Dvar Torah: Approaching Shavuot

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 30 May 2014

We are coming towards the end of our journey – we are there at our destination.
Or very nearly.
The journey is one of 50 days, and we are on day 46.
It is the journey from Pesach to Shavuot

The journey was, originally, a farmer’s journey.  On Pesach, they would bring to the temple the first offerings from the barley harvest, on Shavuot, the first fruits of the wheat harvest.  On Tuesday night we will mark that festival known as Shavuot – the feast of weeks, the end of our counting; we will celebrate Chag HaKatzir – the festival of harvest, Yom Bikkurim, the day of first fruits.  Tonight, as we come close to Shavuot, we are going to put not our normal barley in our Omer vase, but wheat instead, to recognise that agricultural life at the heart of our festival cycle.

But the ancient rabbis, of course, were not farmers.
They were scholars who lived in the towns.

And so they took the journey and reframed it, transformed it.
And because of them, this week, we will also celebrate Zman Matan Torateinu – the time of the giving of the Torah.
Their field was Torah and their harvest was learning, and their Shavuot was the giving of Torah.
The Omer, from Pesach to Shavuot, they made into a journey from Egypt to Sinai, from Redemption to revelation.

In that journey too we are approaching the destination.
According to Exodus 19, on the new moon of Sivan – in fact the day just ending – the Israelites entered the desert around the Mountain.
On the 2nd of Sivan, the day just beginning, God spoke to Moses for the first time, instructing the people to ready themselves.  And giving context to what was about to happen: All the earth is mine, but you will be for Me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.  As a result today, 2 Sivan is sometimes known as Yom HaMeyuchat – a day of distinction, of special yichus, special association?

Between now and Tuesday night we will complete the journey.  We, like the sages, are not farmers, so our Shavuot, like theirs, will be about our relationship with revelation.  Our task is not to bring in the harvest, but to reflect on what the story of revelation really means for us:
– How we grapple with concepts of obligation
– How we find reward and meaning in our ritual and ethical lives
– How we engage with the text, – through struggle, argument, study and thought.

I do not, of course, believe that the journey really happened like this.  Do not believe that this is the 3460th anniversary of God speaking to Moses on the mountain.
But we are very nearly at the end of our journey.

For all of us Sinai beckons.