Up Next: Shavuot

Up Next: Shavuot

Dena Schusterman reflects on Shavuot.

Dena Schusterman is a founder of Chabad Intown, a Jewish educator, and a founding director of both the Intown Jewish Preschool (intownjewishpreschool.org) and the Intown Hebrew School. She and her husband, Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman, are native Californians living in Atlanta for 20 years with their eight children.

Dena Schusterman
Dena Schusterman

The holiday where we relive the experience of getting the Torah on Mount Sinai.

We celebrate with hearing the Ten Commandments read in synagogue (or this year, reading it at home) cheesecake and flowers. My favorite kinda holiday.

The Torah explicitly states that the Jewish Fathers and Mothers practiced Judaism (Torah study and mitzvah action) long before the event on Sinai.

So what was the celebration all about? Pre-Sinai, ‘Jewish practice’ was voluntary. Post-Sinai, it became obligatory.

Oh joy! Oh joy?

We went from having agency to do whatever we wanted as a people, to “thou shall” and “thou shall not.”

So wherein lies the celebration?

Think about it. If flattening the curve would have been voluntary, it would not have been crucial, and since it was crucial, it was not voluntary.

COVID-19, we were each called up to fulfill our duty, so to speak, to fight for the health of our world. Each and every one of us, our value and participation – vital. Nobody was excluded from the necessity of sheltering in place in order to flatten the curve.

When you ask your boss if you can participate in a project and she says, “sure” or “whatever” or “makes no difference to me, do what you want.” That’s what optional looks like.

What about if your boss comes in and says, “I need you! I need your talent on this project.” Do you hear the difference?

Voluntary translates as arbitrary. Makes no difference. You don’t matter.

Obligation translates as value. Importance. Privilege.

The main difference becomes in how you perform the task.

We went into quarantine with a sense of purpose. I am needed. I matter. A sense of duty. We did it well.

What is optional, often becomes a burden.  And then we don’t do it very well.

At Sinai, G-d communicated to us that He has important things that need to get done, things that are important to Him and the world, and he needs the Jewish people to do this important work. Namely, Torah study and mitzvah action.

If you tap into this, you recognize that this was our moment of empowerment.

The commandments give us meaning and value; they’re a privilege!

So far from being burdensome or an annoyance, the obligation of Torah and mitzvot is the greatest GIFT—the gift of meaning, significance, empowerment.

On Shavuot, we recognize that our obligation is itself our greatest privilege. And that’s why we celebrate!

I invite you to view your Jewish practice this way. As a privilege not a burden.

And one more point to ponder: In this new world, as we emerge from quarantine, many of our so-called freedoms were taken away. Sports. Theater. Bars. Parties. Thou shall not.

Hand washing. Masks. Social distancing. Thou shall.

Can you recognize how these limitations actually provide us with the greatest freedom? The freedom to be healthy and alive.

This, after thousands of years, is the appropriate way to view all of the restrictions of ‘Yiddishkeit’ —- at their essence —- they provide a Jew with her/his greatest freedom. To live as a Jew.

Needed. Vital. Privileged. Duty. You matter. You’re seen.

May you all receive the Torah in 2020 with joy and internally!


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