In order to obey and follow the teachings of our Torah and Tradition, we first need to understand them! I hope that you will CHOOSE to receive the Torah with us on Shavuot.
The Jewish people are sometimes referred to as the chosen people. But I would like to suggest that more than being chosen, we are the people who have “chosen”. What did we choose? Traditionally, to be a Jew means to enter into a covenant with God, a chosen relationship, and accept the teachings of the Torah as a way of life. Today it can mean many different things—we can feel a sense of culture and community, a connection to our heritage and a responsibility toward social justice. It can mean a connection to our Jewish homeland in Israel.
But how did we get to be those so-called “chosen” people? And why us? A midrash suggests that the Torah was offered to many other nations before it was offered to Israel.
It is told that God first offered it to the descendants of Esau. When he offered them the Torah, they asked, “What are its laws?” When God told them that one of its laws was “You shall not murder,” they said, “How can we accept the Torah? That law goes against our very nature, as Isaac said to our father, Esau, “And you will live by the Sword!” (Bereshit 27:40)
God next offered the Torah to another group, who also turned it down. They asked, “What are the laws of the Torah?” When they heard that immorality was one of its main prohibitions, they said, “No thanks, we want to remain immoral.” When he offered it to yet another nation, they were bothered about the prohibition against stealing. Enter the Jewish people…
It was only when God offered the Torah to the Jewish People that God found a nation willing to live according to all of the laws of the Torah. They were the first group of people to make a choice to accept Judaism’s special way of life. When offered the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish People responded, “Naaseh V’nishma, “We will first obey, and then understand,” (Shemot 23:7).”
The day in which the Jewish people chose Torah is known as Shavuot, which falls on the 6th day in the Jewish month of Sivan, and this year on the evening of June 8 through the day of June 9th–seven weeks (in Hebrew- shavuot) after Passover, when we were given our freedom as a people. Once free, our ancestors had to choose what kind of life they wanted to live—what they wanted to be free to pursue.
When a person converts to Judaism we often call them a Jew by Choice but, in reality – especially in today’s world – each of us is a Jew by Choice. We choose to observe rituals, or affiliate with the Jewish community, or commit to a specific synagogue. As Reform Jews, we choose mitzvot-the commandments – specific commandments to observe that will enhance the meaning of our life.
Shavuot is a reminder of that pledge. On Shavuot we re-enact receiving the Torah. The Ten Commandments are recited in synagogue. Our Temple community gathers for special ritual moments that show our progress in meeting the pledge.
- On Saturday evening June 8th at 5:30pm, our Adult B’nai Mitzvah students will be called to Torah as they demonstrate their commitment and engagement in ongoing Jewish learning.
- On Sunday, June 9th at 10:30am, our Confirmation students will confirm how they have personally chosen to continue their Jewish education and reflect openly about what their Judaism means to them.
In addition to the above, on Saturday evening June 8th, from 8:30pm to 10:00pm, we want YOU to have an opportunity to express what being Jewish means to you. It’s a tradition on the night of Shavuot to engage in the practice called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, where we stay up late at night studying the Torah. I love this moment as we imagine ourselves personally standing at Sinai, waiting in anticipation to receive the Torah. Join us for some of Rabbi Pokras’ homebrewed beer and some dairy desserts as we again say, “Naaseh V’nisma. In order to obey and follow the teachings of our Torah and Tradition, we first need to understand them! I hope that you will CHOOSE to receive the Torah with us.