This month the Jewish festival calendar stops at one of our three MAJOR festivals, Shavuot. It often gets lost in the calendar cycle. Now known mostly for the observance of Confirmation, the festival was rooted in our agricultural pasts and celebrates the first harvest, the “first fruits.”
It is a festival that gets lost, in that it comes seven weeks after Passover and lacks that holiday’s grand celebratory trappings. It also cannot match the timing of the Fall festival, Sukkot; which comes immediately after the New Year Holidays and is always a big feature in congregation celebrations. No, Shavuot comes as the school and program year winds down and the psychic energy of the year is waning.
Yet, for so many of us who are entering the “third stage” of life, Shavuot may be able to teach us a valuable lesson. It comes, in the Jewish calendar, as the year begins to shift onto its final stages. The festival speaks to the celebration of a first harvest, as many of us look to celebrate the real harvest of our lives. It is a “first” harvest, one that we can build on as we enter the next stage of our lives. It is also a festival whose historical meaning was interpreted to include the giving and acceptance of Torah. Perhaps a new interpretation for this festival can be seen in re visioning what Torah can represent for us? We can now look back on the life that we have lived and appreciate the lessons that life has taught us. Each of us, in our own way, has learned a “Torah” , not so much from books, but from living and experiencing life. Why not create a ritual to be celebrated at this time of year, on Shavuot, that celebrates the acquisition of wisdom, of the lessons we have learned from living life and, in looking forward, the lessons that we will continue to learn.
The ritual of “simchat hochmah” does exist and you can see it in the book To Honor and Respect, which is available through the URJ Press. Let me suggest that you think about developing a way that this ritual can be included as an annual event during Shavuot. Perhaps engage your rabbi in this conversation and see how the idea is received. I would appreciate any feedback.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.