Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cheesecake, Anyone?

For years I found the holiday of Shavuot to be elusive and amorphous.  Lacking the grandeur of the High Holidays, the coziness of Sukkot and the intensity of Pesach, I couldn’t quite capture the emotion of the day. It had to be about more than cheesecake.
Shavuot has no visible symbol to wave about, no matzah, shofar, or menorah.  While Sukkot and Pesach,  the other two pilgrimage holidays, are a week a piece, Shavuot is a truncated single day (two outside of Israel).  As a result, those intervening quasi-holidays, “chol-hamoed,” are strikingly absent, too.  And yet it commemorates the day on which we received the  Torah -- surely the basis for all the other holidays!
Many of us are familiar with the anthropomorphism of the marriage of G-d and the Jewish people.  I got to thinking about that, and it led me to a deeper understanding of the asymbolic nature of the holiday. 
Imagine that a husband wants to give his wife a charm bracelet to capture their years together: the memories, the trips, the accomplishments, and the love.  At the jeweler’s, he sorts through trays of charms.  He finds a tiny cabin that is just right for commemorating all their camping trips; a miniature champagne glass that bubbles with the fun of their date nights; a diploma for the degrees they earned; a little key to symbolize their home.  He has the jeweler add on these charms.  While the husband waits and watches, he thinks about all their accomplishments and adventures, but realizes that one important symbol is missing:  something that embodies their day to day relationship, their deep mutual commitment, their constancy, their devotion to each other.  He turns back to the tray of charms, but searches in vain.  As he leaves the jeweler’s, he realizes that the only thing to capture all that is to say, “I would marry you again!”  To renew their vows.  
So it is with us and G-d.  While the other holidays highlight one aspect or our relationship with G-d, lending themselves to a symbol of some sort, Shavuot is about the essence of the relationship itself: our devotion to each other, our constancy, all of which elude being emblemized.  No. The only fitting way to capture this, is to once more stand at Mount Sinai and say, “I choose you again!”  To renew our vows with G-d.

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