There are two defining texts of Shavuot: the Sinai experience from Exodus and the Book of Ruth. I like to think about the relationship between these texts as the foundations of Jewish peoplehood. Getting the Torah is like getting a birth certificate for an entire nation, and when we read Ruth, we realize that even if you were not at Sinai, through deep personal commitment, you can inherit Sinai. Shavuot is a time when we celebrate who Jews were, who we are today and who we will become.
The notion of inheriting the past as well as the future is quite extraordinary. Jews often feel themselves at the nexus of past, present and future. I certainly do.>
I felt this profoundly when one of my second cousins from Brazil visited us recently. Our families lost contact for about forty years but then we found each other in the 1960s. My second cousin and I are very much alike – she is a psychologist as I am, soft-spoken and shy (yep, that’s me!).
She did not marry Jewish. As a family, they do not belong to a congregation nor do they practice anything over Jewish rituals and have never been to Israel. I told them about Birthright, and their 18-year old daughter went last December. Her interest was peaked enough that she decided to take a Jewish studies class. Her mother – my cousin – had to drive her because the class was far away, so far that my cousin decided to join the class, too. The two of them are now studying for a joint bat mitzvah. I told them that I would come to celebrate the happy day together.
It’s a small world. We as Jews are a relatively small family. Shavuot teaches us to treasure that family and to create a shared language so that families can stay intact. For us, Jewish texts are one of our shared languages. Studying them makes us smarter, better, more thoughtful and more connected individuals. Thousands of people around the globe will stay up all night studying this Shavuot as a way of showing that what connected us to each other then is still a value today. I have seen the power of study transform my family, starting with me.
Let’s celebrate Shavuot together by sharing our love of learning with each other.