The festival of Shavuot draws its origins from our agricultural past. We are told to bring the “first fruits” of harvest in a pilgramage to the Temple. It is only later in our history that the historical linkages were added to the celebration. Now, for many, a festival that celebrates the Divine Revelation at Sinai presents theological issues. Yet this festival can speak to other very relevant issues as well. The “first fruits” image recalls the powerful connection we have with food and can allow us to examine the current food inequality that is present in so many of our cities and, indeed, the world.
Just recently, as a result of pandemic issues, climate issues and the war in Ukraine, we have seen warnings of an impending food crises. The May 27 “Guardian Weekly” cited a cover story on “How A Global Food Crises Will Change The World”. At the same time, the “Economist” of May 21-27 warned on its cover of “The Coming Food Catastrophe”. In almost every locality this story playing out as local food pantries have been overwhelmed by need. The lack of food has all too often meant famine and famine is part of our own history. Remember it was famine that drove Biblical ancestors to Egypt. It is a famine that greets is in the very first verse of the Book of Ruth, the megillah that is read on Shavuot. If we let these texts “speak” to us around issues of food, famine and hunger, we can allow us to ask a very important spiritual question: what are we hungry for?
As we age, as we confront the reality of our own mortality, this festival, if we so chose, invites us to ask that question. What are we hungry for at this stage of our life? What can feed out spirit. our soul? Is it companionship? Is it a new beginning or is it just a life of peace without struggle? Is it a respite from pain or stress or a desire to reclaim a lost sense of meaning? These are profound spiritual questions that we are invited to ask our own soul. This takes some courage as it is all too easy to deny and deflect but let me suggest that deep in our souls we do ask. What are we hungry for? What can feed our souls and spirits?
Rabbi Richard F Address
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.