The Sephardic Community of Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Shavuot 5770 / 2010

In addition to the regular festival prayers on Shavuot morning, there are three special highlights.  First, the Torah reading on the first day is the Revelation of the Ten Commandments.  The second is the reading of Akdamot, liturgical poems of the loyalty of the Jews to the Torah.  Third, on the second day of Shavuot, the entire Book of Ruth is read.  Ruth was a Moabite women who refused to abandon her husband’s family after he, his father, and his brother die.  She leaves Moab to accompany Naomi, her mother in law, back to Judea.  There, Ruth meets and marries a relative of her deceased husband.  Through Ruth the convert, new life is given to the family.  Ruth is the ancestor of King David, who died on Shavuot, and from whose line the Messiah will come.

Shavuot is a celebration of Torah and of the Jews covenant with God.  A covenant has many dimensions to it.  A Jew knows that if he/she breaks it, he/she breaks it for all generations to come; all that effort to keep it going for a hundred generations might possibly go down the drain.  Conversely, bringing our children into the covenant, watching them as they move closer to it, step by step, validates and strengthens our own commitment, our own love for Torah and tradition.  That is what the Book of Ruth is really about.  Ruth is a simple yet profound tale – a commitment of love that is stronger than logic, of little acts of goodness that are, in the long run of cosmic significance.  And perhaps Jews in this generation can understand this better than all the Jews who went before us.

Sometimes, a little ritual can say more than a thousand philosophical treatises.  The Sephardim developed the perfect ritual for Shavuot.  Immediately after the ark is opened on Shavuot morning, Sephardic Jews read a ketubah – a marriage contract between God, the groom and Israel, the bride.  In the ketubah, God invites the bride to his palace and promises to bind himself to her forever.  The bride says “Na’aseh Ve Nishmah” “We will do and we will listen”. We accept.  These are the very words that were used by the ancient Jews at Sinai.  The groom then gives his gift to the bride – the Torah and the oral law.

This is an incredible season to be a Jew, if you have the emotional stamina for it.  Springtime in a Jew’s life is like being a manic-depressive.  One goes from tears to laughter, joy to despair and back again in dizzying proportions: Purim, Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Israel Independence Day,  Jerusalem Liberation Day …sometimes it seems almost more than the heart can bear.  Yet Shavuot caps it all, with its emphasis on the covenant, its steadiness, its security, its reminder of who we are.  Shavuot gives meaning and makes sense out of everything else.

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