Shavuot: Revelation and Release

Image relating to [title]

“The Torah was given in public, openly in a free place. For had the Torah been given in Eretz Yisrael, the Israelites could have said to the nations of the world, “You have no share in it.” But now that it was given in the wilderness publicly and openly in a place that is free for all, everyone who wishing to accept it could…Another reason: to avoid causing dissension among the tribes. Else one might have said, “In my territory the Torah was given.”…therefore the Torah was given in the desert, publicly and openly, in a place belonging to no one.”

Mechilta de R. Ishmael (Ex. 19.2, 20.2)

     “We are not born free and equal, but we are born to become free and equal. It is the goal of all social endeavor to bring about equality in the inequality into which people are born. It is the goal of spiritual endeavor to make humanity free”. R. Mordecai M. Kaplan, Diary, June 1915


  The beginning of June heralds in Shavuot, which originated as an agricultural festival. It celebrates the beginning ("first fruits") of the wheat harvest in Israel, which ends with Sukkot in the Fall. "On the day of the first fruits, your Feast of Shavuot, when you bring an offering of new grain to the Eternal, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations" (Numbers 28). "Then you shall observe the Feast of Weeks for the Eternal your God, offering your freewill contribution according as the Eternal your God has blessed you. You shall rejoice before the Eternal your God" (Deuteronomy 16).

     In later centuries, in times of exile, we were disconnected or driven from lands where we had farmed. We began to view the Torah itself and revelation as the first fruit. Shavuot served as the annual downloading from the mainframe of Divine Truth to us wherever we were.

     As in the Torah, three days before the “download” at Sinai we will gather together as a covenantal community to be present to this ultimate source and open to what new revelations we may mindfully receive. Our annual major community meeting will precede Shavuot on Wednesday, June 8,, where we will discuss and make crucial choices about our communal commitment, leadership and resources. As we did in 1988 to form Mishkan Shalom, we must participate in and support our community in multiple ways for us to have decades more of meaningful Jewish spiritual life and activism.

     No one else will magically do the volunteer work needed alongside our small and remarkable staff to fulfill our mission and vision. Whether you are a founding member or new to Mishkan Shalom, a frequent participant in services and programs or occasionally come by, we must be willing to own and lean into our sacred community this year more than ever. There is no “them” at Mishkan- there is only “we who co-create a Jewish experience and communal connections that we hold dear. Contributing any amount of our time, treasure and talent is as core to our work in tikkun olam and acts of caring (gemilut hasadim) and povides a sustainable future for us to build upon.

     Riding the wave of the seven weeks of counting the Omer, we “gather around the foot of the mountain.” We are taking a different approach to our Shavuot experience this year. Lynne Iser and Rabbi Mordechai Liebling are graciously hosting our dinner to dawn study, song and celebration of the Feast of Weeks. Rabbi Yael and I, along with a host of other lay teachers and member rabbis will help co-create our twelve-hour journey and exploration of revelation with a variety of perspectives and modalities in a more intimate environment--with the ability to rest, move in and out of sessions and get to spend extended time with each other (see the flier in this issue).

     As we open to whatever is revealed to us this month, remember that your particular voice and journey offers new insights to the Torah. As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes in “God Was in This Place” p. 178:

     “Each person has a Torah, unique to that person, his or her innermost teaching. Some people seem to know their ‘Torahs’ very early in life and speak and sing them in a myriad of ways. Others spend their whole lives stammering, shaping, and rehearsing them. Some are long, some are short. Some are intricate and poetic, others are only a few words and still others can only be spoken by gesture and example. But every Soul has a Torah. To hear another say Torah is a precious gift”

     I pray we will learn, connect with each other and commit more deeply to our shared journey as a diverse and inclusive Jewish community.  I also want to express my profound gratitude to our Board, staff and many lay volunteers for your partnership and trust in me as we enter a new cycle together.   

 What a remarkable journey we have shared together, and I am filled with hope and determination for the future ahead of us. In the coming year, we will explore the radical Judaism we inherited and continue to shape, and determine our collective place in the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people.  I look forward to seeing you at Shabbat Under the Stars in the months ahead and other events and wish you the best for a kayitz tov- a good summer!

Rabbi Shawn Zevit

4101 Freeland Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19128 - ph: (215) 508-0226 / Site map