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06/05/2019 08:15:55 PM


Sam Shnider

This week we read Parshat Bamidbar, count the 49th day in the cycle seven weeks, and continue immediately into the Festival of Shavuot, which begins on Saturday night June 8, and concludes on Monday evening. 

The Festival of Shavuot is referred to alternatively as “the festival of the harvest” (Exodus 23:14), “the festival of first fruits” (Numbers 28:26), since the offerings on that day where made from the first harvest of the wheat, and ”the festival of the giving of the Torah” since Rabbinic interpretation marks the day as the day when the Torah was given, by calculating the days from the exodus from Egypt. 

On Shavuot, it is customary to read the Book of Ruth, a tale of love, struggle and the origins of the line of David, set in the springtime and the times of the harvest. It is also customary to eat cheesecake, and milk products, symbolizing the inner wisdom of the Torah, as hinted to in the verse “Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue.” Song of Songs 4:11.

In the American Jewish acculturation process, the holiday has not been largely favored, and many Jews are not familiar with its customs and practices- certainly far less than those of Passover. But it is certainly an opportunity to meditate and reflect on the giving of the Torah, what the Torah means for us as the thread-line of the Jewish people, and in particular what it means to receive the Torah. 

The Midrash reflects on the fact that the Torah has significance above and beyond its existence as a Book of Law given to Moses and through him to Israel. The Torah existed before the creation of the world; all knowledge of all creation are held within it. 

In the way of the world, a king of flesh and blood who builds a castle does not do so from his own knowledge, but rather from the knowledge of an architect, and the architect does not build it from his own knowledge but rather he has scrolls and books in order to make rooms and doorways. So too, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, gazes into the Torah and creates the world. (Bereshit Rabba 1:1).

See how rich in meaning this short segment is! First, it teaches us that the Torah is a book of creation. The verbs are in present tense- creation continues in each and every moment. 

Also, the segment teaches of the nature and scope of the Torah. If the source of all creation is the “gazing into the Torah,” then gazing into the Universe and the secrets of the natural world must also be study of Torah. If the Torah was the source of the primordial creation, then it is the source of all later creation as well, and all creation and creativity must somehow derive from the Torah as well. 

The parable also teaches something about humility- that creation comes from an awareness of some truth, outside of oneself, that must be learned from another person or another source. This is true even of God. 

In the parable of the segment above, the Torah is compared both to the architect and to the blueprint. “Gazing into the Torah” thus implies the existence of another being, separate from God, that God gazed into: and the Rabbis compare the Torah to a feminine aspect of the Divine that engages and plays with God as in the verse in Proverbs (8:30)”I was the architect at his side. I was his constant delight, rejoicing always in his presence. ” The delight of the Torah is the delight of relationship, that leads both to humility and to love, and ultimately to creation. 

These aspects of the parable create room for inspiration in our own lives. The Jewish people received the Torah, they are also the keepers of the Torah, and responsible for the relationship with the knowledge that the Torah embodies. This means that as Jews we are responsible for gazing at creation and marveling at it; for striving after all types of truth; and for entering into a relationship with that higher aspect of Torah that is the delight in knowledge itself. In all aspects of our lives, where we learn new knowledge and strive to create, we are gazing into the Torah. 

By participating in the sacred and in the Study of Torah on Shavuot we can remind ourselves of the sacred nature of all creative aspects of our lives, and reach the love and humility that are necessary to imbue our endeavors with success. What better time to do this than on this Shavuot!

Sat, July 11 2020 19 Tammuz 5780