See You at Sinai

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, April 30, 2023

Join Solel for our Shavuot celebrations this year: On Thursday evening May 25th at 6:30pm we will have a special Shavuot dairy dinner to honour and learn from all who have joined the Jewish people. On Friday morning March 26th at 10am at our Shavuot morning services we will hear the words of the Ten Commandments.

It is our minhag (custom) at Solel to celebrate on Shavuot with those who have chosen Judaism within the past year. This Shavuot we have cause for extra celebration as we will welcome all those who have joined the Jewish people during the past three years. While the pandemic might have precluded gathering in person, many people continued their Jewish path and studies online and joyfully met with the bet din, chose a Hebrew name, and participated in the rituals to commit to a Jewish life. Our Torah learning will include hearing their personal stories of becoming Jewish. I hope that you will all join us in fulfilling the mitzvah of community as we celebrate and rejoice as a Solel family with them.

All of us stood at Sinai. Shavuot is a celebration of Revelation, of the Giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai. In recognition of this Revelation, we read the portion of the Torah that the Torah itself says took place on Sinai — the story of the giving of the Ten Words, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments. These Ten Commandments are not the only commandments of Judaism. Our tradition tells us that here are 613 mitzvot, all of which are important. But somehow, the Ten Commandments remain for us among the most basic of all laws. They are laws which form the foundation of the life of society: laws against idolatry, about family, about resting, and about basic morality. And these Ten Commandments remain vitally important in our lives today.

It is customary to stay up the entire night (leil) of Shavuot studying Torah with the community as we symbolically prepare to enter into a sacred relationship with God. Many contemporary Jews choose to intensify and personalize the experience of revelation through studying Torah, talmudic, mystical and modern texts and adding our own experiences and interpretations.

Shavuot is also one of the special festivals in the year that has one of the five “scrolls” or megillot assigned to it. On Shavuot, the scroll that we read is the Book of Ruth. There are three reasons that the Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. First, the story of Ruth takes place during the summer harvest. Second, the story of Ruth reminds us that the Torah, which we received at Sinai, is so precious and valuable. Ruth, a Moabite, chooses Judaism. She elects to cast her lot with the Jewish people, saying: “Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, your God shall be my God.” She was the first gioret, or Jew by choice. Ruth’s story of her commitment to join the Jewish people through conversion makes us more aware and appreciative of the blessings of being Jewish. Third, some scholars say that we read the Book of Ruth because it reminds us of King David. King David was Ruth’s great-grandson and traditionally Shavuot marks both David’s birth and death.

Together we celebrate this most mysterious and momentous event: the giving of Torah at Sinai.

See you at Sinai!

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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