Jewish Journal

Shavuot: It’s Complicated!

by Dr. Afshine Emrani

June 2, 2014 | 6:37 am

To see God's Face, we must first turn to Him, read His Love Letter.

At the one year anniversary of their wedding, the newly married couple brings out the wedding video and invites the family over for dinner, retells the stories of how they met, and cuts the cake that's been savored in its frozen state,  uneaten in the first place.  But, as the years go by, they take each other for granted.  Each time, they recreate the memories of their first lust, but commonly fall subject to the harsh sarcasm of the years, of missed opportunities, and of the unvisited web-ridden corners of each other's hearts.

Judaism's three pillars are God, Torah, Israel.  As much as we all celebrate Purim, Passover, Sukkot, the central anniversary of Shavuot slips by largely unnoticed. I am at once amused and annoyed every time someone whispers "What is this Shavuot about?"  Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah.  We are told to count seven Shabbats after Passover, in great anticipation of God's giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  Where have all the Jews gone?  Outside of the observant, unfortunately, Shavuot is often lost on the rest of us.  Why?

As in the 2009 romantic comedy It's Complicated starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, our relationship with the Torah is complicated.  This relationship is more complex than our relationship with Israel or even with God.  We conveniently walk toward God as we wish and walk away when we are done. Routinely, in the arrogance of proving ourselves right, we re-create and mold some god in our own image. 

I often hear "I'm not sure about the Torah, but I just stick to the Ten Commandments."  Most of us who boast of being fervent defenders of The Ten Commandments, fall flat on our face when we eat at a non-kosher restaurant on Shabbat, envious of the convertible Ferrari ahead of us in line for valet, having yelled at our dad for nagging us on the phone, and under-tipping the waiter, having returned one of the items on the menu.  The rest of the 613 dos and don'ts get a little muddier.

For those of us less observant, the Torah is peripheral.  It is a document that was written years ago, by a group of people, and although we kiss it when we are in Temple, we really love it at a distance, but not up-close and personal.  Some are even somewhat angered by the material they read and ridicule its outdated laws, and hence allow Shavuot to buzz by in a passive aggressiveness gesture.  And yet, there are those of us who know all too well of the importance of the Torah and how it has guarded us throughout the centuries despite all attempts at our annihilation.  The latter group avoids Shavuot out of the same Jewish guilt which is brought on when mom says "How come you don't call?"  We know there is a jewel which we don't visit and the pain is too great to shoulder.  So we ignore, forget.

Then, there is the most practical aspect of the more celebrated holidays.  Purim is filled with fun and food; Passover is filled with stories and food; Sukkot is filled with living outdoors in a tent and food; even Rosh Hashanah has great honey and food.  Although we are required to eat only dairy on Shavuot, it is hardly at the level of ritualistic celebration with family as the others mentioned. Conclusion:  Jews need food and family to properly observe and commit to a holiday!

Still, as the rabbis tell us, the Torah is the Ketubah God has given to the Jewish people. It is our sacred covenant, a wedding promise and contract, a love letter- one which has kept its promise and helped this handful of people scattered across the earth to remain spiritually connected.  As in Shabbat, more than the Jews have kept the Torah, the Torah has kept the Jews.  When Adam ate of the Tree of Knowledge, we were sent out of Eden, before he could taste of the Tree of Life. Yet, as we struggle in life, we have beside us the Torah- our Etz Hayim, or Tree of Life.  God's Mercy and God's Grace were greater than an "ego" which would kick us out of His Garden without any guide on how to live. Torah was given to our children, and through them and through Torah, we find immortality.

The giving of the Torah was an ultimate act of love.  Despite how stiff necked we are, God pursues us and gives us chances and channels to reconnect.  We can be angry, we can argue, but we cannot forget.  The secret to a long marriage, we are told by octogenarians, is found in rekindling of love and in compromise. We are each instructed to write our own Torah as the 613th Mitzvah.  We do so, each time we speak, each time we show our behavior to the world.  As the chosen, we are the people whose action is watched carefully by other nations.  What we do can sanctify God's name on Earth, or not.  How we raise our children is how we write our personal Torah.  How we deal with each other, too. Even this insignificant piece adds something to Torah.  Love has no room for being ignored or for passive aggressive behavior, both of which break bonds. Rather, love requires engagement both despite our hurtful history and because of our loving history.  To see God's Face, we must first turn to Him, read His Love Letter.

The world was started with a word, God's Whisper, and then it received God's Light. At the moment God gave us the Torah, the world went silent yet again, to receive The Truth.  Each time I am in nature, in silence, I imagine God is giving me the Torah for the first time; we receive the Torah daily if our hearts are open, while on Shavuot we celebrate the giving of Torah.  No, I'm not on hallucinogens, but I am on love, in love. Those who have loved and lost may see the spirit  of a dear grandfather in a bird perched upon a tree on the day of the yarhtzeit, or a mother in the breeze of the flaps of a butterfly,  or a sibling in the flicker of the stars. True love rekindles passion invisible to those not in love.

So, I challenge you.  Rekindle your love for God's Written Word.  Keep your heart open.  Read God's Promise anew.  Read the Torah this Shavuot.  You will find God and Torah more forgiving than any old lover.

What is our relationship with the Torah?  It's complicated, but must remain passionately engaged.

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Afshine Asher Emrani is a Persian Jew who loves God passionately, and as a result loves the path of healing, loves life, loves love and loves to share what he loves!  He is a...

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