||Jewish scholar to visit Nahalat for Shavuot sleepover |
Desert Sage Staff Report
Marc Ellis, the director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies, will join the community at Congregation Nahalat Shalom during Shavuot.
Ellis has written and lectured extensively on Jewish and Christian affairs, concentrating on the topics of Holocaust, Israel/Palestine and the future of religious thought. His books include “Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation,” “Unholy Alliance: Religion and Atrocity in our Time” and “O'Jerusalem: The Contested Future of the Jewish Covenant.”
On June 5 at 7 p.m., Ellis will offer a lecture on the meaning of Jewish covenant in our time.
On June 6 Ellis will participate in an all-night session of study and prayer. Ten members of our community have also prepared “Torah” to share with us throughout the evening.
Bring your sleeping bag, air mattress and Bible. Services will begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by a potluck dinner and freylech. At 8:30 p.m. we will begin studying with Ellis and other members of the community. We expect to last the night!
Celebrating the birthday of Judaism
By Alan Wagman
Shavuot is one of the few holy days we are commanded to observe in the Torah. The others are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Sukkot, and, of course, Shabbat. Traditionally, we eat dairy foods, bring green plants into the synagogue, and read the Book of Ruth. As with anything in our tradition, there are numerous explanations for each of these practices. A quick search of the web will reveal lots of reasons and no certainty about which one is correct. But the most important tradition is to stay up all night studying Torah.
The word “shavuot” literally means “weeks.” For seven weeks we count the days from Pesach to Shavuot. Shavuot was originally an agricultural festival commemorating the ongoing barley harvest, ending when the wheat was coming ripe. Counting the “omer” was counting sheaves of barley offered at the Temple. In the days of the Temple, Jews made pilgrimage to offer their finest barley. The priest would wave the omer – the sheaves – in six directions: east, west, north, south, up, and down – in a “wave offering.”
With the destruction of the Temple, the dispersion of the population of Judea, and the diminution of agriculture as the guiding economy of Jewish life, Shavuot came to represent the anniversary of the revelation at Sinai in Jewish observance. In this context, if Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world, Shavuot may be the birthday of Judaism.
Aryeh Kaplan points out in “The Handbook of Jewish Thought” that most religions are founded by one person who has a vision and gathers followers.
Judaism – by virtue of the giving of Torah at Sinai – is the main exception to this rule. The law was revealed at Sinai not just to Moses, but simultaneously to the entire people. It is this shared experience, the communal experience of the Ineffable, that created our identity and made us who we are.
Our ancestors encamped before Sinai, waiting and preparing for an experience that took them completely by surprise. We count the days of the Omer, awaiting and preparing for our own transformative experience of the revelation. If we ready ourselves properly, perhaps – just perhaps – we will experience a hint of the smoke and fire and thunder from Sinai. We – like our forebears at the foot of the mountain who received Torah all night long – stay up all night on Shavuot studying Torah, receiving the law. As our modern skepticism, our rationalist will, and our conscious resistance diminish with fatigue, perhaps we will open to experience the One.