Shabbat Shalom, Moishe House!
5 Sivan 5779/June 7, 2019
By Faustine Sigal, International Director of Jewish Education
This week, when Shabbat finishes, the holiday of Shavuot will start. Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks (exactly 50 days) after the beginning of Passover. Although its origins are to be found in an ancient grain harvest festival, Shavuot has long been identified with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. In the spirit of receiving the Ten Commandments, I want to share with you ten paths of reflection I have received from residents about Shavuot in the past weeks—which they’ll explore with their communities. I’m sharing them with you—hoping they might start great reflections and discussions. If you’re interested to walk further in one of these paths and study related texts, we’d love for you to reach out to anyone on the Moishe House Jewish education team.
- Receiving vs. giving (Shraga, MH Jerusalem)
We often focus on receiving the Torah and take the giving part out of the picture. Why and how did G-d give Jews the Torah? Is the division between receiving and giving that binary? Couldn’t there be a way to think G-d also received something from the Israelites? And that the Israelites also gave something to G-d at Mount Sinai? What would those things be in your opinion?
- How come all Jews cling to this specific text? (Tyron, MH Munich & Miki, MH Barcelona)
How has the Torah federated a people throughout generations and lands, in spite of countless geographical, political, cultural, religious differences? What gives it such a role and potential? How do the different actors of today’s Jewish religious variety relate to the Torah?
- Boundaries of rules (Jamie, MH Sydney)
Are personal commandments the same as collective ones? What do we do with the Ten Commandments in 2019? Do we still feel bound by them? If we were to rewrite them today, what would they look like? And how absolute is a commandment in Jewish thought? Aren’t there moments where it’s vital to disobey?
- Chanting vs. receiving the Torah (Sarah, MH Paris)
One of the ways Jews experientially learn the Torah throughout the past centuries is by gathering weekly to hear it chanted by a member of the community. This ritual is designed as a reenactment of the revelation at Sinai. What meaning does song add to a text? What does the practice of chanting the Torah—and its rich cultural variety—tell us about Jewish communities?
- Connection to veganism & vegetables (Sonya, MH Beijing)
What are the agricultural roots of Shavuot rituals? What do they teach us about human connection to nature? About human ego? What is the connection between being commanded as a people and relying on harvests to sustain a society?
- Connection to modern agricultural ethics (Bruno, MH Porto Alegre)
What can antique rituals teach us about our relationship to nature? Bruno shared: “We expect to spend that Shavuot time with our community talking about why harvesting is so important from antiquity to the present day and, more profoundly, how harvesting has been impacted by capitalism and modern agribusiness. Particularly in Brazil, where the discussion about the environment and sustainability has been a topic, after scandals of deforestation and abuse of land by landowners, it is very important to be conscious about that situation.”
- Connection to Zionism (Bruno, MH Porto Alegre)
How has Shavuot, as a celebration of land and harvests, become a celebration in kibbutzim since the early 20th Century? What can Shavuot teach us about sovereignty on a land? What does this add to the joy and to the moral responsibility of Shavuot?
- Why dairy? (Timor, Moishe Pod Amsterdam & Yael, MH Paris-Beaubourg)
The Shavuot million dollar question: Why dairy? And then, equally importantly: which dairy? What are your faves?
- Learning at night (Noam, MH Berlin)
Just as Torah was given at night, there’s a practice of studying Torah all night long on Shavuot. Why? Why do so many critical historical events happen at night? Do collectives and individuals act differently at night? What does the night allow that the day won’t?
- Seventy faces of Torah (you all—MH World)
There’s this midrashic saying that the Torah has 70 faces—which metaphorically stands for infinity. This is what I get to witness every day interacting with you all, and this is also what Moishe House is showing the world every day. When deciding to teach Torah to your community for the first time, I often hear expressions of impostor syndrome. The good news is that just like it’s impossible to blow up a computer by pressing the wrong button, you won’t blow up the Torah by saying something slightly incorrect. What you might end up doing is revealing one of those 70 faces to people who’ve never seen it before—and loving this connection. I wish you all plenty of revelations, plenty of Torah faces, and plenty of cheese for this Shavuot!
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