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“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

We begin this Gregorian month traversing the Jewish months of Iyar and Sivan. The beginning of Sivan and the last days of May herald in Shavuot, which originated as an agricultural festival. It celebrates the beginning (the "first fruits") of the wheat harvest in Israel, which continues throughout the summer and 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, when we were disconnected or driven from lands where we had farmed, and in times of exile, we transformed this idea and began to view the Torah itself as the Tree of Life and ongoing revelation as first fruits and harvest.

As Rabbi Emanuel Goldsmith, a student of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan wrote in Reconstructionism Today, Spring 2002 Volume 9, Number 3: For Reconstructionist Jews, the Torah is divine not in the sense that God dictated it to Moses, but in the sense that the Process by which our people discovered its laws, spun its narratives and authored its poetry is exactly what we mean by God. Even the ethical shortcomings of the Torah are a source of insight and instruction for us. In periods of religious introspection and exaltation, this spirit gives voice to those eternal ethical and spiritual insights in which we behold manifestations of a Power that is the ultimate source…”

Riding the wave of the seven weeks of counting the Omer, we will be “re-gathering around the foot of the mountain” again in collaboration with a number of our Reconstructionist and Northwest Philadelphia congregations at Germantown Jewish Center where we are celebrating Shavuot the evening of May 30th.

As we open to whatever is revealed to us this month, remember that your particular voice and journey offers new insights to the Torah we have inherited. 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”

Especially in the deeply challenging, sometimes distressing and often activating times we live in politically and environmentally, we need each other’s Torah and the values and teachings of our people and of Mishkan Shalom to grow and flourish.

No one else will magically do the work needed alongside our small and dedicated staff and volunteer leadership 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. 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 a sustainable future for us to build upon.

It is not only the experience of Sinai and Revelation of the past that informs us- it is what we can bring about here and now, encouraging and agitating each other to be active participants in our larger society and building and sustaining the mishkan/sanctuary of our own relationships and community. Our tradition offers that we were all at Sinai together- past and future generations. I look forward to seeing you many times this month, and learning, organizing, praying and becoming the change we seek- together.

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