the wilderness so we Jews decided to commemorate it by erecting booths during rainy and cool Autumn.
Shavuoth however is different. It's short lasting only 2 days; it's tasty with an abundance of cheesecakes and other dairy savouries; and it's colourful with beautiful flowers and foliage adorning homes and shules. So much so that the Talmud tells us that unlike other Holidays there is no dispute that Shavuoth must be enjoyed materially as well as spiritually.
For this reason Shavuoth has hardly any rules or special prayers and we're home early for lunch. Those prayers that there are like Akdomuth come with a special chant. The Akdomuth itself is one half glorification of God and his celestial creations and one half a recitation of the delights to expect when our time comes. A feast of the Leviathan and the Wild Ox, assuming they’re not endangered species, washed down with wine from the days of Genesis and held in halls of splendour. Unfortunately there is no debauchery to go with it and while others get 70 virgins all we get is a waltz with the righteous who as we know can't dance.
To top the beauty of the Festival is the reading of the book of Ruth, surely the most exquisite and beautiful story of the entire Bible both in content and style.
Since I seem to be giving a sermon there must be a moral at the end and here it is: Shavuoth is celebrated in the manner that the Torah ought to be before the killjoys decided to ruin it: short, simple, colourful and palatable. Leave the 'deeper meanings' to your slumber during the Rabbi's speech for Shavuoth needs no rabbis. The Torah has simple and pleasant meaning and that is just how we celebrate the Festival commemorating its presentation to us.
Good Yom Tov!