Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yom Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Day

One of most obvious miracles in history happened 43 years ago today. Israel was attacked by her neighbors: Jordan, Egypt, Syria with additional troops from Kuwait, Algeria, Saudia Arabia and Iraq.

Amazingly enough, Israel won what then became known as the Six Day War. Israel gained control of the Western Wall and Jerusalem - which had been divided since 1948 - and Jews were finally allowed to worship freely at the holiest location in Judaism.

We can finally take for granted the ability to pray at the only surviving remnant of the Second Holy Temple, built in 349BCE by returnees from the Persian Exile - located on the same ground as Solomon's Temple.

We also need to celebrate the liberation of Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and of Hebron, where our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried. Hebron was also the first capital of King David. The first seven and a half years of his kingship were located there.

Today is a special day in Jewish history. Please take a moment to appreciate it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Shavuot - A Romantic Holiday

We are quickly approaching the holiday of Shavuot - the holiday where we received the Torah from G-d at Mount Sinai.

Unfortunately while Jews know of the receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, many do not realize that there is a holiday to commemorate the occasion. The beginning of Jewish history - the creation of the Jewish People, is unknown as a whole.

Rabbi Berel Wein relates a story,
I remember that as a lawyer in Chicago over thirty-five years ago I attempted to obtain a new date for a trial in which I was representing my client and the Jewish judge, a scion of a great Eastern European rabbinic family, asked me the reason for my request. I told him that the original trial date was to fall on the holiday of Shavuot and as such I would not be able to attend court that day. He sneered at me: "Counselor, there is no such Jewish holiday!"

How can this be?

One possibility is that Shavuot generally falls out in mid-May or early June. Most (if not all) Sunday morning Hebrew schools have finished their school year by mid-May, never teaching about this important holiday.

Another possibility is that there aren't any exciting laws connected to Shavuot. There are plenty of customs, but compared to the preparation and excitement of Passover or the noise-making and costumes of Purim -- Shavuot lags behind.

Shavuot is a forgotten and neglected holiday.

I find this sad because I find this a most romantic holiday.

On Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth. Most know the story - Naomi has been widowed outside the land of Israel (her husband had brought her across the Jordan) and wants to return home. She has two daughter-in-laws (her sons have also died), Orpah and Ruth. She asks them to return to their people. Orpah leaves Naomi. Ruth on the other hand does the unexpected. Famously she pleads with Naomi,
Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your G-d is my G-d; where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. (Book of Ruth 1:16-17)

This act tugs at our hearts. Ruth wants to be with Naomi - even until death. This is love.

Shavuot is the holiday where HaShem chose us to be His People. We had chosen G-d many years before with the devotion of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel... and now G-d took us out from the midst of another nation - to make us His very own. This is love.

The Talmud describes Shavuot, the day marking the giving of the Torah, as the wedding day between the Almighty and the Jewish people. The nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinai represents the couple standing under the canopy, while God's giving the Torah to the nation represents the groom placing the ring on his bride's finger.

Ani L'Dodi v'Dodi Li - I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 6:3)

This is Shavuot. The holiday where we each say - we want to be with You. We do not want to be left behind, as Ruth reminds us.

Our Father in Heaven loves us. The blessings before the Shema speak of His love for the Jewish People.
Lord our G-d, You have loved us with everlasting love... For You are G-d who performs acts of deliverance, and You have chosen us from among all nations and tongues, and have, in love, brought us near... Blessed are You Lord, who chooses His people Israel with love.

In a relationship we are always looking for ways to be closer to the other person. The word 'love' in Hebrew is 'ahava'. The root of 'ahava' is 'hav', which means - to give. The way to create love is by creating a connection. We create this connection by giving. This could be by giving physical things - gifts, or giving of your spiritual self - your time, your attention and fulfilling the others wants and needs.
Make your will like His will so that He may make your will as His will. (Ethics of the Fathers 2:4)

This is Shavuot. A holiday of love. We chose HaShem many years ago. It's time to choose our Beloved again.