The second of our Pilgramage festivals, Shavuot, joins us in June. The festival of “first fruits/harvest”, it is celebrated often in our world with the ceremony of Confirmation, and, as is tradition with these three major festivals, Yizkor. The historical link that was created to give greater significance to the festival was the celebration of the “revelation” at Sinai. Thus, the Torah reading of the Ten Commandments. This issue of revelation is one of the more important issues within our tradition. The belief in a Divine revelation of Law at Sinai forms the theological foundation for traditional Judaism. The break from this by the emerging Reformers in the 1800s, and the belief that the Torah was written by people spanning centuries of time and edited to reflect the economic, political and religious beliefs of those times created a major challenge to existing belief. Once we left the belief in an act of Divine Revelation, we really created a new form of Jewish life. That challenge as to what or who is the “authority” for one’s actions as a Jew continues today. Autonomy is a real issue for many.
But it is this issue of revelation that really speaks to us as we age. Let me suggest that one of the ways we can look at and appreciate this idea at this season is to consider that as we grow older and accumulate the life experience we have, we come to value to fact that truth is revealed more often than not, in gradual stages. We may wish to have those “ah-ha” moments of great insight, and we often do. Yet, maybe those “ah-ha” moments were really the culmination of a gradual process of thought and evaluation and experience that trigger “that” moment. To paraphrase a famous maxim, life is lived forward, but understood backwards. Part of this gradual revelation of truth may be, I think, the understanding that truth isn’t found by seeking our self defintion outside of our own self. As we get oilder, many of us, I hope, come to realize that seeing our own worth or value through the eyes or definition of others is a self-defeating enterprise. An old tale from India has a discussion by the Gods as to where people can find the secret of life. They put forth a variety of ideas, only to be reminded that the secret to life should rest within each of us, based on our own life experience, with the challenge that we must look inside each of us to find it, and not seek that sense of self through outside sources.
By the way, this is hard to do, as so many us are so accumstomed to seeking validation from places, people and experiences outside of our own self. Yet, each of us do know people who have achieved a sense of peace, maybe that elusive sense of personal shleimut (wholeness) that comes with age and the realization that material things and status and power are transitory. Perhaps the real messaage of Shavuot can be for us an understanding that the “secret” of our life rests within each of us. Maybe this is another way of looking at this issue of personal autonomy; the idea that slowly, truths of life and self are revealed to us and that we have the power, each of us, to decide how to see and live those truths. Maybe we can see in the historical idea of these “Pilgramage” festivals, a metaphor for each of us as we endeavor to make our own “pilgrimage” from birth to death. Slowly we have revealed to us what is right and true and where we fit in to the mystery that is life. We make this “pilgrimage” alone, surrounded, we hope with people who care for us and for whom we care.
May this festival season be for you one of peace and health and may your heart and soul be open to the revelations of truth that surround each of us.
Shalam and Chag Sameach
Rabbi Richard F Address