Shalom. I am in the middle of reading the new Jon Meacham book, “The Soul of America”. A major theme of the book, as it traces American history and some of its climactic struggles, is hope. For some reason, this theme struck me as Shavuot arrives. This holiday, the third of the traditional “pilgrimage festivals”, celebrates the first harvests. We are asked to bring the best of the first fruits to the Temple for sacrifice. Over the course of Jewish history, and after the destruction of the Temple, historical references were added to the major festivals and so, to Shavuot, was added the celebration of the giving of Torah. The 10 Commandments are read in synagogue and, for many congregations, the ceremony of “Confirmation” is observed.The festival, in many cases, brings to an end the formal program year for many congregations as the holiday comes around Memorial Day, the end of school and thus, the time when, in our part of the world, things may slow down. Thus, you can make the argument that the holiday ushers in a time of quiet and provides an opportunity to reflect and recharge one’s self and soul.
It occurred to me that this time can be useful to think about what we bring to the Temple of the “now”. What of our self do we offer to the world? The festival speaks to us that we bring something of value to offer as sacrifice to God, but we do not have such a system now. But, every day, we offer our self to the world, our families and, in some way, to the mystery that many refer to as God. But what is it that we bring? What is it of our self and soul that represents the best that is in us and how do we “offer” it to the world?
As we get older and life transitions and challenges become more present, how do we choose to respond? Do we become self oriented, fearful and withdrawn? Or do we meet each day with a sense of blessing, gratitude and hope? Do we offer to the world the “best” of who we are? I think this holiday can speak to these questions. It is possibly about what “law” of living we choose to live by and this question of who we are becomes, I think, more important in stage of life. Many of us are tested by circumstances of life, many of which we do or did not choose. Again, we return to a common Jewish theme; how and what we choose determines the type of person we become. My prayer for all of us is that we can see in Shavuot a deeper meaning which sends us the message that we are asked to face life with hope, hope in our self, our soul and in our ability to translate that hope to the world at large.
Meecham, in his chapter that discusses FDR, ends with a quite from a draft of a speech that Roosevelt was to give. He died before he gave it, but the words ring true: “Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive we must cultivate the science of human relationships–the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together, in the same world, at peace… The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be out doubts of today. Let us move forward with string and active faith.”
Rabbi Richard F Address