By Rabbi Yoav Ende
The sun has come out, the coronavirus is on it’s way out, and we’re going back to our routine. But are we really? Some of us are indeed going back to normal, (default mode), while others are trying to adapt to a new reality, and some of us are still very much living with the various influences of the coronavirus.
If only the anguish and suffering caused by this plague could be distributed evenly among everyone all over the world,, but of course this is far from being the case, as in the Yehudah Policker song, (words by Yehonatan Gefen): “Everywhere someone rejoices, someone else languishes…”, and it is easy, so very easy to forget this. Think of those in hospitals, of those still in isolation in their homes, of the fear that some still feel, of the unemployed, and the list goes on…
One of the beautiful things about our holidays, is that our tradition reminds us, “it is time to rejoice”, even if due to various, and often troubling circumstances one may not be in the mood for rejoicing; perhaps even to the point of feeling fear, anxiety or great sadness.
One of the things that Shavuot commemorates is the giving of the Torah. One of my favorite midrashim on the giving of the Torah is found in Midrash Tanchuma:
“Come and see how the Voice was heard by Israel, each in their own way:
The elders heard what they could absorb And so those in their prime… The young, The children, The toddlers, The women.
And even Moses, according to his ability, as it is said, (Exodus 19): ‘Moses spoke, and God answered him’ – in the voice that each was capable of absorbing. And so it is said, Psalm 29): ‘The Voice of the Lord is powerful’; not ‘His Voice’, but ‘The Voice’, the voice that each could absorb”.
When the Torah was given, each accepted it according to his or her ability. The Torah is one and the same, but its acceptance is unique for each and every one of us; everyone receives it’ according to their abilities and vantage points, without barriers of class; without discrimination’ all are equal before the Torah and before the Holy One; yet still, each accepts it according to his or her abilities and perspectives.
The voice which resounded with the giving of the Torah is one voice, encompassing the voices heard all over the world. All these voices stem from the same source, and they all have the
potential to become intertwined; enriching one another, but this depends upon us. Those that deny the multiplicity of the voices of Torah in effect divorce the Torah from the heavens; from its essence.
Shavuot is also described as chag ha-katzir, the holiday of the harvest. The farmer plants his seeds, the rains fall, and waits for the harvest, wondering “how will the yield of the harvest be? How much wheat…how much barley?”. But so much depends upon the rain…he works hard, expending much effort and toil, but in the end there are things which are beyond his control. He waits..and counts, counting the days of the Omer; the sheaves of grain.
We who live in Israel are privileged to feel in a deep and powerful way, the special and meaningful connection between the holiday of the giving of the Torah and chag ha-katzir, the agricultural celebration; between an event which is related so strongly to the heavens, and at one and the same time rooted in the land and its produce.
This has not been a typical year. We may view the situation in different ways, but all of us this Shavuot would do well to ask ourselves…”what is our “produce”,our “yield”?”. Everyone, according to their own abilities, each in their own placem according to their understanding and vantage point… what is our “produce’? What have we achieved, thus far, as of this holiday of Shavuot?
Have we changed during these past three months? Has our perspective been enriched in some way? Have we learned any new lessons, in regard to such things as honoring our parents, have we reached a better understanding of our priorities, of what is truly important in our lives? Have we returned with renewed drive and passion to our places of employment, or perhaps we have decided to change our workplace? Have we learned to value or home, as well as the freedom to leave it? What is our ability now, at this time, to receive the Torah? Is it greater or lesser than previously?
And in the midst of our reflection, and even more so during our celebration, it is worthwhile that we engage in both not just as individuals, but within our communities; everyone from their own vantage point, but nonetheless as one. And we must ensure that we include not only those whom we are used to seeing and interacting with, but also those who we are likely to forget.
And so let us remember, “each according to their ability…”; which today means remembering and taking into account also those who have not returned to their routine, those who are still at home, those that still are concerned about their health and safety, who may not be in the best of health or have pre-existing conditions, as well as those still in quarantine, in order that we may celebrate as a kehilah, as a community! Shavuot, especially this year, comes to remind us that the Torah is kept and passed on by people, and that our “yield” this year, is not dependent solely upon our efforts.
We began with Yehudah Poliker; let’s end with Chaim Nachman Bialik…: “What is up? What is down? Only me, that is, me and you, together, we both hang in the balance between heaven and earth”. What we do not see, and perhaps cannot fully grasp, perhaps it is better not to make rash assumptions concerning the intentions and feelings of others, perhaps it is better to refrain from making quick judgments regarding a reality which is beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Instead, let’s recognize that reality and its significance lie somewhere between me, you and those who surround you. Perhaps then we may succeed, however fleetingly, in forging the connection; the bond between heaven and earth.