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       Shavuot: Seven Weeks to Freedom

05/23/2023 03:11:31 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin


What is Shavuot?  Well, seven weeks ago we celebrated the anniversary of the Exodus. Freedom from slavery and the horrors of Pharaoh’s Egypt.  Freedom from the lash and the mortar pits and the endless, backbreaking labor.  Freedom from the bloodshed and the endless violence and the cruelty.

Led by the G-d of our Ancestors, a power and a will that we didn’t understand, we fled into the trackless desert.  A pillar of fire led the way by night and a pillar of smoke by day- we rode the whirlwind into the emptiness, driven by a purpose that we could not grasp.

But physical freedom wasn’t the final goal.  Seven weeks of journeying.  Nourished by the miraculous bread that we called “What-is-it” (the Hebrew translation of the word Mannah), our thirst slaked by springs of water that exploded out of the ground or from mountainsides, we pushed on.

And then we reached Sinai.

Moses, our leader, told us to prepare.  How?  We did the best we could.  Prepare for what?  To meet G-d?  Why? How?

On the third day, the Sixth of Sivan, 50 days to the day since physical freedom, seven weeks (Shavuot) into the journey, we found it.  Freedom of the soul.  No longer subject to the human rules of cruel slavery but accepting freely the divine laws of the Torah.  The laws that freed us not only from human domination but even from the domination of our lower nature over our higher selves.  The laws of the Torah, introduced by the Ten Commandments, given in fire and darkness and the sound of the Shofar that grew into thunder and resolved into words.  

I am Adonai, Your G-d who took you out of Egypt- You shall have no other gods but Me.

You shall not make any idol for worship.

You shall not take My name in vain.

Remember Shabbat and keep it holy-

         Respect your father and your mother

You shall not murder

You shall not steal

You shall not betray your marriage-partner

You shall not bear false witness

You shall not desire to have what belongs to another

Respect for G-d, respect for time, respect for elders, respect for others’ lives, respect for others’ property, respect for spouse, respect for truth, respect for yourselves– Respect is the core of the Torah.

The Voice at Sinai asked us if we would accept the Torah and its awesome obligations forever.  With one voice we answered:  Na’aseh V’Nishma- we will do all of Your Mitzvot.

And now, every year on that day, we renew that moment when we became truly free; for without responsibility and obligation, there is no freedom.  

There are few customs on Shavuot: we eat dairy foods.  Why?  No one really knows.  Perhaps because dairy reminds us of mother’s milk and receiving the Torah each year rebirths us?  We stay up late at night studying Torah.  We spread flowers on the Bimah to evoke the flowers that covered the Mountain when the G-d of life descended upon it.  

And one more thing: the barley harvest ends and the wheat harvest begins.  Barley is the coarse grain eaten by animals.  Wheat is the refined grain eaten by human beings.  Freedom is only the beginning of true freedom- and on Shavuot, we begin again to be ever more committed, ever more joyful, ever more powerful.  


Ever more free.

Wed, April 17 2024 9 Nisan 5784