Creativity and change are two fundamental Jewish values.
Next week, we celebrate these values with the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the anniversary of our receiving the Torah from God at Mt. Sinai. The fact that Shavuot does not have a festive meal like Passover or a cool, outdoor hut like Sukkot keeps the holiday from getting the attention it deserves in the liberal Jewish world. The winding down of the school year, final exams, proms, graduations and Memorial Day don’t help either. It is unfortunate that Shavuot is often overlooked because it actually commemorates the most important moment in Jewish history, the experience that defined us as a Jewish nation: the moment we received the rules that taught us how to behave as a people and as individuals. Without the Torah, we would never have been able to come together and function as a community and grow into the incredible civilization that we are today.
What’s interesting is that while the Torah is indeed filled with rules, Kabbalah, or Jewish Mysticism, teaches us that the Torah is much more than a book of rules. It is actually the blueprint of Creation – the tool that God used to create us and the world in which we live. Once God created the world, God decided to give the Torah away. But, when this time came, God did not want the Torah to stop being a creative tool – a tool that could be used to generate new and incredible things. And, so, God gave the Torah to us – not simply to give us rules to live by, but to use as an instrument of real change.
The Talmud teaches us that when Moses went to receive the Torah from God, the angels tried to take it from him. They asserted that the wisdom of the Torah would not be appreciated by humans because we have a tendency to stray from the good and embrace the not-so-good. Moses, however, explained that this is exactly why the Torah must be given to us. The Torah should not simply be studied. It should inspire new ideas. Angels, we are taught, are holy beings and, as such, have no need to change or grow. They are perfect the way they are. We humans, however, are far from perfect. We struggle on a regular basis with difficult choices and living a life of meaning and purpose. The values, teachings and stories in the Torah are intended to push us to to reach higher – to do good. When we allow the Torah to challenge our choices, improve our character and find new ways to bring spirituality into our lives, we become new people, better people. In doing so, we recreate ourselves and, in turn, prove that the Torah remains a blueprint for our ongoing creation.
This is a very exciting time to be a Jew – a time when many of us are opening up the blueprint that was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai and examining it with a fresh, new perspective. New Jewish pathways are being created. Jewish innovation is happening. And I am excited that Ramat Shalom is at the heart of this innovation. I was honored that my colleague, Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, the Director of Rabbis Without Borders, featured our Chai Tech Online Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program on MyJewishLearning.com this week. As she says in her article, change is scary. Some suggest that by changing, we are lowering the bar, watering down Judaism, making it too simple. I couldn’t disagree more. By creating new ways for folks to engage with Judaism, we are using the blueprint to build new doorways that allow more people to discover the power of Torah and flourish as a result of being touched by her lessons. In doing so, we are living the lesson of Shavuot. We are keeping Torah alive and allowing it to inspire us as we envision the Judaism of tomorrow.
While I certainly hope you will join us next weekend on Friday and Saturday evenings for our Shavuot celebrations, no matter what, I want each of us to use the days leading up to Shavuot to realize the incredible potential we as a people and as individuals have to grow, change, create and inspire. Push yourself to live your potential over the next several days. When you do so, you will honor our holiday of Shavuot.