Dear Friends,
Here is the message I sent to my congregation this week.  May you and your family have a restful Shabbat and a joyous Shavuot.   Rabbi Michael Gold

audio recording of weekly message 
PARSHAT BEMIDBAR
WHAT IS SHAVUOT?
“On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying.”  (Numbers 1:1)
            This week we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, called Numbers in English and Bemidbar (in the wilderness) in Hebrew.  Outside of Israel this book is always read on the Sabbath before Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah.  The Rabbis noted that the Torah was given in the wilderness so that no nation can claim ownership, the Torah is open to everybody.  Seven weeks from the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites travelled to the foot of Mt. Sinai.  There they received the Ten Commandments, or as some would say, the entire Torah.  Shavuot is called z’man matan Toratenu“time of the giving of the Torah.”  Shortly we will explore what we received at Mt. Sinai.
            Shavuot certainly does not have the powerful observances of other festivals, dwelling in booths on Sukkot or eating matzah on Passover.  Nonetheless, it has developed its own observances.  We eat dairy foods, since we had not yet received the dietary laws regarding the proper eating of animals.  Each year my wife makes a wonderful blintze casserole (about 1000 calories a bite, so it is best I eat it only once a year.)  On Shavuot we read the book of Ruth, the beautiful story of a Moabite woman who cast her lot with the Jewish people.  “Your people will be my people; your God will be my God.” 
            There are other traditions that tie the festival to the learning of Torah.  Many Jews stay up all night studying the evening of Shavuot, and many synagogues sponsor all night study sessions (tikkun leil Shavuot).  This is based on a midrash that when the Israelites were ready to receive the Torah, they overslept, and Moses had to go from tent to tent to wake them up.  Many Reform and Conservative synagogues hold Confirmation services on Shavuot, honoring teens who have continued their Jewish learning beyond bar and bat mitzvah. 
            The giving of the Torah is the central defining event in Jewish life.  But what actually happened at Mt. Sinai?  The traditionalist point of view is that Moses received two Torahs, the written Torah and the oral Torah, at Mt. Sinai.  In fact, one Rabbinic teaching says that everything any student of Torah will say to his teacher in any generation was already given to Moses at Mt. Sinai.  I am sure that the Rabbis did not mean this literally.  They meant that all Torah teachings in every generation were potentially contained in the Torah given to Moses.
            Personally, I prefer another approach.  What did God give the Israelites at Mt. Sinai?  Some say God gave only the first two of the Ten Commandments.  These are the only two written in the first person.  (“I am the Lord your God.”  “You shall have no other gods before me.”)  By the third commandment it is Moses, not God, who is speaking.  (“Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”)  The people were too frightened to hear God’s voice directly, and therefore asked Moses to do the speaking.
            Some say that God only gave the first word of the first commandment Anochi (“I”).  After one word, the people became too frightened and let Moses speak.  But there is a Hasidic teaching that takes this idea further.  God only spoke the first letter of the first word, when the people in their fright asked Moses to do the speaking.  The first letter of the first word is an aleph, a silent letter.  The Israelites at Mt. Sinai heard God’s voice in silence.  The event at Mt. Sinai was The Sound of Silence, thousands of years before two Jewish boys Simon and Garfunkel composed their great song of the same name.
            What happened on Shavuot?  The Israelites gathered at Mt. Sinai and heard the sound of silence.  They had an overwhelming sense of God’s presence.  Moses would articulate the words of God.  But at Mt. Sinai, the Israelites knew that there are God-given obligations.  There are commitments they must make as Jews.  If Passover is about freedom, Shavuot is about obligations.  Without obligations, there can be no true freedom.
            So break out the cheese blintzes, read the book of Ruth, study a little Torah (it does not need to be all night), and celebrate this important day in the Jewish cycle of festivals.  Happy Shavuot!
 
Recordings of my Rap with the Rabbi
A Rabbi Encounters the Universe
Here is a recording of my first lecture Creation: Is the Beginning of Genesis True?  Creation
Here is a recording of my second lecture Soul: Where did it come from and where is it going?                                                                                                                         soul
Here is a recording of my third lecture Evil: Why did God create an imperfect world? Evil
Here is a recording of my fourth lecture Pandemic: Is God trying to tell us something? pandemic
Here is a copy of my fifth lecture  Humanity: Is Darwin correct that we are merely animals? humanity
Here is a copy of my sixth lecture   Nature: If the Pagans worshipped her, why don’t we? nature
Here is a copy of my seventh lecture  God: What do I mean by God? God
Here is a copy of my eighth lecture  Mind: Is my mind my brain or something more? mind

Visit my website at www.rabbigold.com for all past spiritual messages and High Holiday sermons, plus other links.  Coming soon – a new website https://arabbiencounterstheuniverse.com/Copyright © 2022 Temple Beth Torah Sha’aray Tzedek, All rights reserved. 
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